The ‘Me too’ campaign has seen millions of women from around the world coming forward with testimonies of how they have suffered rape, sexual assault and harassment, abuse and many others forms of torment at the hands of men to raise awareness of such crimes.
The campaign was initiated in the wake of the allegations of rape and harassment against Hollywood supremo Harvey Weinstein who reportedly got away with predatory and criminal conduct for years before being called out. He will face prosecution in all likelihood now.
I feel no shame in admitting that no amount of empathy will allow me, a male, to ever experience what a woman goes through in everyday life at the hands of a man at home, in the streets, in the workplace. In short, in every inch of the space she exists in.
For far too long, men have either been in denial or ignorant of the scale of the problem.
There will be many men who will shake their heads and rubbish what I am saying here but it is, indeed, time that men joined the women in acknowledging and raising their voices against such nasty excesses against half of humankind.
For far too long, men have either been in denial or, despite (utterly unfounded) claims of intellectual superiority, ignorant of the scale of the problem. All a man needs do is to ask any woman around him. Yes, any woman who has the courage to speak will have a shameful tale to narrate.
Of course, this isn’t to say every single male falls in that nasty category and, therefore, some among us may not be able to relate to the issue. But, I also believe, that many among us who appear pious with holier-than-thou attitudes know fully well that our ignorance is feigned.
We will know because at one point or the other we have done something ourselves or witnessed some other man doing something that violated a woman’s right to equality, safety, dignity, privacy and her space. By no means is this list exhaustive; there are endless ways women are tormented.
Before someone living in Wonderland tries to tell me that the issue is mostly confined to ‘Western’ society and attributes it to the West’s ‘lifestyle’ and proclaims that our beloved Islamic republic is so steeped in piety that it is immune to such evil, think again.
All you need for gauging the scale of what women are subjected to in our very own faith-enriched society is to talk to women in your own family. Even if you hate me for saying it, ask your sister, your mother, aunts, cousins, nieces or women friends about their experience in public spaces.
Even if you are an empathetic man who has always respected women as equals and are generally aware of what they go through almost daily, you will be shocked to hear individual stories about the intensity of what a woman faces as she goes about her routine.
No man will ever understand what it feels like to be the subject of a nasty, sexist remark, to be touched by a lecherous stranger or groped or pinched, and yet this happens to most women around us on a daily basis. And no, I am not exaggerating. If you bother to ask and listen you will know.
All the horrors that I am talking of may not even fall in the category of rape or assault. That also happens and to far more women than we are willing to acknowledge or accept. Male-dominated societies have so stigmatised victims or survivors of crimes against women that many suffer in silence.
We are not even talking of marital rape for that in many of our societies is not even considered a crime by many among us, including educated people I have talked to. Against this backdrop, one can and should salute the women who have participated in the ‘Me too’ campaign.
To me, they are trailblazers who have furthered the cause of women in several immeasurable ways the foremost being that by coming forward they have shrugged off any fears of being stigmatised. They are the defiant survivors of sexual crimes and if there is any shame all of it must belong to the perpetrator.
It is by no means an easy battle. Dawn’s website has published personal accounts of several women journalists who have suffered from discrimination and assault, with the workplace failing in its duty of care, of providing a secure environment to them.
As a former editor I can only hang my head in shame at how we have failed some of the most brilliant journalists among us. But hanging one’s head in shame isn’t enough. There is a need to ensure with concrete measures and failsafe mechanisms that this never happens again.
If media houses are unsafe places for their women employees to work in, they lose all right to show the mirror to society, to preach to the world; to say what’s right and what’s not. Men must fight alongside women to ensure equality, safety and respect for all.
The size of the challenge is enormous. And how onerous exactly? Years of conditioning have to be shunned and a new thinking has to take root. When so many of us actually resent proud, successful women who have made it despite all odds, is there hope they will be treated with respect and as equals?
When dozens of our male youths take to the social media not to congratulate Malala Yousafzai for starting university at Oxford but to attack her for wearing jeans (while being covered from head to toe), apart from a warped and misogynistic mindset and outright resentment towards a successful young woman what else could have driven them.
This is reason enough to join the fight today. And fight we must, no holds-barred, as the current state of play is not and cannot be acceptable.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2017