From Malala Yousafzai to Zainab Ansari, Farkhanda Malikzada of Afghanistan to Joyti Singh of India, World Wars to Fall of Dhaka – the world has seen all sorts of violence against the female gender, irrespective of age, and these have continued since the advent of time. However, times have changed and women now stand up against gender based violence. An initiative on this issue was undertaken by UN Women, called “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” an international campaign to highlight and challenge violence against women and girls, to run every year 25 November designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women till 10 December, which is the UN Human Rights Day.
During the 16 days, various platforms are used around the world to organize events and create awareness about gender-based violence during which women share their stories and narrate how they managed to escape from the abusive relationships and moved on in life.
This campaign is also organized in Pakistan, however our overall response to such issues as shown in how the #MeToo campaign was snubbed in our society and people even tried to corner women who dared to speak up to a point that some had to go into hiding. Anyone who spoke up on any social media platform in support of #MeToo or shared their story was called with nasty names and it was even said that they deserved it. While, on the other hand, in India people spoke out and named their abusers to bring shame to them, which was often supported by a vast majority of the responders on social media. Interestingly, while the general culture of using abusive language is similar yet people in India were more open to hear to the #MeToo narratives as compared to Pakistan.
These awareness programs led to various projects being set up in Pakistan to help women abused by their male family members or having been a victim of any form of harassment; however my observation from such projects is that they are the last resort as these are not helping women and instead provide them with an escape as they can stay in an environment away from the abusive one where they can stay without being hunted down by their families; this however is not the solution but a stop gap arrangement.
While these campaigns and projects are good to create awareness in society, a different method needs to be adopted. An example is the #HeForShe campaign which can be introduced in schools along with other areas of endeavor. The campaign aims to teach young boys and men good behavior, respect, equality and non-violent attitudes towards the opposite gender; young males if educated and taught from their early year’s will make a difference in life otherwise things will not change for our future generations.
On the other hand, girls from young age should be taught about living independently and given the power to grow and take decisions on their own. They should get education so they are able to earn a living for themselves. It is time women are taught self-defense incase a situation arises where they need to take action against an assailant; additionally the police system needs to be improved so women in need of Police assistance can lodge a complaint without being afraid of being abused or harassed.
Equality, empowerment and gender sensitivity as standalone subjects or combined with another discipline should be introduced in our curriculum so children start learning about these issues from an early age rather than having issues later in life; this can be brought about by engaging educationists, parents, parliamentarians and civil society for creation of a more gender friendly syllabus and applying it in our children’s schools.
This blog has been written by Umaima Ahmed, Member of DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights.