Fahashi or Fascism?
By Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal MBE DL
There are few things that incense me more than men telling women what they can and cannot wear or what they should or should not do. When they use caring for the safety of women as justification for their comments, when they use a man’s inability to control his sexual urges and his lack of ‘willpower, and then use religious edicts to justify their own misogynistic comments, well, it just makes matter worse.
Over the last few weeks we have seen a surge of protest across the world, of women standing up and refusing to stay silent on the issue of violence against women. In London, tensions were understandably high when hundreds of women gathered, despite lockdown, to protest following the brutal murder of Sarah Everard. In Mexico, on international women’s day, women clashed with police demonstrating against rampant sexual violence against women, in a country that sees 10 femicides a day. And demonstrations have taken place in Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Spain, Turkey, France and Australia – all speaking out about violence against women.
According to the Office for national Statistics, 1 in 40 women who are between the ages of 16 and 24 experience rape or assault in England and Wales every year. For the 12 month period ending March 2020, 0.8% of women over the age of 16 were victims and 773,000 adults 16-74 years of age were sexually assaulted. These figures should be sickening to any sane minded individual and under no circumstances should we ever try to shift the blame for these assaults onto the victims themselves. Yet we see this happening, time and time again across the world. Women shouldn’t be out alone in the dark, women shouldn’t be doing certain jobs, women shouldn’t wear certain things – because obviously doing all of these things and not listening to men, is apparently tantamount to being asked to be assaulted. Certainly in the minds of some people. I’m sure no one needs reminding of the pervasive culture that exists in India that has seen countless women gang raped and severely brutalised because of a society dominated by men, misogyny and caste.
The reports from Pakistan that Prime Minister Imran Khan has made some unfortunate comments that suggest women’s appearance needs addressing (as opposed to the mentality of men, who lack the willpower to control their violent and sexual urges) has yet again cast the limelight on a country many people already see as existing in the dark ages. Pakistan is the land of my birth and to see its Prime Minister dismiss the issues of safety and security of 50% of his people by blaming them for attacks is both deplorable and upsetting. Whilst I’m not a fan of the ‘sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll culture’ that Imran Khan alludes to or the modern Bollywood films he refers to, it is a shame that he has not put any emphasis on the responsibility of men to control their behaviours and respect women. It is sad to hear that he believes that only ‘purdah’ can keep ‘temptation’ in check.
I would suggest that as Prime Minister and the father of sons, he revaluates his response and perhaps look at things from a more Islamic perspective. The injunction on women to dress modestly is without a doubt a Qur’anic instruction, but it is proceeded by an instruction on men to lower their gaze (i.e. don’t look at what is not yours to look at) and to guard their modesty. I have seen no evidence of The Almighty telling women that if you are the victim of abuse or you are raped it is your own fault. I would also suggest we listen to and believe women when they speak out about their experiences, and perhaps ensure greater protection, security and justice for them. Perhaps the education of how boys and men should treat women could begin at an early age and be part of the curriculum. We need to teach boys to respect women, respect their mothers, their sisters and their daughters. And maybe, if we do have men who lack the ‘willpower’ to control their urges, we should ask them the question – what would you do with a man who could not control his urges towards your mother, your sister or your daughter?
As women, we are continuously having to fight for fairness, equality and justice whether in the UK or Pakistan. In the context of Pakistan, a Muslim nation, where 11 rape cases are reported daily, I wish that these concepts, God given Islamic principles, were bestowed upon our women.