Sunday June 16, 2024

Endemic gender violence

By Hira Ali
August 21, 2021

The writer is UK-based Pakistani

author, writer, speaker, executive coach and champion of equality. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn

The past few weeks have been clouded by the devastating news of Noor Mukadam’s barbaric murder. Every day since I first heard about it, I have been haunted by images of Noor’s smiling face. I am not sure what’s more harrowing–the sheer brutality of the crime, the gory details of this unspeakable act that stole an innocent life, the revelation that bystanders could have saved her life, or the fact the perpetrator was in the victim’s ‘trusted circle.’

While we were reeling from the shock of Noor’s tragic case, merely a week later, news emerges of a 30-year-old woman, who was allegedly raped and later stabbed in front of her 14-month-old son.

This was followed by report of a young girl’s corpse being raped, while in another gruesome incident— an elderly woman was abducted, tortured and assaulted. Feeling sick to your stomach and thinking that it couldn’t get any worse? Sadly, when it comes to abuse of women in our country, there is no shortage of unfathomable stories — the latest gut-wrenching headline being that of a young woman assaulted by hundreds of men during Independence Day celebrations.

Read that again if you missed it-HUNDREDS of men callously tossed around a woman and toyed with her for three whole hours and no one, not a single person (except a child who offered her water) stepped up to intervene or called out this wicked and abominable crime. As I watched the victim’s interview, with tears streaming down my face and a tight knot in my stomach, an overwhelming sense of despair and hopeless resignation permeated every fibre of my existence.

Is this really what we have become as a nation? If we have any single shred of decency left, this incident should shake us to the core, the sheer abhorrence of this horrendous incident should be slap in the face of our society and our system, a society and system that continues to fail its women.

Every other day we wake up to a new hideous story that leaves us colossally infuriated and often numb. Every other day a new hashtag emerges on social media and we witness a vehement but short-lived outpouring of support with strong calls for justice. Every other day, a woman or child is exploited, —Noor, Quratulain Saima and Zainab, just to name a few in Pakistan alone, but countless others in other countries too — women who began their stories differently but who painfully shared similar endings—women and girls who had their lives abruptly stolen, bodies abused and tortured, dreams crushed, hopes devoured and loved ones left inconsolably shattered, futilely fighting for justice.

Toxic masculinity, ego fragility and its subsequent power exploitation are consistently the bane of all assaults and femicides globally. But the question remains—how many more lives do we have to lose before we finally wake up from our stupor and begin waging a war against endemic gender violence?

How many more victims (women, young boys and animals included) need to be killed or scarred for life before we finally take responsibility and accountability for our contributions to this society, culture and system—a society and culture with flawed norms that we have nurtured and upheld, and a system which we have failed to question and hold accountable?

Every institution is defined by the people that run it, and every culture is shaped by the behaviours of the people that live within it. Unfortunately, a large majority of institutions are flawed, biased and failing women. Similarly, many societal cultures worldwide are deeply entrenched in patriarchal norms; women continue to face discrimination and gender-based penalties, fight to control their own bodies and wardrobe, and struggle to end their victimisation through rape, domestic violence, acid attacks and trafficking.

However, it is equally important to recognise that we are all part of that same system and culture, so the greatest power to transform these bigger systems lies within all of us. We have the audacity to side-track a serious offence by claiming that the victim somehow ‘asked for it’ given the choices she made. We are quick to side-step accountability and exclude ourselves from blame by arguing that #notall men perpetrate these heinous acts. We pin it down to culture and systemic challenges. And yet, while blaming the macro “system,” do we question and challenge our own selves first?

Personal responsibility starts with disputing the status quo and questioning harmful practices. It starts with challenging seemingly harmless and innocuous sexist banter and memes as well as questioning practices that sexualise and objectify women. It starts with being mindful of how you refer to women in your everyday conversations—conversations that play into a larger narrative where it’s okay to progress from words to deeds.

It starts with recognising how women are trivialised, often forced to accept less than their worth and due share. And finally, it starts with defying the misleading narrative that it is a woman’s responsibility to keep herself safe from men—that she must alter her behaviour to exist in a world where gender violence is normalised and thus inevitable.

As women, it is exhausting for us to combat the same arguments after every crime; it is frustrating dealing with mind-sets that aim to invalidate our experiences and silence our voices. We are tired of fighting alone, and we now need allies by our side, including men who can help change the narrative and rewrite the story. A story where accountability of the crime is not misplaced, an environment where the offender doesn’t feel assured that somehow it was the victim’s fault too and his ‘frustration’ justifies his monstrous crime, an environment which is not based on skewed social conditioning and one-sided cultural narratives.

If you’re a man reading this, we implore you to join us, because if not now, then when? If not you, then who else? This is not the time for ego wars. The gravity of the situation means we can’t waste time

arguing that only some men embody this base behaviour. It shouldn’t be us versus them; we all need to work together to end the gender violence pandemic.

It’s time to come together and protect our upcoming generations who will otherwise grow up in a world no different than it was a century ago—a world where rape and murder is somehow a woman’s fault. It’s

time to do our part and push for collective change so that when your daughters and granddaughters ask how you helped make a difference, you can proudly say: “I gave you a safe, empowered and inclusive future...”