Published in Daily Times on June 8th 2014
Acid burned, honour killed and choked, the Pakistani women who make the headlines are literally out of a nightmare. Like Farzana Parveen who recently was murdered by her own family with bricks outside the Lahore High Court, there are many such stories that expose the rot that society now seems to have ingrained. Only a few stories of these stories make it to the press, more than a thousand a year do not.
After writing about honour killings in the international press, I got feedback mostly from men in Pakistan condemning the act and clarifying that they indeed support women’s rights. I do not believe most of them. Although men are quick to be outraged at the extreme stories, they often are perpetrators of misogyny in their own spheres of influence. Expression of a patriarchal ethos does not come in two kinds: good or bad. It is all bad. It is bad enough to be a national crime because it pulls back developing countries like ours already decades behind in a competitive global economy.
There are ten common identifiers, a checklist of sorts to separate the misogynists from those who are truly supportive of women’s rights. There is no better gauge to test this than evaluate how men treat their women kin. First, the politics of housework is the first determinant. A misogynist most often will segregate the kitchen as a female territory, and extend this superiority over laundry or cleaning. It is shameful if this happens in a household where women stay at home but it is appalling if it happens if both spouses work and the woman gets to wear the crown of double duty. Women who work often have to over-achieve domestically because society penalises them for having their own career independence.
Second, we are a tragic nation for having fathers that do not raise kids. This too is left to be a woman’s role whereas it is clear that this is a learned and conditioned construct that is a norm in most civilised societies. Furthermore, when raising girls, men have a Pavlovian way of rewarding girls for being submissive and punishing them for what in any boy would be a sign of intelligence. Our concept of ‘good girls’ are those who sit quietly in the corner and do not challenge the status quo.
Third, most men think the decision for a woman to seek employment is theirs and not the woman’s. Women are either asked to sit at home after an education or asked to discontinue work after they get married. Likewise, women who choose not to work cannot be sent off to do so. This may be a news flash but again the decision cannot be anyone’s but hers.
Fourth, stereotyping women is one of the most common practices. Not surprisingly, last week a large development organisation conducted a seminar on women journalists and a self-confessed senior anchor said that women often get their way to cover stories because they always resort to weeping. In a hall full of people, this man got away with reducing those experienced, professional women journalists of this country to manipulative dimwits. There is a breed of men who waste no time dismissing women, their capabilities, opinions and protest into the realm of overt emotionalism.
Fifth, most men are also employers in Pakistan, and if and when they finally choose to hire women, they most often choose to pay them below market value, even when these women prove themselves competent and efficient. This is draconian: research proves that women are more likely to spend on health and education than men. Sixth, given that most domestic help in the country are women, it is absolutely preposterous if one is to document the abuse that happens against them. Here, both women and men are guilty of this classist marriage with misogyny.
These women need to be treated equitably, which in real terms means treating them with more dignity than an average person deserves; instead the opposite happens. Seventh, there is rampant unwanted sexual advances happening, which finds open cultural sanction. The ‘no-means-yes’ doctrine is fiction not fact and no does mean no. Be it teasing or workplace sexual harassment there is really no place that women can find sanctuary when they step out of the house. Eighth, there is a reason why it is women who have uteruses.
They need to be the ones determining how many children they want to have, if at all and at what intervals. There can be collaborative decision making but it is the woman who has the override. Looking at the population explosion, it certainly does not look like women are calling the shots. Ninth, women are ultimately the ones to decide how to dress. Unfortunately, this column is not concerned with the fashion choices they make, but the decision about if they should cover up or not. Just as wearing the burka, hijab or niqab is her choice, so is not wearing it.
Tenth and most unforgiveable is limiting women’s mobility. Yet, women Pakistan-wide live in this imaginary jail. It is not enough to be outraged by honour killings. Clearly men need to ask themselves how they themselves perpetrate the notion of honour.
It is also not enough to eliminate just one word in the term ‘honour killing’. Both those words need to go.