Do We Ask for Rape?

We are grateful to Ms Farah Azhar for this contribution. The misogynistic attitudes of our society whereby instead of rapists the victims are blamed. Such mindset is prevalent in South Asia and to varying degrees across the globe. Reader’s comments and inputs are most welcome. RHR

Farah Azhar

And this 103rd Women’s day passed with candle-lit vigils and speeches that emphasized women to speak for their rights. Just one week later, a seventeen year old teenager set herself on fire in Muzaffargargh district of Punjab and silenced herself forever after the police released her alleged rapist.  This tragic event, too, will just make another headline and then be recorded in the annals of history. Hillary Clinton rightly said, “For too long, the history of women has been a history of silence.”

I am not going to start bashing Pakistan for failing to provide justice to rape victims. Neither am I going to give a tirade against why the scales of justice tipped towards the perpetrator. What concerns me more is the attitude of people towards these victims-the blame game.  She must have provoked such a reaction. She must not have been decently dressed. She should have avoided those dark alleys. She must have had a secret affair with the rapist and the list goes on. What we sophisticated and intellectual beings fail to understand is that sexual violence is not a woman’s but a man’s problem. Ninety nine percent of the sexual violence cases are committed by men – and we still call it a woman’s problem! Attitudes like these in fact limit men to be accountable at a personal and institutional level.

If you look around, particularly in Pakistan, almost every woman orders her life around this fear of men’s violence and this pervasive reality is their daily reality. For instance, a group of girls cannot imagine going to Fairy Meadows alone unless accompanied by male members of the family. They have to be home way before the clock strikes midnight incase the horses and pumpkins turn to demons and dungeons. And this going to Fairy Meadows is an extreme fantasy; the bitter truth is that most girls need permission even to leave their house for simple matters. So instead of shackling rapists who lurk around, we are bent on imprisoning our women.

Growing up in Pakistan, the very first lessons I learnt as a girl pertained to haya or modesty. Lesson 1: It is a girl’s duty to guard her modesty and that men will always be men. Lesson 2: A girl who does not cover her body well is like an unwrapped lollipop that attracts insects and flies. Lesson 3: A decent girl does not have male friends and does not go out with boys. It seemed to me then that women were the flag-bearers of religion, culture and tradition and men loitered on streets like hungry dogs ready to pounce on unveiled women. And it wasn’t a man who gave me these lessons but a woman. So instead of what should have been a reverse domino effect, i.e. where one woman stands to help and lift another woman to speak for their rights ended up in women conforming to accepting double standards. And so many women sadly crippled by manacles of injustice and patriarchy reinforce the notion that haya is a woman’s attribute only.

I believe there are many who would claim that if a woman dresses according to socially- acceptable standards, then men would not plunge to the highest echelons of monstrosity. If this is the case then there should not be a single rape case in Saudi Arabia. However, the statistics tell another appalling story. I am by no means an advocate of women wearing bikinis and roaming on streets but even if they do, this should not give a man a green signal to become a rapist.

The need of the hour is a basic sensitization to the fact that sexual crimes do not occur if a woman fails to protect her modesty. The causes are deeper and rooted in ideologies of male sexual entitlement. Therefore, empathizing with the victim and practicing complete intolerance towards the rapist can be the starting point. And we need to start asking questions like what are the factors, institutions, and religious belief systems that are producing such abusive men? What is going wrong in socialization of men that is leading to such violent outcomes? I am by no means a man-hater. Trust me. I have loved George Clooney all my life. Nor am I asking men of my country to walk in women’s high heels to mark women’s day, although that would be an amusing sight to behold. I am merely asking men not to support other men when they give sexist remarks on women and denigrate them for whatever reason. More importantly, I am asking men to ostracize other men who physically or verbally abuse women. It is definitely not an easy task because these “bystanders’ may themselves be ridiculed and called harsh names as sissy, coward and womanish. However, these sexual crimes against humanity have to stop. That has to change.

Samia Sarwar. Mukhtara Mai. Fakhra Yunus. Amna Bibi. The numbers keep on increasing and the list gets longer. And yet, I am hopeful. And I have a dream that one day this land of pure will be a safe haven for all women irrespective of what they wear. And I have a dream that all women will be considered as human as men and not mere sex objects. And I have a dream that one day all perpetrators of such violent crimes will be indicted. And I have a dream that one day modesty will be as important to men as women. And I have a dream that one day on the green plains of Punjab; men will march for women’s rights.

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