My last night in Islamabad was shadowed with terrible revelations, or more accurately, reminders that we are still so far away from progressing as a country in terms of women’s rights. My two cousins and aunt were each seated at the edge of the bed with slight unease, trying to find a conversation to run through the night with. I kept switching my attention from my phone to them, briefly keeping up with the theme of the conversation; clothes, education, life in Pakistan and so on. Until controversy slipped into the conversation as one of my cousins blurted that, “if a woman doesn’t want to be harassed then she should dress modestly.” My attention immediately shifted and I turned off my phone; fully attentive to the conversation that was about to follow.
We never talked about women rights, I’m not precisely sure why. Prior to the conversation, I just assumed there wasn’t much to talk about, surely all victims of a marginalized group agree on their oppression? However, that night, another side of Pakistan became more vivid. I always knew there were some women that choose not to align with the feminist movement, but I didn’t know they stood so close to what I called home.
My cousin then added her “distaste” for western feminism, how appalling it was in nature that women “stripped down” at the “excuse” of liberation. My aunt expressed how she fully supported my cousin’s views.
I listened, trying to rationalize their thought process, but momentarily I felt incredibly alone. Until my other cousin that was sitting parallel to me exclaimed how ridiculous it was that, when a woman is harassed, the finger always points at the woman herself rather than the man that perpetuated those actions. She followed her statement with a sexual harassment case that recently occurred in a college in Multan where a young woman that would go to college in a burqa was sexually harassed by a professor at the institution. The professor was relocated, without any trial or penalty. This was how the justice system functioned in Pakistan usually; rarely any accountability. But surely the women couldn’t be blamed in this scenario, right? She was modestly dressed, so there’s no way they could blame her? Well, we always find a way.
My aunt’s response to this narrative was horrendous, to the point that I had to hold back my tears. She said that the harassment was simply in the woman’s “kismat” (faith).
It’s ridiculous how we excuse the suffering that women face within this patriarchal society as “gods will”; it’s even more ridiculous how women reaffirm this excuse rather than recognizing that there’s clearly something wrong with how our society functions.
That woman who was harassed will continue with the detailed memory of being molested, but she will continue living in a world that will tell her to forget her harassment. So she will cage her trauma which will continue to grow every single day, suffocating her. She will live in a world in which she will witness her harasser roaming freely, happy. She will also live in a world that will tell her that her harassment was in her “kismat,” that in some way it was inevitable and that it was some extraordinary life lesson.
Clearly, at this point, there were two sharply contrasting views. One side that believed that our misogynistic society is perfect the way it is and another side that believed in revolution. It became clear that within Pakistan the strongest opposition wasn’t just the men, but the women that believed that the system we live in isn’t flawed. That we as women are meant to be constrained within our households and that men are inherently “superior.”
These women aren’t necessarily at fault either though: they’re conditioned to believe that a perfect brown woman is a symbol of purity. Thus, she needs to be decent and decent means that she shouldn’t vocalize her opinion too much, she shouldn’t go out to work and she must certainly not go out to the streets to revolt. What’s stopping her from doing all of this? The men within her household that uphold this system. We further succumb to this when we see the women around us suppressing themselves to fit into society too.
This shouldn’t be the case. Our oppression shouldn’t be left static just because its surface level justification is that “it’s part of the struggles of this world.” Not doing anything about it won’t make it any better. It’s only when we vocalize every single form of discrimination we face and push for legislative action can we assure that we’re progressing. Whether it’s a conservative Pakistani woman or one that indulges in liberal feminist thought, we should all be entitled to our fundamental freedoms which will only be a product of a united battle.