Moving beyond the conversation
Just a couple of days ago, the #MeToo campaign, which began in the western part of the world, found its way to Pakistan. Thousands of women used different social media platforms to talk about harassment and abuse.
The #MeToo campaign tried to show the world just how many women (and men and non-binary individuals in some cases) had been victims of harassment and abuse. Despite the vast number of conversations it helped begin, #MeToo is no solution.
Old thoughts, new method
The campaign’s aim to shed light on the magnitude of the problem is nothing new. Many others that set to do precisely this precede it. Famously – and at times infamously – the #YesAllWomen campaign also popped in the not to recent past to do exactly the same thing #MeToo does. #YesAllWomen’s detractors quickly gave birth to #NotAllMen. Just as #MeToo is currently leading to its own anti-thesis in digital spaces.
There are various conversations now about how useful these campaigns are. But in the larger context, the only thing it is, is a first step. And it seems that we have been stuck at a first step for a while. Earlier this year, Madadgaar National Helpline 1098 Founder Zia Ahmad Awan pointed out at a press conference that 93pc of all women experience some form of sexual violence in public spaces. He also pointed out that 70pc of women and girls experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of their own partners.
Despite these statistics, it’s harrowing to note that on the national level, only a few thousand women actually end up reporting these problems anywhere. It doesn’t take a campaign for the numbers to talk, but who has been listening is the better question.
Right after #MeToo kicked off, some began questioning why the onus always lies with the one getting harassed. Jackson Katz, an educator, activist and filmmaker, talked about the manner in which we discuss sexual violence of any kind.
“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls,” Katz said.
These words have gone somewhat viral – one more time – alongside #MeToo and they may be on to something. Without taking away from the value that #MeToo has had for so many people, it is now important to take the next step: have a bigger conversation with men.
Just as Katz pointed out that men are never made part of the equation when abuse is under discussion, a tweet from singer Zara Larsson wondered why there was a disparity in what women knew and what men never encountered.
Here, the larger issue is not that one part of any society is constantly lying but that often harassment is not even recognised. One man’s humour can be another woman’s trauma. Instead of constantly only telling women how to learn self defense, buy shoes that can electrocute men, learn kung fu that they can do in their heels, and so on and so forth, we need to be talking to the men and other perpetrators of violence.
There needs to be a serious focus on ensuring that everyone know what constitutes harassment, abuse and violence. So far, what we are seeing is that there isn’t even a consensus on what rape is – supposedly the most heinous crime, this one doesn’t exist in Pakistan if the rapist is the husband. Rape is perhaps too harsh an example, but a deeper look at harassment issues will show you that often what women view as harassment is seen as nothing more than a joke by men.
Around the world men will tell you they don’t know harassers, and in Pakistan, men will tell you their women have been never harassed – the myth of the untouched, ghairat-ensuring wife, mother, daughter, sister, nani, dadi, etc, continues.
A realignment is required, and a readjustment is the order of the day. After #MeToo the conversation that needs to happen is between the perpetrators of violence, irrespective of their gender.
Some work has begun around these issues, but as is quite obvious, it isn’t enough. Organisations such as MenEngage are spread out across South Asia and are working towards helping more and more men and boys understand the importance of equality for all genders.
Even within Pakistan, organisations such as Blue Veins, are working on the issue. Members even go as far as to question social structures in a stringent area such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. By questioning stereotypical roles in heteronormative relationships, they have at least gotten the ball rolling.
The only way out of this is to focus increasingly on asking men the tough questions. Perhaps the next campaign needs to ask violators if they would like to change, and if we get a similar #MeToo response then we can rejoice.