The ongoing events have weighed heavy on the hearts of people, especially women all over the country. Hashtags like #JusticeforAyesha, #Noorneedsjustice, #justiceforQuratulain, #justiceforSaima, #justiceforAndaleeb, etc. were rampant on social media. Once again, we as a nation were forced to come to terms with the inequalities women face in our country.
Contrary to popular belief, the oppressions and inequalities, don’t just affect lower socio-economic classes but also those who’ve termed themselves the “elite”. On one hand, a 7-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in Quetta, on the other, Noor Muqaddam, coming from an influential family in Islamabad, daughter of a diplomat, was murdered and beheaded by another “educated” man she had once called a friend.
In 2018, the disturbing case of Zainab Ansari, a six-year-old who was raped and murdered in Kasur, exposed the ugly underbelly of our society. The case prompted national outrage. However, despite the reality check, discussions about any collective progress for the female gender as a whole were limited to talk shows, Twitter hashtags, and social media blame games.
To tackle this menace, it is important to look into its causes. We need to figure out the catalysts for prevalent violence against women and then we need solutions that show quantifiable results.
Often the perpetrators of such despicable acts are classified as “mentally unstable”. However, according to the General System Theory of Psychology, the cause of any kind of violence is a social system rather than a mental illness.
For example, in the Noor Mukaddam case, the family of the perpetrator, Zahir Jaffer, is trying to project him as mentally unstable. Be that as it may, the facts of the case show that it was a premeditated act of violence and that clearly, Jaffer’s mental health status did not interfere with that.
Our socio-cultural norms grant men the liberty to justify their cruelty through excuses like poor mental health. Clearly, our patriarchal social systems benefit men by placing most of the blame on the female victims and finding excuses for the male perpetrators as this cycle of violence continues to impact women’s lives disproportionately.
What fault does a 7-year-old child have in her sexual assault? Was it her clothes or her behavior? Was she wrong to feel free to play within her own neighborhood? Should we believe men are inherently violent? Or is it our socio-cultural norms that make men feel brazen enough to commit such heinous crimes without care for the consequences?
Violence, of any sort, can be linked to multiple factors. According to the Frustration-Aggression-Displacement theory by John Dollard, when a person’s efforts to attain their goals are blocked, it leads to aggression and/or violence. Therefore, violence against women can also be linked to issues like unemployment, illiteracy, and poverty, etc.
In a culture where men feel extreme pressure to provide for their families when they sense that they are failing, they feel powerless. In order to gain some of that power back, they lash out by abusing their authority over the women and even children in their lives and even on social media now. The power imbalance in our family systems makes it so that women become the targets of this abuse.
However, at its core, sexual violence or gender-based acts of violence are linked to power. When male perpetrators feel weak, powerless and out of control for some reason, they counteract that by reacting with violence in dynamics where they still hold power. These could often be with women within their households or any other women who have made them feel powerless.
According to the Social Learning theory, new behaviors can be adopted by observing and/or imitating others. This implies that violence and aggression do not come inherently to people, rather it is a learned behavior. Our cultural systems, false religious interpretations, and gender norms tend to belittle the status of women in society.
This can be observed within many of our family systems. A young boy may take up these behaviors when he sees his father repeatedly demeaning or being violent towards his mother. A young girl may see such behavior throughout her childhood and accept it as the norm. These children would then perpetuate these norms when they get married and have children of their own and so on.
These harmful mindsets can also be seen reflected in the majority of our media content where women are often reduced to weak, emotional messes unable to fulfill their “duties” or they are portrayed in negative and manipulative roles. This content reinforces harmful gender and cultural norms as well as themes of toxic masculinity. Even the language used to describe women in the dialogue and titles of drama serials such as Adhoori Aurat or Kaisi Aurat Hoon Main etc. seem to demean women.
The role of women in the development and prosperity of any society is undeniable. Be it as part of the country’s workforce or as homemakers and mothers, they play the most crucial role in creating and molding the future. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the provision of their rights and their safety. The State must first and foremost ensure strict implementation of laws for the protection of women such as the recently passed Zainab Alert Bill, Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Bill, and the Women’s Protection Bill, etc. Moreover, perpetrators of crimes against women should be publicly brought to justice and exemplified.
Additionally, our media needs to become more mindful of the power they hold in forming and changing mindsets. They must actively play the role of change agents in preventing violence against women and uplifting their status.
Most of all, we need to target and undo the mindset behind the inequalities between men and women. This is the mindset that we are taught in our homes and our society as a whole i.e., that men are inherently better and more powerful than women and so, they are owed a higher status and respect. This is the very basis of a patriarchal society, passed down and propagated through generations.
If we want this cycle of violence to end, we must step up and take responsibility for our part in perpetuating the attitudes that cause it. The outrage and despair we feel whenever we hear of such cases should be channeled into efforts to improve the conditions and status of women around us. Make sure they feel safe and the potential perpetrators of violent crimes against them think twice about the consequences of their actions. Once we all make individual efforts towards this goal, eventually, we will see change.