Sometimes it feels as if women get murdered in Pakistan simply for existing. Keeping in mind the monthly grim litany of the vicious ways in which life is snuffed out of women, it is said that Pakistan is no country for women. The statistics speak for themselves. Currently, Pakistan is ranked 164 out of 196 countries on the women’s safety index.
Women are always viewed through society’s unforgiving lens. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. “
This is what makes it difficult for girls to be their authentic selves. Emphasis is laid on being endearing and likeable; they are moulded and sculpted from a young age into a shape that meets the specifications and requirements of others.
On the other hand, men are hardwired from a young age to view women as a crutch for their masculinity and they spend their whole life locked into that cage of conditioning. In 2012 four girls were shot and buried alive in Balochistan for committing the crime of wanting to choose their husbands, a right given to women in Islam. Senators from the ruling party who hailed from Balochistan justified the women being buried alive for exercising their choice. They termed it as part of their culture and tradition; hence they insisted that they would brook no interference in the matter.
The term ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’ is used to justify all kinds of crimes against women. Culture is created by people, and it stands to reason that it can be changed as well. Even where there is legislation proposed to protect women, the bill faces opposition from organisations helmed by men as evident by the recent efforts to pass a domestic violence bill. The bill was sent weeks ago to the Council for Islamic Ideology to cast their expert eyes over the proposals.
Women often face lack of family support when they face emotional or physical abuse. Perhaps they would rather have a dead daughter or sister rather than one who crosses the barriers of societal disapproval. This kind of attitude cuts across all class structures because it is an ingrained mindset. Women are dispossessed when they are maligned. The easiest way to create insurmountable hurdles in the path of feisty women is to indulge in character assassination. Instead of being empowered, she is broken into pieces and robbed of her dignity. As Shakespeare stated, “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.’’
It is time for men to step up to the plate. They need to educate themselves, start listening to women and call out all those men in their circle who oppress women or crack rape jokes. The entire system is predicated on this toxic masculinity which then permeates down to all levels of society blighting the lives of countless women.
These sexist norms lead to a heightened degree of rage at the perceived provocations of women and enable rape culture and violence. Enter femicide which is stuck in a loop year after year. It helps that the country is afflicted by short term memory loss which leads to horrendous cases being forgotten as soon as a new scandal rears its head.
Why should women be denied the opportunity to live a life filled with the richness of the colours and textures that they desire? Why waste your life and potential by living someone else’s life?
“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age,” said poet and author Sylvia Plath.
Imagine the kind of country we would be living in if only women could have the license to be their true selves? Pakistani astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala comes to mind. She has recently been named as the new Dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s School of Science. She will be the first woman to serve as Dean at this prestigious institute. Mavalvala was born in Pakistan and completed her schooling before leaving for college in the United States.
It is time to let out that breath that women have been holding in. Exhale the fears, the frustration, and the resentment of leading a life not true to oneself because of the sensibilities of others. If they do not want to end up as a statistic in the women’s safety index, women need to start owning their narrative.
In the immortal words of the poet Maya Angelou:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear