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Is Afridi really to blame?

Updated March 14, 2014

I am quite bamboozled by the onslaught Shahid Afridi has received of late. Don’t get me wrong. As a proud activist for gender equality, I felt disgust at his comments, which came to light through a recorded interview. Women are the future and to say anything remotely suggesting that they belong in the kitchen is quite plainly loath-worthy.

I think views like Lala’s are out-of-date, destructive, and will ultimately inhibit the growth and development of Pakistan. But, such are his views, and to expect them to be different just because he happens to be a national hero would be illogical.

Life would be perfect if fame and power aligned with progressive values, though that seems wishful thinking for a country like Pakistan.

Our education system, political apparatus, laws and regulations, and even public discourse reflect that of an extremely conservative, regressive society. They reflect a society steeped in misogyny. To expect heroes, who are products of such a setup, to reflect anything liberal or progressive is naive.

The criticism Lala has faced goes somewhat like this. Yes, we pay Lala to hit sixes and bowl over 130km/hr with a spin bowling action. However, he is a national icon. He is a hero. His views matter, like the sound of his mistimed six against India, his words also echo on every street in Pakistan. This is massive power and to go on to use the cliché, it comes with great responsibility.

Lala should make sure he uses his influence to guide his followers and nurture them to help themselves and those around them. Saying that women should stay in kitchens is quite the opposite. Therefore, I will not support Lala anymore.

Also read: Why I won't be cheering for Shahid Afridi anymore

Lala is conservative. He is clearly quite patriarchal to say the least. In his mind, these values are not only right, but ultimately beneficial for society. He has been taught these from day one through various cultural norms and religious interpretations. When he became famous, he thought he should say what he thinks is right, which he quite frankly, did.

Keeping that context in mind, is he really at fault?

Did he really evade the great responsibility that comes with power?

No, he did not. As far as he is concerned, he was perfectly responsible.

But it made us so angry!

As much as it made me angry, I am happier to know that it made so many Pakistanis angry. But directing this anger at Lala is not the way forward. If Lala was a liberal, who lived life in accordance with progressive values, I would be on the boat with you criticising him; I would label him not only irresponsible but also hypocritical.

But what do I do when he genuinely is conservative, coming from a society that has barely moved towards equal rights for women?

For starters, I can make sure that I draw inspiration only from his cricketing, that too, with extreme caution. I would certainly not look for any inspiration from his views on gender roles.

Secondly, I would look into what makes Lala consider something so blatantly destructive as right.

Lala is a nice guy, remember. This is the same person who brought many of us to tears when he said sorry to the people of Pakistan for losing the World Cup semi-final.

So, what makes that guy think a woman should stay in the kitchen?

You don’t have to look further than reports running the same newspaper that criticised Lala. As we all jumped on the condemn Lala wagon, the Council of Islamic Ideology of Pakistan passed two very misogynistic declarations.

It asked Pakistani law to allow child marriage and for husbands to be allowed to marry a second, third, or even fourth time without their wife’s consent.

Moreover, as you are reading this, Pakistan’s elected government is negotiating a political settlement with people who intend to not only keep women as personal chefs in the kitchen, but also give them no more rights than mere chattel.

Our mainstream politicians apologise for these barbaric individuals even as the blood of their thousands of victims soaks the country’s soil.

Also read CII: Pushing Pakistan back to the caves

Pakistan is ranked second to last in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2013, which ranks countries by opportunities offered to female versus male populations.

Let’s face it, we are a misogynistic community. Our heroes, by and large, are products of this community and will be blessed and cursed with its strengths and limitations respectively. One example of these limitations is an archaic and destructive view on gender roles.

Yes, what Shahid Afridi said was inexcusable. He could not be more wrong. I personally hold the view that if there is any single cure for poverty, if there is any true path to development, if there is any sure way towards peace, it is the empowerment of girls and women. You can imagine how angry I felt after hearing what he had to say. But I also understand that directing this anger at him would be a futile exercise.

We can’t get mad at Lala for being true to the only way of life he knows. We need to instead channel our anger towards changing that way of life, the way of life that gives rise to, and shelters views like his.

We need to use our schools, politics, laws and regulations, and media outlets to do this effectively. We need to disallow extremist ideologies from capturing these spaces and replace them with more liberal and progressive perspectives.

This process begins by directing our anger at the right place. At the social norms that give rise to misogyny, and the institutions where they spread - your work place, your school, your home.

Only then, can we even think of changing the mindsets of the masses. And one day, a hero shall spring from the said masses and SHE will have the liberal values many of us thirst for today in Pakistan.