Social and cultural norms can either protect women against violence or they can encourage it. The culture of violence against women persists in Pakistani society because it’s deemed acceptable. A religious and traditional belief that men are superior to women and they have a right to control them with use of force and discipline them through physical means makes women vulnerable to violence.
Harassment, physical violence, bullying, attacks and cyber threats – It’s always there, isn’t it? Most of us don’t like it, but what can we actually do about gender-based violence? Challenging social norms to put an end to violence against women can be approached at different levels. They include making government policies, mass media campaigns and educating masses.
The figures are terrible – violent crimes against women in Pakistan are reaching record levels with every passing year. It seems like it’ll take forever for the criminal justice system to cope with the number of women coming forward with terrible stories of rape, beatings and online forms of abuse. So what are our options? Is there any solution? Is there anything we can do as individuals to defy the culture of violence against women?
IT IS A SOCIAL PROBLEM AND IT NEEDS A SOCIAL RESPONSE
Well, there is. But it requires a dramatic shift in social attitudes and public behaviors. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I’ve actually seen people expressing sympathy with a man on trial for rape, asking why the victims had to be on the wrong place at the wrong time. In Pakistan, the general public’s understanding of the law relating to consent is woefully lacking, and there is a persistent tendency to view victim’s behavior much more critically than that of the abuser who commits even violent assaults.
Victims of domestic abuse are often shown the same callousness. The society either blame them of lying or criticize them for staying with violent partners even when they have no other choice. If we are serious about changing the dire situation, we have to put an end to a culture of denial and victim-blaming.
Sometimes I think that we are making some progress but every single time the apparent advance is quickly followed by a return to the status quo. A few months ago, after the horrific killing of Qandeel Baloch, there was an outpouring of shock and sympathy. But that consensus didn’t last long. Her brother confessed to killing her for family honor and some people started justify this cruel murder on social media. They called the model immodest and mocked everyone who condemned her murder.
WE HAVE REACHED A STARTLING LEVEL OF DENIAL
The attitude that being bullied with comments on ones looks is just another hazard. Let me quote an example from our parliament house when while using derogatory language, specifically targeting a woman, our defense minister pointed towards Sheerin Mazari and said, “Someone make this tractor trolley keep quiet” when she protested to his speech on load shedding during Ramadan. When even the parliamentarians cannot correctly identify a gender-specific form of abuse, it’s safe to assume that we have reached a startling level of denial as a nation.
Abuse against women in our society is at epidemic proportions. Some of this violence is driven by technology but the biggest problem by far is tolerance. A society which is genuinely committed to gender equality would never put up with a situation like this. But our culture accepts the violence against women. The reason is that we, as a society, let it slide and have become immune to the dangerous implications. It will take a lot of effort to shift toward a culture that turns away from violence and abuse. To make this dream possible we have to stand together as one. Being a part of society, the responsibility lies on our shoulders to help rid the world of abuse and violence. We, who have the voices and the power to do so, must choose to stand up and speak out.
Most of the victims of violence and abuse suffer in silence. There are very few who can find the strength to speak up or seek help. The question is what will you do to help the victims end this suffering?