This article originally appeared in The Nation.
“It’s not your fault.”
That’s the first thing they tell survivors of abuse.
As counselors, it is the very message that they need to hammer (for the lack of a better word) into their clients. It is the first idea that victims need to grasp when they want to heal. It is the first line of thought that they need to start accepting – because being abused, being harassed, being exploited – they all leave you with a sense of shame and humiliation. They leave you feeling less of a human being. They leave you feeling with a burden, a blackening of your soul, as if you are not ‘pure’ anymore.
Is there little wonder, hence, that women survivors of abuse rarely come forward with their stories? Is it a mystery why so few women choose to speak out against the kind of problems they have to face – from childhood till death – in a society such as ours?
Being a woman is not easy. I can’t say that enough times. I can’t emphasize that enough. I can’t talk about it enough. It is not easy being told that my brain is of a lesser value. It is not easy being told that I deserve much less than a male counterpart. It is not easy being told that my clothes are responsible for a man’s leering eye. It is not easy hearing about my own gender being the prime target of all violence occurring inside houses and at the workplace. It is not easy learning to find your voice, learning to gain confidence in that voice and learning to speak out without the fear of someone threatening to rape you.
That is why it was increasingly horrendous to watch an event take place live on television yesterday. At a Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf gathering at Charing Cross, Lahore, a female anchor was harassed on live television. Sana Mirza , a news anchor at Geo Network Television, was reporting from the scenes atop a DSNG van and PTI workers/attendees chanted hate slogans against the network and then, personally at her. Shouts ranged from abuses, slogans and finally hitting her with an empty water bottle after which she could no longer control her tears and broke down on international television.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
And unfortunately for me, for her, for many other women across our country, that was not the end of the misogynistic hate spiral that we would be witness to for the rest of the news cycle.
Mirza garnered support from many of her fans and even some Insafians on social media but it was no less than terrifying to see many a party leader justifying the attack as a ‘result of the anger against Geo’ (Imran Khan) and that ‘harassment is a normal occurrence at such rallies, it’s not the end of the world!’ (Mahmood ur Rasheed) and ‘merely a reaction’ (Asad Umar) and, my personal favorite, ‘Geo should not be sending women to cover these rallies’ (ARY anchor, Iqrar ul Hassan).
So basically, Sana Mirza (and many others like her viz. Farhat Javed, Maria Memon and Umaima Malik who were targeted by PTI crowds) got what she deserved and so did every other female (or even some of the male anchors at Geo) who were pelted with sticks and stones and countless other words, live and on social media.
While Geo is at the top hit-list for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, other female anchorpersons have not been safe from these harassment cases as well. Asma Sherazi, Gharida Farooqi and other female anchors also reported major harassment by PTI crowds. The behavior went so far as harassing even the female PTI workers within the rally. One asks – is there no end to the madness?
No matter what these differences may be between political parties or media houses, no one gives them the right to attack or justify the attacks on women in the media. Freedom of press is a substantial part of a democracy and if Imran Khan or any other party wants to prove how ‘pro-democracy’ it is, it must prove so by taking unequivocal stances against the atrocious behavior by its workers – rather than coming up with half-hearted, ill-worded, victim-blaming statements that we have seen so far.
“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them,” Margaret Atwood.
What happened with Sana Mirza and many others like her is not merely a significant political turning point for PTI but also a feminist and human rights’ issue. And sure, some say ‘feminism’ and ‘equal rights’ movements don’t apply to societies like ours. Fine, I’ll give you a margin for error. Maybe cultural relativism may have its choice merits while comparing gender normative rules. But does this mean we give carte blanch to the men in our society to mistreat women just because some white woman in America wrote about feminism? Does this mean the argument of ‘women are just as human as men’ holds no merit? Call it feminism, don’t call it feminism, call it Islam, call it democracy, call it secularism, call it whatever you want. But call on it. Speak out on it. Believe in the equality of human beings.