Consent of a woman


Aasma Rani, a third-year MBBS student at Abbottabad Medical College, was shot dead in her hometown of Kohat on Jan 29.

She was shot thrice by Mujahid Gul Afridi because, according to the victim’s family, Aasma had refused to accept his marriage proposal. The suspect later fled the country.

The case is still pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Rights’ activists talking to Pakistan Today were of the view that Aasma’s case is a textbook example of how little a woman’s consent actually means. It is just one example of how a woman’s refusal of what a man may want, condemns her to death. The case shows the prevalent mindset which perceives women as beings without free will and merely a property which is to be owned.

There is a fundamental flaw in the Pakistani society with regards to how a woman can function, says Diep Saeeda of the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies.

“We as a society are still grappling with the idea of what a woman’s consent mean, we think that a primary level education, finding a good husband for our daughter and marrying her off with a lot of dowry means our women are empowered. Women will be empowered when we understand that her consent is the most important factor in any decision that is made about her and that if she says no, she means no,” she stated.

“Our problem is that the society cannot fathom women to be at an equal footing with men, this is a problem at home, a problem in our workplace and especially a problem in our public spaces. The whole culture has become so toxic to women that even today, mothers don’t want to give birth to daughters,” Saeeda lamented.

Speaking about how the public spaces remained wholly possessed by men, she said: “If our menfolk see women reclaiming their right to access a public space, they lose no time in labeling her as a ‘bad’ woman because from childbirth our mindset dictates a ‘good’ woman’s place to be her home.”

“It is because of the insecurity of men who cannot see women in public spaces and believe that a woman can have her own mind that gender-based violence takes place. A man knows that if public spaces are made a dangerous place for the women, there is a chance that they may decide to just stay at home.”

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Member of the Punjab Assembly Saadia Sohail Rana attributes crimes such as ‘honour killing’ and acid attacks to a lack of understanding of a woman’s consent.

“Honour killing, acid attacks or crimes where women are disfigured or even killed, stem from a thought process whereby if a woman refuses the ‘writ’ of a man; she should be persecuted to the highest level,” Saadia said.

Observing the all too common occurrence of such crimes, she stated, “All of us are aware of incidents where a brother kills his sister because she wanted to marry someone of her own free will or when a woman who refuses a marriage proposal is disfigured after an acid attack or even when a woman is ogled at and harassed when she walks down a road, our menfolk don’t understand that in all these circumstances a woman’s fundamental right of doing what she wants to do is being curbed.”

Talking about the remedial measures that can be taken, the opposition lawmaker stressed the importance of implementation and not just drawing up new laws.

“If you talk about legislation we have an abundance of it. We have laws that punish crimes such as acid attacks or ‘honour’ killings, we even have laws against workplace harassment now but what we truly need is their proper implementation,” she stated.

“If we want our society to accept that a woman can think of her own accord, we need education and awareness at the grassroots level. We need religious leaders to come forward and condemn the mindset which disallows freedom of choice to women and most importantly we need strict punishments to all those who think they can get away with harming a woman,” she stated at length.

However, it is not just public spaces or the physical realm which showcases dangerous levels of ignorance about how important a women’s consent truly is.

Talking to Pakistan Today in the context of the internet, especially social media, which is fast becoming a tool of oppression against women, lawyer and Internet activist Nighat Dad, who set up the Digital Rights Foundation in 2012, stated that the social structure of the Pakistani culture was reflected in the online spaces.

“We have to accept that in the recent years the accessibility to the internet has improved in Pakistan, women have increasingly started using the social media and the wider web, however, the patriarchal norms that are present in the physical world are reflected in the online spaces as well,”  she stated.

“A woman’s consent in our society is largely ignored. Our society doesn’t appreciate what a woman wants or what her opinion is, rather, it is the woman who needs consent from everyone else,” she lamented.

“Consent as a concept is something that needs to be understood, we see even today people discussing martial rape and advocating how rape cannot exist if two people are married, similarly, intimate details or pictures shared by women while they are in a relationship often find their way on the internet because a former partner doesn’t understand that after a relationship ends, those very pictures are not theirs to circulate freely as a tool to punish the women,” Nighat said.

She went on to state that the existence of rights online is connected to those rights being given to women in the real world.

“If our women do not get the right to privacy or the right to make their own decisions on the ground, they have a lesser chance of finding them online. We need our menfolk to understand the experiences of women and appreciate their consent. We need them to understand that if there is a matter that requires a woman’s permission, that permission cannot be forgone for what a man may think is better for her,” she concluded.