Shifting social norms to stop violence against women.

Originally posted on The September Angel

Social and cultural norms can either protect women against abuse and violence or they can encourage the use of violence against them. The culture of violence against women persists in Pakistani society because it’s deemed acceptable. A religious and traditional belief that men are superior to women and they have a right to control them with use of force and discipline them through physical means makes women vulnerable to violence.


Harassment, physical violence, bullying, attacks and cyber threats – It’s always there, isn’t it? Most of us don’t like it, but what can we actually do about gender-based violence? Challenging social norms to put an end to violence against women can be approached at different levels which include making government policies, mass media campaigns and educating masses.

The figures are terrible – violent crimes against women in Pakistan are reaching record levels with every passing year. It seems like it’ll take forever for the criminal justice system to cope with the number of women coming forward with terrible stories of rape, beatings and online forms of abuse. So what are our options? Is there any solution? Is there anything we can do as individuals to defy the culture of violence against women?sw13.jpg

Well, there is. But it requires a dramatic shift in social attitudes and public behaviors. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I’ve actually seen people expressing sympathy with a man on trial for rape, asking why the victim had to be on the wrong place at the wrong time. In Pakistan, the general public’s understanding of the law relating to consent is woefully lacking, and there is a persistent tendency to view victim’s behavior much more critically than that of the abuser who commits even violent assaults.

The same callousness is often shown to victims of domestic abuse, who are either blamed of lying or criticized for staying with violent partners even when they have no other choice. If we are serious about changing the dire situation, we have to put an end to a culture of denial and victim-blaming.

Sometimes I think that we are making some progress but every single time the apparent advance is quickly followed by a return to the status quo. A few months ago, after the horrific killing of Qandeel Baloch, there was an outpouring of shock and sympathy. But that consensus didn’t last long. Her brother confessed to killing her for family honor and some people literally went on social networking sites to justify this cruel murder by calling the model immodest and mocking everyone who was condemning her murder.


The attitude that being bullied with comments on ones looks is just another hazard. Let me quote an example from our parliament house when while using derogatory language, specifically targeting a woman, our defense minister pointed towards Sheerin Mazari and said, “Someone make this tractor trolley keep quiet” when she protested to his speech on load shedding during Ramadan. When even the parliamentarians cannot correctly identify a gender-specific form of abuse, it’s safe to assume that we have reached a startling level of denial as a nation.

Abuse against women in our society is at epidemic proportions. Some of this violence is driven by technology but the biggest problem by far is tolerance. A society which is genuinely committed to gender equality would never put up with a situation like this for a moment. But violence against women is embedded into our culture. The reason is that we, as a society, let it slide and have become immune to the dangerous implications. It will take a lot of effort to shift toward a culture that turns away from violence and abuse, but to make this dream possible we have to stand together as one. Being a part of society, the responsibility lies on our shoulders to help rid the world of abuse and violence. We, who have the voices and the power to do so, must choose to stand up and speak out.


Most of the victims of violence and abuse suffer in silence and there are a very few who can find the strength to speak up or seek help. The question is what will you do to help the victims end this suffering?


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