By Aisha Sarwari
November 27, 2016
The UN Women Pakistan have done something laudable. They have launched a campaign against violence against women by naming the devil and spelling out that men beat women, pretty often and pretty viciously. When the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a body better left to measure the length of mowed grass, declared that lightly beating women should be permitted in the new pro-women legislation that is coming out of our national and provincial bodies, then this campaign becomes all the more important. The #BeatMe video, viewed thousands of times, has celebrity women from all fields challenging men to beat them at their game — scaling Everest, singing chart toppers, outdoing political commentary and having babies. Again, significant because it reminds everyone what women are capable of, how versatile they are and how they cannot be put in a box.
That was the intention. However, in a way, unwittingly perhaps, they did put women in a box. They did convey the message that women are strong and powerful and influential and therefore, cannot be beaten. Yet the data shows that there is no correlation between power and violence against women. Women who sit at boards have been beaten by men; women who have run countries have been beaten; women who are construction workers have been beaten; women who are butchers have been beaten and women who have rejected suitors and publicly shamed them have been killed. Like the young teacher in Muree, Maria Sadaqat who was burned this year by a mob because she said no to a man.
There is zero protection that power and influence gives women from being beaten. The truth lies elsewhere. Truth is that it is the social subtext that makes all women appear as a monolith to all-powerful men. That social subtext about women always being subservient no matter what, will be changed when enough men are punished for wronging a woman and that is not happening. Dragging a man to court for beating a woman is worse than trying to dig a water well with a toothpick. It’s not even worth attempting. The law and justice system of the country is so tipped towards the aggressor that they know beyond a doubt that they will get away with it.
A successful campaign, a more successful campaign would be to deter men. Neither does a women’s subservience deter him nor does her power. A man cut out to be violent towards women will always have that disposition because well, it’s easy; he feels vindicated afterwards when he gets away with it and it’s such a power kick when the woman scrambles around concealing her bruises because society shames her before it shames him. There will be enough men (and women) to put her down for failing to be likeable than it will guilt him for being a savage. After the anti-women violence legislation was passed, that sub-text seemed to change albeit by a few millimetres. The buzz was: don’t break anything when you beat women, there are laws now.
With that generational inertia of misogyny powerfully charging towards the annihilation of women, the #BeatMe campaign leaves behind women who are frail, who haven’t won any medals, collected any accolades, or firewood or wins in the contemporary sense. It also could do well to represent the woman who is the actual force against patriarchy: the regular working women, the 9-5 woman, the receptionist, the nurse, the data entry person or the house maid.
Women don’t deserve to be beaten. Period. Their strength can sometimes be counterproductive in the current hostile environment. It gives the wife beater extra brownie points amongst his peers for putting a more prized one under his thumb. It is a woman’s vulnerability that makes her strong. As does her obscurity. As does her ability or inkling not to bear children. All women are strong.
You’ll be scarred for life if you #BeatMe — A more effective message in my humble opinion.
Then put those development funds in bringing perpetrators to justice. When enough men are behind bars for what the CII approves of, that’s when men with not #BeatMe.
Aisha Sarwari is a freelance writer based in Islamabad