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How women can be protected

Two recent clips on social media draw attention to harassment that is intrinsic to our culture

How women can be protected

Last week two video clips attracted the attention of viewers on social media. The two clips came from entirely different sources and their locale, circumstances and results were also dissimilar. First was from the Kalash valley where a tourist from another part of Pakistan is chasing local women. The women are trying to hide their faces as the tourist with his mobile phone records their movement. The women tell him not to film them but the tourist laughs it off and follows the women even when they shout at him. The women were being harassed in the most blatant manner in their own village.

The second video is much more disgusting and horrifying. A young bus hostess is being harassed by a security guard and when the girl tells him off, he gets angry and shoots her at point blank range. The girl collapses on the pavement and dies while onlookers gather with their morbid curiosity to just gaze and do nothing. A female colleague of the murdered girl is sitting beside her still fresh body. The deceased girl appears to be just dozing off and one expects her to get up any moment, but that never happens and the tragedy of death takes you over.

Not that such incidents are anything new, neither is such harassment alien to our culture. The technology is definitely new, that has enabled us to watch such events more frequently and with brazen details. The credit surely goes to two developments: one the mobile technology and two, the social media. With these two at hand, now we have more courageous girls and women who dare to challenge the male dominance — the dominance that is displayed in verbal, non-verbal, violent and non-violent ways. The male chauvinist is being exposed in his naked shamelessness, and in his raw beastliness.

The fact that even the president of America is a male chauvinist is no consolation. The anti-women diatribe of some Indian politicians is also not an excuse. If gender-based violence is perpetrated in some other countries too, that does not absolve us of our own failure to educate our boys in a gender-sensitive manner. So where does the fault lie? Is it in our lack of good education? Or is it hidden behind our cultural mores that still boast of a feudal and tribal ethos? Perhaps the answer is a bit of both.

First, let’s discuss education. People such as Imran Khan, Orya Maqbool Jan, and Donald Trump are all educated in the formal sense of this word. Imran has been educated in some of the best educational institutions both in Pakistan and abroad. He has interacted with the top echelons of the Eastern and Western societies. His praise for the most misogynist of species i.e. Taliban is mind boggling. What Taliban did to women is no secret, and Imran Khan’s appreciation of their ‘justice system’ is appalling to say the least.

Businessmen and politicians such as Trump brag about their sexual prowess. They boast about their harassing and grabbing targets, and still people elect them to the highest offices! Harvey Weinstein becomes a media mogul not just by his financial finesse; he ravages many a body and soul to weave his way to success. Yet it takes decades before his predations are exposed and his perversion could be penalised. In India, politicians still get away with their misogynistic murmurings, though the tide is turning there too.

So coming back to the question of education or feudal and tribal mores, we see in most men a combination of both. There is not much difference between a man who harasses the Kalash women and chases them to their door, and someone who ditches his lovechild. When someone highlights the Taliban as the purveyor of justice, he indirectly tells his followers — and the people of his country — that what the Taliban did to women was right and just. The stoning and beheading of women was all in good faith, according to such interpretations of justice.

When Orya Maqbool Jan flaunts his expertise in psychology by telling millions of his Pakistani viewers that women love to be beaten and tortured, he is directly encouraging the men of this country — including that murderous guard — to violate the privacy and personal space of a women. One wonders how the media in this country has stooped to the lowest possible level by giving time and space to such people. How could Pemra tolerate such nonsense?

Even the Western societies were highly misogynist and violent just a couple of generations back. The traces of those times and trends are still visible and intact in some pockets and individuals. Though modern education and training has developed a lot in terms of gender sensitisation during the 20th century, the scope and impact of these developments is still inchoate.

In education, a lot needs to be done right from the primary level. Boys do not need to be told that ‘boys will be boys’; they need to learn that personal space and privacy needs to be respected in all situations. In most Western countries, life-skills based education has done wonders. It includes chapters on mutual respect, defence of a child’s body, non-intrusion into other people’s private affairs, and the ways and means to lodge a complaint if somebody trespasses into your person. These mechanisms have to be in place not only in educational institutions, but also in all government and private offices, businesses, and industries.

Applying that to Pakistan, it should be mandatory for all business concerns to initiate gender training for their employees. Such training helps both men and women; men learn how to respect and respond to female sensibilities, and women learn how to raise their voice before a male colleague becomes too bold to handle. All boys and girls, right from childhood, need to be taught that they cannot and should not try to impose their will on others. They also need to learn that all professions are and should be open to both male and female employees.

Many men in countries such as Pakistan get offended when their unfulfilled desires are thwarted. There is an increasing lack of entertainment especially for the people from lower economic strata. A combination of both i.e. gender-sensitive education and healthy outlets for mutual entertainment may do the trick. If harassment and gender-based violence takes place in the West, it does not mean that we are the same. In the West efforts are being made at all levels to reduce such incidents, whereas in countries such as Pakistan many more interventions are required if we need to protect our women.

Dr Naazir Mahmood

Naazir Mahmood
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator.

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