Women in Pakistan are victims of a manufactured social ignorance — the kind of ignorance that escapes the boundaries of gender and promotes beliefs in fabricated notions of honour and prestige. It borrows from the status of women as independent human beings and degrades them to a sub existence level where it is alright to trade them as bargaining chips to reach a consensus. Victims, oppressors and bystanders all contributing to this ignorance.
Such ignorance exists for three reasons. It is there because we do not know all that we do not know and we have not thought about knowing what we do not know. It is our native state and we seek knowledge to know more of what we do not know.
Ignorance is sometimes a product of choice. We prioritise our efforts to explore a certain knowledge area or cease to allocate resources in preservation of something we believe is obsolete. It is selective ignorance due to justified limitations.
Ignorance is at times manufactured, maintained and manipulated. It is used as a strategic ploy. In a world where information and data guides policy, ignorance serves an important purpose. The ability of ignorance to influence decisions guides actors to promote doubt, uncertainty and misinformation. Making sure that masses are not privy to the secret does serve a purpose. It transforms the agenda and the policy environment. It defines what is acceptable for the society.
Women in Pakistan are victims of crimes that are acceptable. Who made these crimes acceptable? We did. It is not to say that we socially accept killing of women, acid thrown at their faces or women beaten to a near death state. However, we prefer a silent treatment to bruises of an oppressed woman, question the extent to which a husband is allowed to physically punish his wife, and keep promoting the gender role of a man in the Pakistani society, which leaves hardly any dignified space for women. It is an ignorance of the rights of women and their role in the making of the society.
Last year, around this time we all were talking about Qandeel Baloch, her brother and questioning what had got her killed. Last week, it was Bushra Bibi and her overzealous brother. Over a thousand women are killed in the name honor in Pakistan every year. These killings are not the problem. They are just the highlights of the degradation of women’s status. The problem is the ignorance of their equality and it affects millions. Norms and values from the past centuries might fit well for those demographics but today things have transformed drastically. More women are sharing the public space with men than say 25 years ago. It’s a rising trend and our ignorance is there to safeguard the already defined structures of dominance and subservience.
Just as knowledge transforms behaviour, ignorance also has a key role to play in shaping our conduct. Every time a woman is harassed in public, a crime is committed at the behest of ignorance. I am least likely to describe crimes against women correctly because to understand the real extent of this issue you have to be a woman in Pakistan. Only women realise the extent their rights and personal freedoms are violated.
The situation for women in Pakistan is extremely complex. They are intertwined in masculine notions of honour, superiority and claim to public space while everyone is ignorant to threats these notions breed. Only women have a solution out of this dilemma. The trick is to take ignorance head on. Talk about what threatens your freedom. Speak out about what peace means to you in your life. Tell everyone #AmanKaMatlabKya
Asif, Hammad. Ignorance: complicit in gender crimes. The Express Tribune, July 20, 2017.