Ignore The Crime, Blame The Survivor — The Psychological Erasure Of Women In Pakistan
Here, rape is for visas. Here, rape is deliberately brought upon the woman who rides off into the dark on the motorway. Even the police chief says so, twice. First when he was explaining the crime, and then when he was clarifying that he didn’t mean to victim-blame. Here, the under nineteen women’s cricket team receives lewd comments on their Facebook selection picture, because they deserved the commentary. They willingly stepped into a male-dominated national sport, hence.
Here is a country called Pakistan — bad things happen here because you made bad things happen to you. You are probably a woman. When was the last time you heard someone say a man was robbed because a man willed it upon himself?
This is a uniquely Pakistani phenomenon, reserved uniquely for women. From miscarriages to birthing girls instead of boys, women either bring tremendous bad luck and should be treated like lepers, or escape bad luck, in which case they don’t get any credit either.
Who cares, anyway? There is a huge social cost.
The difference between a woman and her financial independence is the environment she is surrounded by. The economic cost of only having 24 percent women in the formal sector is quite substantial. As is the cost of the highest fertility rate of 3.5 whereas the regional average hovers closer to 2. This means that bad things will happen and they are not necessarily happening because women willed it on the nation. Women are largely poor, disenfranchised, undocumented, underrepresented, and dependent, yet when unfortunate things happen, they are deemed to have all the power in the world to have caused that harm. Where is the sense in that?
The permission culture, especially among the 21 million rising middle class is terribly limiting on the progress of women – a Pakistani woman typically needs permission to study; she needs a male guardian to accompany her almost anywhere outside the four walls of the house while the home is the most dangerous place for her with regard to violence; she needs a man to give her away in marriage; a man to decide the number and frequency and time at which she will bear children, and even her children’s life decisions too depend on her husband. Upon dispute in a marriage, a man decides whether to let her free and divorce her or to hold her hostage to the decision, often while holding children or childcare as collateral. Women need a man to sign up for a loan and even to inherit her legal properties and women need a man still to graciously permit a transfer of property out of the goodness of his heart because God knows no one will give it to her under due process if he is hesitant.
The present government had garnered some good laws, the inheritance law being one of them where a woman would inherit her family property even if the male heirs were unwilling to give it to her.
Yet so culturally backward are we as a nation that there has been no woman, up until a few months ago, that filed for her rights under the new law. There are no teeth and there certainly is no precedent for a woman taking what is due to her in terms of property or capital and then live to tell. Generation after generation, women forgo their property rights to their brothers in exchange for some social equity. Scaps.
Women who talk money, work for money, and demand money are considered corrupt in our society but the truth is that even more corrupt than power, is powerlessness.
Women’s powerlessness has been the cornerstone of most corrupting influences, from stove burnings to acid attacks. The most vicious crimes have been perpetrated towards women precisely because they do not have the power to fight back, or at the least defend themselves from unprovoked and undeserved harm. Weakness is by its very nature corrupting.
The remedy is gender equality. As a start, let us please hold our tongues when we are referring to young unmarried women, women who may not be blessed by fertility despite wanting to, women who are not able physically or mentally to hold daily responsibilities, and more importantly women who work to support their families or simply desire independence from cultural hegemony. There is no one way to be a good woman, but there is certainly is one way to be a nasty coot – blaming women for a dark culture they have had no part in creating.
Pakistan needs more than one percent women taking up entrepreneurial fields, and it certainly need not brag about its bottom of the rankings in gender empowerment, nor does it need to hail its one time women Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto as a token win.
What we do need is to be incensed when someone blames women, because this is this very language that has permitted rape culture and violence. This is the cloak under which incels, rapists, and misogynists in society find impunity for their behavior and continue to perpetrate violence against women.
Next time someone says a woman was groped in public transport because she chose that lifestyle, please speak up. This silence perpetuates misogyny. When you hear any woman berate another woman because she is from a lower status, remind the wagging tongue that she too is on the receiving end of the strange musings of patriarchy.
The arch of history is long, and almost always bends towards justice. This is why men and people of privilege need to beware of how ridiculous they sound when they point fingers at women when these women simply struggle to survive. History will be most unkind to our nation for psychologically erasing women – first by not protecting them against violence, then by blaming them for it.
The writer is the Co-Founder of Women’s Advancement Hub. She is the author of two published books on Feminism and writes for several publications.