Respecting women and traditional mindset
Thank you, Sherry Rehman, for drafting the bill against sexual harassers and its subsequent presentation in the National Assembly in 2009 where it was passed unanimously. This bill acknowledged the need for women to feel safer at their working places. Six years down the road, what is its impact? Regretfully, none. How many are aware of it in the first place? How many cases were filed under the law since its introduction?
It was a good step to provide security blanket to the ‘lesser half’ segment of this society. My question, however, is: can this objective really be achieved when the gender who is supposed to ‘allow’ this respectful status is uneducated, half educated or if educated, has failed to educate their minds and thereby fails to understand the value of it? If degrees themselves were a guarantee of awarding respect and showing good manners towards the ‘lesser half’ (as bracketed by these sad souls), women coming in contact with those with a degree would be treated with respect as taught not only by our religion but also by the laws of developed societies. However, this is a far cry from reality.
In a competitive society with more and more women striving for an education and interacting more with the opposite gender, one never fails to be surprised by the discourteous attitude of the members of the opposite gender. (This is an understated comment on the behaviours witnessed on a daily basis) I am talking about here of a very basic level. A level that every woman lives in, in her home, in dealing with people she comes in contact with in the daily life and over the internet. She need not even necessarily be a working woman.
Laura Bates, writing for The Guardian about online abuse against women, states, “These are not just nasty comments, or harsh criticisms – they are extreme, detailed and vitriolic threats of rape, torture and death. I have received messages detailing exactly how I should be disemboweled, which weapons could be used to kill me, and which parts of my body should be raped. When I ignored the threats, they intensified and proliferated, finding out information about my family members and threatening to rape them instead.” (November 8, 2013)
Reverting to Pakistan, Reuters reports, “Internet abuse of women in Pakistan is triggering real world violence against them, but large social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are moving too slowly to stop it, internet rights group Bytes for All said. Women face online threats globally, but they run a unique risk in conservative Muslim Pakistan where there is a tradition of men killing women seen as having injured a family’s honour, besides punitive laws against blasphemy.” (September 30, 2014)
A bill was drafted for cybercrimes but did not pass owing to hue and cry rightly raised as it left open many loopholes, allowing persecution at whim. Thereafter, it seems to have been forgotten. No one has the time or thinking ability to formulate a well thought out piece of legislation. The report goes on to say, “None of the cases was successfully prosecuted because women usually reached a compromise with the suspect, said Syed Shahid Hassan, an official with the cybercrime office in the provincial capital, Lahore, where 30 employees work full-time. Since police rarely act when women are harassed online, few cases are reported, activists’ say. About 32 million of Pakistan’s 180 million people use the internet, the group said in its report, mainly on mobile phones. About 12 million are on Facebook and some two million use Twitter, domestic media say.”
Whereas spats and rudeness between same gender remains a reality, it seems easier to hit upon a woman. Is this due to the inbuilt disrespect for women, thinking of them as less than equals? Is it reflective of the value structure of the family such specimens hail from? In a brilliant piece by Rafia Zakaria, “There are small, everyday ways in which women are silenced, disciplined and shown condescension by men. The publication of ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ has in the years since birthed its own vocabulary of contention, challenging this everyday form of male aggression. The term ‘mansplaining’, coined by a pseudonymous blogger and based on Solnit’s ruminations, has since come to stand for the practice when a man chooses to tell how things really are, ignores your opinions or expertise or considers it unworthy of respect.” (September 10, 2014)
Interestingly, engaging on net with a number of men exposes a same highhanded behaviour as mentioned by Rafia. There are two reasons one can think of in the Pakistani context. The first is that the social media offers a platform to interact without face to face communication offering thereby a certain degree of anonymity. This awards a license to the petty minded to vent their pettiness. The second: degrees do not reflect the state of mind. It takes a few generations of education to take out the looking down upon a woman. One generation educated man will retain the attitudes seen and observed by him meted out to women.
The behaviour of this lot reminds me of the fictional character of Iago in Othello. A man who among other things slanders women for things he thinks they said and did (and did not). He is depicted as a misogynist. He is shown to have no regard for humankind in general and no respect at all for womenfolk. If one reads the play, one sees that in scene 3 of Act 1 in Othello, Iago uses sexist terms to describe women, or label them. This is so much like the men one encounters in Pakistan. Not all, though. Many hail from genteel backgrounds where respect for women runs in their culture. For most men though, it becomes a challenge to their tiny little egos to even respond to an intelligent woman.
If history did not prove otherwise, I would have sworn Shakespeare was talking of a Pakistani man during his sojourn to the Land of the Pure when he developed the character in Othello.