A special place in hell is not enough for women like these

Published: July 1, 2016

God forbid if we see a woman wearing jeans/go without a dupatta.

Two or three days ago, a young woman was accosted by an older woman for ‘not wearing appropriate attire’. You can see what the poor young woman was wearing here. Not that that’s important. But, anyway. 

This older woman harassed this young lady (who wanted her identity to be protected, so we’ll call her MJ) and continued to touch her despite her requests. She later threatened MJ, stating that she ‘knew her license plate’ and MJ threatened to lodge an FIR against her and eventually the woman’s husband, a seemingly more neutral fellow, managed to get his wife to apologise to MJ.

MJ’s incident reeks of the dangerous precedents that sexism creates in our society. It starts with ‘hey, that red lipstick is too dark!’ and ranges from ‘don’t wear a skirt, someone will rape you’ to ‘I’ll kill you because you dishonoured me’. It speaks of a larger, more frightening, and more widespread phenomenon where the ghairat brigade holds the baton of morality and wants to charge on everyone, claiming that their own version of truth and honour must be followed by everyone – especially every woman.

Think about the following sentences:

“Look at what she’s wearing, she’s such a s***!”

“Are you sure you want to go out wearing that? You’re a girl. Have some shame. People are going to get the wrong idea about you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. A girl can’t expect to wear jeans and expect to be treated with respect.”

Sounds familiar? Too familiar? Because it is.

Sentences like these, words phrased like that are indicative of how we think as a society, how Pakistan thinks. And please, the this-happens-in-other-places-too-look-India-is-the-rape-capital brigade can just hold it for a while because this isn’t a blog about something that happens in India right now. It’s a blog about what happens and has happened and continues to happen in Pakistan, and enough with the deflection of but-it-happens-there-too phenomenon. Yes, misogyny is a global problem. But the point is that when some of us try to state that it exists in Pakistan – this see-not-just-us brigade aims to deflect the conversation, hijack the discourse into not talking about it by wanting everyone to start talking about something else, some other country, some other incident. Sorry, but that’s just another form of denial. If there is a disaster happening right in your own home, what would you be more concerned about? The disaster in your neighbour’s home or the catastrophe right in your own living room?

Too often society has placed the onus of ‘ghairat’ upon the woman. Too often women are asked to bear the cross of abstract concepts of respect and chastity. None of which seem to apply to men. You can see men scratching their nether regions in public, but a woman can’t breastfeed in public. You can see men wearing nothing but dhotis/shalwars sitting in their shops, comfortably batting flies – but God forbid if we see a woman wearing jeans/go without a dupatta. You can see men riding motorcycles, but it’s considered obscene for women. You can hear of men being lauded for having more than one girlfriend (cheetah!) but a woman is automatically a whore if she dares to play the field.

Gone are the days of the neanderthal. This is the 21st Century. Mankind has progressed into the future at breakneck speed. In this day and age, where women are just as capable as any man in majority of the fields and arguments of physical strength and ‘child bearing’ hold as much value as wanting to gather nuts in the winter, Pakistan is still killing its women in the name of honour.

In 2014 we killed around 1000 women in the name of honour.

In 2015, the statistics rose by 1100.

And I use the word ‘statistics’ here because so many crimes of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, honour killings and acid attacks go unnoticed and unreported in Pakistan. Again, in the name of honour. The voices are silenced, the victims are blamed and the mansplainers, the Talibansplainers, the guardians of faith and all that is disguised as faith but is truly just misogyny and bigotry – spend all their days trying to convince men and women that women are somehow responsible for these problems. Or the media is painting it otherwise. Or, it’s ‘probably something’ else.

Everything and everyone is to be blamed except the real problem: sexism. No, we don’t like that word. We don’t like the word feminist either. Feminists are responsible for ruining our family values. With their loud voices and their angry tirades, they are trying to stop men and women from killing in the name of honour. The horror.

Madeleine Albright once said, there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. Pakistan takes it one step further. We don’t have women who don’t help other women; we have women who want to see other women cower down with shame for exercising their right to choose. Not too long ago a woman burnt her daughter to death for the sake of honour. She unashamedly then stated that she had no regrets. A special place in hell is not enough for women like these – women who know and experience such tyranny but want to subject the same oppression (or worse) onto their daughters and friends and, in the following case, random women on the street.


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.