Womenfolk and our society –Muhammad Haroon Rafique -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Womenfolk and our society –Muhammad Haroon Rafique

Economic independence for women can provide a partial solution to the extent that if a rape victim becomes economically independent, her family will not consider her an economic burden though the social problem will still persist.

Paradoxically, our otherwise divided society has a strange commonality in itself – belief in subjection and inferiority of womenfolk. Almost everywhere male chauvinistic attitudes have ossified this universal image about women that men may treat women as they deem fit. This attitude has a deeper hue in rural and tribal areas where women are supposed to live in complete subordination to men; the situation in the urban areas is generally considered better though not always.

The historical roots of this may be traced back to the Indo Pakistan civilisation where women were considered to be born into subjection, like other old civilisations of the world. Although Islam gives a respectable position to women and has outlined an ethical code in this regard, yet discrimination against women remains prevalent and persistent. For instance, Islam gives the right to inherit property to women but they are generally denied this right. The pre-existing cultural behaviour and stereotypical thinking towards women remain dominant despite Islamic precepts. Due to this, maltreating women is considered normal and is generally dismissed as a personal or private affair. Thus in Pakistan, crimes against the person of women are not considered as serious as is in the case of men.

Crime against women is prevalent in contemporary Pakistani society. Countless women suffer from battery, rape, burning, acid attacks and mutilation. The estimated percentages of women who experience spousal abuse alone range from 70 to upwards of 90 percent. If there is anything more disturbing than the prevalence of these crimes, it is the impunity with which they are committed. Rape is one of these crimes which carry huge socio-economic cost for the victims.

Although there is a need to address the issues related to the criminal justice system to create effective deterrence in society, this aspect of the issue is not altogether ignored by the policy-makers and helmsmen. However, the miserable life of victims in society has remained obscure due to one or the other reasons rooted in our particular cultural and societal ethos.

The big dilemma facing state and society is that the perpetrators of such crimes generally find escape through the grey areas of our criminal and judicial system but their victims continue to face ongoing agony let loose by societal apathy in the aftermath. This public apathy results in making them complete social outcasts and in some instances precipitate declaring them complete societal pariahs. Unfortunately, victims of parents and siblings are at the forefront in manufacturing this state of misery for them. This worst kind of social exclusion is thrust upon them for no fault of their own. The irony is that on the one hand they are subjected to heinous crimes like rape in the form of physical assault on them and on the other hand they have to undergo an immense amount of mental and psychological stress when they become unwelcome and criminals in the eyes of society. This double jeopardy pushes women victims to commit suicide in some cases because suddenly they become unacceptable for their own families.

This happens again because of our skewed cultural and social mindset, which is constructed by our explanation of family pride and honour associated with women and the thinking that a rape victim is a stigma for the family and is a symbol of disgrace. This is because no one will be ready to marry her and she will be considered as a drain on the family. Her exclusion at home has both social and economic reasons: since society does not accept her, therefore her own family has to support her which has an economic cost. Here it is a catch-22 situation in which society and family are both responsible for creating social exclusion of rape victims but the tragedy is that it is not taken as a serious problem to be addressed.

The problem merits concerted efforts from our media, policy-makers, religious clerics, helmsmen in criminal administration, women’s rights activists and international donors. In order to address this social and economic crisis for rape victims, changing the mindset of the public is very important. It is difficult and resistant to change and can be achieved only in a gradual manner and should be an ongoing effort waged jointly by the media and women’s rights activists. Both the print and electronic media should design and telecast such programmes and plays which bring out the importance of dealing with such victims in a normal way. They can build around themes of Islamic teachings by highlighting the status of women determined by Islam and suggesting that Islam does not discriminate against rape victims. Religious clerics may be asked to provide their help in this regard.

Education being the catalyst of developing minds should be used as a tool to create a positive mindset about women in society. The curriculum designers should envisage this point in designing the curriculum for various levels in schools and colleges. Teachers’ training institutions should also be sensitised to include gender sensitive practices in their training modules and lectures. This will be a gradual but everlasting approach because collective social behaviour is intricately linked to the socio-psychological makeup that students obtain during the formative phases of their education.

Economic independence by women can provide a partial solution to the extent that if a rape victim becomes economically independent, her family will not consider her an economic burden though the social problem will still persist. Then it is also important to highlight the plight of rape victims in society in order to create deterrence. The politicians, police, policy-makers, judiciary, women activists and international community should jointly pool their efforts to bring out such policies and programmes that specifically aim at highlighting the plight faced by the victims and also bring forth practical programmes to reach out to such victims for possibly settling them in society. The jurisdiction of Dar-ul-Amans should be extended in this regard to assist such victims in every possible way. In case such victims are abandoned by their families and society, these institutions should be prepared to house them and arrange for their further rehabilitation.

One of the practical steps towards creating institutional support for such victims is to create a supervisory organisation with some quasi-judicial powers. The National Commission on the Status of Women already exists, although without necessary teeth to deal with the situation. This commission may be given sufficient legal and financial power by empowering it with judicial powers to try the offenders. It should also be assisted by the police force and forensic assistance. Besides this role, the commission should continue to play the role of a watchdog over the provincial governments and continuously keep tabs on the efforts made in this regard.

Time is of the essence in this matter and it is important that state and society as a whole should gear up its efforts to address this serious matter in a practical manner. Though the journey is long and arduous, it will eventually be covered provided the first step is taken.

Source: Daily Times

Date:6/1/2011