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April 8, 2021

What women want

Editorial

 
April 8, 2021

The abusive language we continue to hear even months after the Aurat March in March is frightening. The question is why people are so angry with a group of women – young, old, rich, poor, middle class – who took to the streets to peacefully stage an extremely short march and raise slogans regarding theirs and others’ rights, and their complaints about the society they live in. During the recent years, we have seen more and more women join the march, and they belong to all segments of society. Perhaps this is the reason why we see abusive language used against them by some segments of the media, with some going to the extent of calling them prostitutes, language which is simply unacceptable. Perhaps the fact that compared to its earlier days, the women's movement now has such a diverse set of demographics and class structure makes it far more potent to challenge the patriarchal status quo. More girls and women from various backgrounds are willing to go out on the streets and raise a voice against what they face on a daily basis.

What we see right now is a kind of illogical war against women who demand their rights. In this context, the argument by men of privilege, including the prime minister, that decency or pardah would protect women and children from crimes such as rape has no validity. They have been proven untrue in various studies. Pakistan’s women have many questions. They ask how little girls and boys who have been raped, some no more than infants, can possibly be responsible for behaving in an ‘indecent’ (a completely arbitrary term in itself) fashion. Surely a five-year old does not ask to be raped. And what of little boys who are also subjected to sodomy and abuse? Do they too not need protection in a society where sexual abuse has become an alarmingly common crime?

Women do need protection, but that protection must come from the law and from the justice system and from changing the mindsets that exist in our society. They do not need protection that insists they cover themselves up even more for fear of being attacked. It is the implementation of laws that will give them the right to safety, no matter where they choose to go, or how they choose to dress. The use of specific dress codes for women by universities across the country goes against this very notion. Perhaps gender sensitization needs to begin right at the very top in our country, emphasizing that rape or any other kind of sexual abuse is always a crime. It is the perpetrators of these crimes who need to be punished and not the victims. It is true as has been mentioned in the press that rape exists in huge numbers in other countries too. But the women that march and speak up are not making comparisons. They are not asking for pelf or privilege. All they want is to try and make our women and children safer.