Fighting misogyny

I recently saw a very powerful play, Jan Se Mann Ki Jai Ho, on the plight of women in India and around the world. It dealt with various aspects of gender inequality but the most compelling part was the one on female foeticide. The monologue of an unborn baby girl was sensitive, emotional, overpowering and tragic at the same time. I don't think there was anyone in the audience – male or female – who did not cry at the end of that monologue. It reminded me of my own country, Pakistan, as well.

When a girl child is born, we often see family and friends with sad faces, saying things like: ‘Challo koi nahi, agli baar insha’Allah beta hoga’ (It’s okay. God willing, you will give birth to a son next time). In many local hospitals, the hospital staff do not ask for bakshish (tip) when a girl child is born out of ‘pity’ for the family. Girls are seen as a ‘burden’ on the family. Even though we now see more working women in urban areas in Pakistan, many of them face sexual harassment at the workplace. Malala Yousafzai, a young girl, was shot by the Taliban because she raised her voice for women’s education.

From (late) Benazir Bhutto, to Asma Jahangir, from (late) Tahira Mazhar Ali to (late) Madam Noor Jehan, Pakistan has no dearth of powerful and influential women who made a mark in history and continue to do so. We, in the Indian Subcontinent, are still dealing with gender discrimination despite the fact that independent India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have all had female prime ministers and women have held other powerful positions in leading industries, including the media. Unfortunately, our women still have to face sexism in all forms day in and day out. The way news packages are made focusing on what women parliamentarians are wearing to their objectification in TV serials and advertisements shows how we in South Asia treat most women with utmost disrespect. In the electronic media in Pakistan, we sometimes see how female co-hosts are made to sit in a television programme as mere showpieces: they are asked to look pretty, nod at their male counterparts and not say much during the show. It is a sad reflection on our society and the patriarchal mindset that dominates our region.

After the Indian cricket team’s defeat against Australia in the World Cup semi-final yesterday, we saw misogyny on social media when actor Anushka Sharma was trolled because of Virat Kohli’s performance on the field. It was disgusting to see the attack on Ms Sharma because of her gender. Sexist jokes and sexist attacks are not funny. Period. Phrases like ‘hum ne chooriyaan nahin pehni hui hain’ (we are not wearing bangles) are commonly used in this part of the world to show your machismo. It is this attitude and mindset that we need to fight to end gender inequality.

So, the next time a girl child is born in your family, please ensure that she is treated with love, respect and dignity. Education and awareness is equally important to fight such regressive attitudes. Empowerment of women will lead to unimagined progress of our nations. Let’s do it.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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