Of Men By Men

Violence against women is not a phenomenon limited to Pakistan. Throughout the world, the fairer sex has been suffering from it for centuries. It is only now that men have started realising that it's their duty to protect women from all forms of violence...

Violence against women, in any form, is reprehensible. All sane people decry it. All religions condemn it. Yet, it continues across the globe unabated, especially in places where the literacy rate is bad. Women, especially those who venture out to earn, have to contend with many forms of violence from men, but the most common evil is domestic violence.

Domestic violence runs rampant in South East Asian countries. What makes it so dangerous is the fact that it isn't even considered violence! Domestic violence against women is considered a family issue. The right of men to discipline women of their families, using physical force, is protected by unwritten social and cultural laws of many areas in Pakistan. So much so that members of senate can defend honour killings as their 'traditions' and get away unscathed without even being asked by the courts of the country for an explanation.

The Montreal Massacre

A horrific event took place in Montreal, Canada, at Ecole Polytechnique, an engineering school, where on December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine, a 25-year-old man, shot 28 people before killing himself. He entered a classroom where he separated male and female students. He shot all nine female students in the room. Then he carried on the massacre by moving through the corridors and cafeteria, specifically targeting women. Overall, he killed 14 female students in the span of about twenty minutes, before he turned the gun on himself. Before he commenced shooting, he told the unfortunate students that he was fighting 'feminism'.

This incident sent shock waves throughout Canada, and subsequently led to the launch of the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) there in 1991 by a group of men in London, Ontario.

The aim was to raise awareness about male violence against women. Since the perpetrators of violence against women are usually males in all societies, it is logical that men should be educated about the issue and its impact on the lives of women.

WRC aims to educate boys and men, through men, the need to say no to violence against women. The wearing of a white ribbon has become a symbol of men's opposition to men's violence against women. WRC has now become an international movement of men and boys fighting against the prevalent violence against women.

In July 2006, the White Ribbon Campaign was launched in Pakistan with a vision to involve the males here in safeguarding women against violence. This was certainly not the first initiative to raise awareness about violence against women. Many NGOs have been doing it for years, and have been successful in making the voice of the victims of violence heard in the media and the parliament. What makes the White Ribbon Movement so special is that it's the males who have decided that enough is enough. They have understood that men in their roles as husbands, fathers, brothers and bosses have been abusing women in various ways. They are the people who can change things by influencing other males in their capacities as grandfathers, fathers, brothers and friends.

When a woman speaks for her rights, she becomes a 'feminist'. The domination of men on women is challenged. The cultural norms come into play with a vengeance to maintain the status quo. The result? Religious and cultural forces launch a counter offensive to nip the evil in the bud.

The Challenges

In a poor country like ours where people are deprived of even their basic meals, women rights is a non-issue. It is considered a 'Zionist' and 'Western' conspiracy to destroy the social fabric of the country. Religion is used to justify acts of injustices against women. In the rural areas, it is the issue of property that is a big hurdle in getting women their rights. Men have to subjugate women to have control over their property.

The lacunae in the law help men get away after killing their wives for property in the name of honour. Apparently the government supports the initiatives to curb violence, but strict legal actions against offenders are not taken. The law makers, after all, are mostly men.

Unfortunately, these are not the only problems. A lot of hurdles must be surmounted to protect women rights, which are actually human rights. The most serious challenge is the mindset of women. They have been conditioned for centuries to accept the inhuman treatment that is meted out to them at the hand of their husbands and other male family members as normal. A good woman is that who never questions her 'lord' and accepts that he has the right to 'punish' her.

These challenges have been taken up by the Pakistan chapter of the Movement. Their strategy has been to engage men and boys with their work. Omar Aftab, the Country Director of WRC, Pakistan is optimistic. "We have been going to educational institutions to engage the youth. At present, more than 60 percent of the population in the country is made up of people less than 25 years of age. They are the future. They are the ones who will be policy makers. They are our target. We hold seminars where we hold discussions about the effects of violence on women. We hold power sports, where the winner pledges never to use his power against women. We held a national boxing championship in which 15 teams participated. The Army team won, and they made the same pledge. We do not claim cent percent success, but the majority of the boys and men we have interacted with agreed that violence against women should stop. Many students from the rural areas have promised to take this campaign to their villages.

"We have come across people who feel it's OK to slap their wives, as it is their right, but this perception will not change overnight. While counseling the males, we discuss the impact of violence on the mind of their children. This is something that most people pay attention to."

WRC has been holding seminars in all the provinces of Pakistan to raise awareness about violence against women. In this context, a seminar was recently held in Karachi, where Omar Aftab highlighted the problems confronting WRC and other NGOs that are fighting for women rights. Many interesting, though unfortunate, misconceptions came to light during the course of discussion. An NGO worker shared that according to his research many women feel that it's all right for their husbands to beat them, as it shows their 'love' for them. These women said that they become upset when their 'man' stops beating them, as that means that he doesn't love them anymore, and is probably involved with some one else!

Another participant pointed out the rather weird mindset of some women who feel that unless a man beats his wife, he is not 'manly' but a zan mureed. You! cannot fail to wonder which clever mother-in-law instigated this to get even with her daughter-in-law!

Yet another female participant was of the view that since in Islam man is deemed superior to woman, and is allowed to beat his wife, this problem of domestic violence is here to stay.

An uproar greeted this statement! It was agreed that women should not accept what they hear, but should carry out their own research. They should read the translation of the Holy Qur'an to remove such misconceptions.

Violence, whether it is mental torture at the hand of male colleagues, physical harassment in the streets, rape or domestic violence should be curbed by strict laws, but leaving it to the state will not do. The civil society needs to strengthen its act, too.

A problem can only be solved if it is identified and accepted as such. Since it mostly lies with men, they are in a better position to connect with other men and explain why they should say a big NO to violence against women in all spheres of life. That is why WRC is such a special initiative. Men who ignore female voices as feminism will probably pay more heed to their colleagues, friends and relatives. The change can hardly occur overnight, but come it will. After all, 'tomorrow is another day'

Reprinted with the permission of the author and of:

Senior Unit Coordinator
SAHIL (Against Child Sexual Abuse)
H # B-62, St-2, Sindhi Housing Society, Airport Road Sukkur
Phone: +92 71 5633615 Email: uc_suk@sahil.org , khadimpk@yahoo.co.uk
Website: www.sahil.org