Women empowerment in Pakistan is only possible if we understand consent

It is still a long way for women to come out of this "norm" of not complaining

Recently in Pakistan, a debate occurred on social media regarding a famous picture of a sailorman kissing a woman during an end of World War II celebrations in New York.  To say a little about this photograph’s background, the lady in the picture is Greta Freidman, who talked about her experience  in an interview to a magazine in 2005:

“It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!"

The comments following this post were mixed; some found it offensive and disgusting while others found it to be beautiful and passionate. The latter response was specifically for the reason that this woman didn’t file charges against him.

A woman, with a huge social media following of the educated circles in Pakistan, to whom many look up to for opinions on matters of sex and sexuality said:

“A kiss is not a punch. It's an expression of love. A feminist who has her own insecurities ruined the whole history of this beautiful harmless kiss here. Women got to chill some. This is a handsome man. He risked his life to save yours. It's ok if he spontaneously kisses a woman. If that woman didn't file charges, others should chill too. She probably enjoyed it.” 

The watch words here are “a beautiful harmless kiss”, “a handsome man”, “risked his life to save yours” and “she probably enjoyed it”.

This is quite synonymous to Trump saying. “When you are a star…you can do anything”

The other unavoidable words in the lady’s comments are “feminist” “her own insecurities” “ruining” it. 

She is not alone. Where she lives is also not free from a prevalent misogynistic “victim mentality” attitude towards women who denounce and condemn the rape-culture, which is denied by many. It is not much to ask people that when they say that the myth of “rape culture” is unfair to men, then they should also ask if “victim mentality” ridicule is fair to women.

Many people align themselves with the idea that because a man “saves” lives, and renders hard work for his country, or his community or his family unit, therefore, he has a right to enjoy some privileges as a man for all his work. A US pop celebrity Madonna just offered oral sex to those who will vote for democrats in the coming US general election—re-endorsing male privilege for their doing things which is considered right by some.

Interestingly, a woman who has also contributed for her people is not referenced when it comes to sex privileges—that is, by males taking the other person for granted, and is expected to show thankfulness and gratitude, regardless. How a woman receives such spontaneous acts by complete strangers is her own relation to the situation, and in it, every woman’s experience is unique and should never be generalized; however, this should not mean that non-consent here can be ignored or absolved completely. Because the woman so chose to not file charges against her perpetrator doesn’t mean it should be considered as an accepted norm by default, or that one should remain indifferent to it. Non-consent is not just a legal question, it is more an issue of sexual justice.

For about last two centuries, we have been noticing prominent women’s struggles, with which the definition of feminism has continuously been evolving with every social and economic pattern observed in the society. In Pakistan, the observations and the objections raised by women rights activists are mainly degraded and undermined by people who see it as something breaking family values, or deem it to be a “man-hating” and “anti-religion” ideology.

The much needed feminist politics rarely exists anymore. However, what we can  give some credit to feminism here is a struggle for basic rights of women; politically suggesting equality of genders is still a far cry.

It will be grossly unfair to women rights activists if their struggles are not mentioned, particularly in the 80s when General Zia ul Haq introduced many anti-women laws during his reign of power that depended on endorsing Islamist policies. They received threats and actual abuse on the streets when they opposed state’s tyrannical policies, which included the dreaded Hudood Laws which put the onus of proof on the victim of rape who was required to produce four male witnesses to prove their rape allegation.

The struggle remains, but the adversaries are many with strong opposition to liberal values.  Recently, the Punjab provincial government passed a much needed Woman Protection Bill which ensured a better complaint mechanism for victims. This ticked off the clergy, whose federal constitutional body, Council of Ideological Council considered the process, with legal restraints to abusers until court verdict, to be against religion, family values and dignity of men. This body also reasserted justification of wife-beating as per the religious texts, and also, in subdued ways, asserted that there is no such thing as marital rape. Worse, CII has also proved to be defender of pedophilia when they objected to another bill on defining the minimum age of marriage of girls. This bill was withdrawn even before it was presented in the parliament.

However, thanks to some genuine political work by a few who were compelled to look into cases of honor killing, the law makers in our Parliament have managed to pass a bill against honor-killings, though with many loopholes in the law where the aggressor can still get away with the crime. Another important law was passed in cases of rape where DNA samples could be accepted as evidence of rape, which the Council of Islamic Ideology earlier considered  un-Islamic because the religious texts require the victim to bring at least four witnesses in such matters. In spite of all obstacles, if it weren’t for the work of the “feminists with their insecurities”, this would not have been made possible in the parliament today.

So many times have we seen women getting raped on the orders of the tribal elders. Mukhtaran Mai’s ordeal is a difficult story to be retold again and again. The former President Parvaiz Musharaf shamefully said that women here get themselves raped to secure a visa for Canada (in reference to Mukhtara Mai).

In the name of tradition and also religion, a woman is punished in ways befitting to the crime of making her own choices. Though the urban and middle class dynamics are changing with time, but the intrinsic views on women leaving the four walls of her house is still very prevalent. As more and more women are joining the workforce and public life here, the resistance is getting more aggressive towards them, a phenomenon we often observe where the authority of a man is challenged along traditional lines.

Making comparative social scenarios of conservative societies with those that are liberal, rape culture is real and is much prevalent, though more obvious in the former and subtle in the latter. If we are to measure what makes this culture worst in comparison, we can vouch on the laws that have been introduced to ensure better protection and justice for victims, and in that, the traditionalist countries lag far behind. We also cannot ignore that despite the laws present, they are not invoked even if they could, because it is still subject to social pressures faced by the victim. However, the invoked laws if used with merit, can establish good precedents for other victims seeking justice.

No matter how much we try to make the issue of consent by excusing it with “ifs” or “buts” for the lifestyle and social behavior of women, and no matter how many laws we try to bring to protect the dignity of women, the real empowerment of a woman is possible only with her ability to say “no” to men trying to control her. But it is still a long way for women to come out of this "norm" of not complaining.

The writer is a freelance columnist.  Follow her on Twitter

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt