The need for cul­tural cur­rency

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Hafsa Khawaja

THERE has been much out­cry and up­roar. JUI-F's Maulana Fa­zlur Rehman has called it an in­stru­ment for vic­tim­iza­tion of hus­bands, and sug­gested that the gov­ern­ment should've just de­clared the ' hus­band as wife and wife as hus­band'. Muham­mad Naeem of Bi­no­ria has lamented it and linked it to the Nawaz Sharif's prom­ises to the West for bring­ing a 'lib­eral nizaam' in Pak­istan and an at­tack against our 'cul­ture' and ' val­ues'. There have been protests and con­dem­na­tions.

Such has been the re­ac­tion elicited from the con­ser­va­tive and re­li­gious right in the coun­try by the pas­sage of the Bill for Pro­tec­tion of Women against Vi­o­lence 2015, which crim­i­nal­izes vi­o­lence against women and car­ries com­pre­hen­sive reme- dies and re­course for vic­tims of vi­o­lence, in the Pun­jab Assem­bly.

The ve­he­ment op­po­nents of the Bill are pro­po­nents of an idea that not only triv­i­al­izes the oc­cur­rence and preva­lence of shame­ful ills and stains on Pak­istani so­ci­ety, such as do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, but also be­lieve that it is ac­tu­ally the un­cov­er­ing and ex­po­si­tion of these ills that re­ally brings bad name to Pak­istan and its 'cul­ture'.

They would rather that women be beaten and as­saulted in their homes, acid thrown on their faces, buried alive in the name of honor, than let their cries be heard or their wounds be healed.

Yet this re­ac­tion is symp­to­matic of a larger malaise within Pak­istan's cul­ture and so­ci­ety that the Bill has merely man­aged to re­veal. It is a malaise that con­sid­ers vi­o­lence against women a le­git­i­mate and ac­cept­able force to main­tain the sta­bil­ity, sanc­tity and honor of the fam­ily and home; vi­o­lence as a 'nat­u­ral' in­stru­ment of ex­alted mas­culin­ity to ' straighten a woman up' or 'put her in her place'. This is ce­mented by the pre­sen­ta­tion of the malaise as a mat­ter that strictly be­longs to the pri­vate sphere, to the de­gree that even to speak on vi­o­lence in­flicted upon women is con­sid­ered a breach of the so­called sanc­tity of the pri­vate. Thus, it may be that the iz­zat of the home is by a woman, but the woman her­self has no right to her own iz­zat.

Only re­cently it was re­ported that a man in the vil­lage of Lakha Lud­dan di­vorced his wife af­ter she got him ar­rested for in­flict­ing tor­ture on her.

In light of the ex­ist­ing situation, the fer­vid op­po­si­tion to the Bill among cer­tain groups and seg­ments in the coun­try un­der­score some­thing much greater: the need to cre­ate cul­tural cur­rency for change and re­form in Pak­istan. Since laws can­not op­er­ate in a vac­uum, le­gal strides on is­sues such as those of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence must be ac­com­pa­nied by ef­forts to con­jure cul­tural ac­cep­tance and trac­tion of the ideas un­der­ly­ing the laws to com­ple­ment and en­force their strength.

Nazish Brohi sharply cap­tures the predica­ment con­fronting women in the coun­try: "Women across Pak­istan, mean­while, con­tinue to face an old ul­ti­ma­tum: they can ei­ther claim cit­i­zen­ship of the state or membership of the com­mu­nity. Ap­peal­ing to the for­mer means ex­pul­sion from the lat­ter. Once you go to the police or courts or shel­ters, there is no go­ing back into the fam­ily fold."

This sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the sphere of the state and the sphere of the pri­vate de­fines a great seg­ment of op­po­si­tion and anger di­rected at the Bill by many groups which con­sider it a breach of space and an en­croach­ment of the exclusive rights such a sep­a­ra­tion be­stows upon the pri­vate space i.e. deal­ing with women.

This divi­sion of spheres aids the afore­men­tioned ar­gu­ment of the sanc­tity of home and fam­ily, an ar­gu­ment that Am­mar Rashid of the Awami Work­ers Party was quick to point out was an "ageold misog­y­nist ruse; used to deny women the vote hun­dred years ago", which is be­ing in­voked by those tar­get­ing the Bill as a dan­ger­ous de­vice that can po­ten­tially trig­ger the dis­in­te­gra­tion of fam­i­lies and its even­tual dis­ap­pear­ance in so­ci­ety.

One won­ders what ex­actly goes on in the cher­ished in­sti­tu­tion of fam­ily that such a bill threat­ens by threat­en­ing to ex­pose and pun­ish.

It may per­haps well be true that ideas em­bod­ied in le­gal ini­tia­tives, of vi­o­lence against women be­ing a crime, per­co­late through to larger so­ci­ety but a top down change must be aug­mented by the cre­ation of con­gru­ent val­ues be­low in or­der to ren­der it ef­fec­tive and pow­er­ful. Af­ter all, a woman brought up to be­lieve that to re­main silent in face of vi­o­lence is to main­tain honor would sel­dom think of ap­peal­ing to laws. And it is this si­lence that men make their power and im­punity.

There­fore, as im­por­tant as it is for the gov­ern­ment to en­sure the mo­men­tous pas­sage and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the land­mark bill, it is equally, if not more, im­por­tant to un­der­take a se­ri­ous and con­certed cam­paign to cul­tur­ally dif­fuse the value held at heart of the bill and over­turn ex­ist­ing toxic ideas and per­cep­tions cen­tered on the ac­cept­abil­ity of vi­o­lence against women.

Such a cam­paign will have to in­volve the state and gov­ern­ment's en­gage­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion with the civil so­ci­ety; and the uti­liza­tion of means and medi­ums, which res­onate with the larger pub­lic, such as films, dra­mas, ad­ver­tise­ments, lec­tures, ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, and even re­li­gious au­thor­ity.

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