LATELY, I’ve been wondering what I’m worth. I don’t mean this just from a self-esteem perspective or a religious one. I’m thinking, instead, of how much my life is worth in monetary terms. My father, for example, spent a considerable sum raising and educating me and my sisters, and continues to provide a roof over my head because journalism doesn’t pay well. (I will write another time about how some journalists are rich.) I’m uncomfortable having someone else define my worth, because, as a woman, I know I will be undervalued; as often happens when salaries are decided, for example. I am also not looking for affirmations to post on Instagram.
Quotes telling you to live your authentic life do no good to the women whose worth is attached to someone else’s notions of honour. I’m thinking of the woman reportedly killed by her father and uncle in Kohistan after her (doctored) photo with a man was shared on social media. I won’t go into the details of the case because I think we know how these things go — or don’t. I can join the chorus of voices glad that police action was quick and the state has shown up as the complainant. Maybe we’re inching our way towards recognising ‘honour’ crimes for what they are: murder. Maybe we’ll one day get to a place where we can talk about revoking blood money laws that allow honour-related crimes to go unpunished.
But this doesn’t help me ascertain that dead woman’s worth. Or the other women in Kohistan killed in 2011, when their images appeared in a video. The HRCP recorded at least 384 cases of honour killings in 2022, of which 103 occurred in KP.
How can a woman’s worth change from being easily disposable to worth something? I do not want worth ascertained by patriarchal systems that view a woman purely as a baby-making factory to keep their capitalist dreams alive. No matter how many strides women make in various fields, society still sees her primary role as wife and mother.
How can a woman’s worth change?
I think dramas and advertising worldwide are a good indicator of how gender roles are reinforced to portray women as wives and mothers. It’s playing out on TikTok too, with American women especially creating ‘traditional wife’ content, posting their wonderful lives caring for home, husband and children. The trend #TradWife on TikTok had 281m views at the time of writing. Of course, conservatives have women allies to help push their retrogressive agendas. There’s the likes of Andrew Tate, who has risen in popularity despite bans on social media platforms; who amplifies views like women are a man’s property.
Name a place where a woman says she is free of fear of assault. Misogyny and violence against women is endemic everywhere. Policies and legal systems are failing women everywhere too — the inability of prosecutors to get rape convictions is one small example of that. Violence increased to record levels around the world during lockdown. The UN referred to the situation as a “shadow pandemic” in its 2021 report about domestic violence in 13 countries.
In Pakistan, the FIA cannot seem to act effectively on cybercrime. The less said about law-enforcement agencies’ treatment of women the better. That we have to cheer officials in Kohistan for acting swiftly shows the sorry state of affairs. There must be consequences. From punishment for murder without recourse to a ‘get out of jail free’ card, to some rebuke of political leaders — especially Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif — for their deeply problematic misogyny-laced comments. Their supporters double down, instead of apologising.
The largest demographic in this country are the young, nearly half of whom are women. While internet penetration is woefully low at 25 per cent, worldviews are changing due to social media — and creating intergenerational conflict. Women cannot exercise choice or fight back without state support. Why can’t, for example, misogyny be treated as a crime that is taken seriously by the police?
I ask the men being awarded the next government to treat women’s crimes with the same zeal they do expanding their wealth base and DHA schemes. Perhaps they can take inspiration from a World Bank report in March 2023, on how Bangladesh offers “invaluable” development experience for other countries and how it realised at independence that investing in people was as important as investing in infrastructure. “Bangladesh’s poverty reduction strategy centred on women’s empowerment.” Fertility rates have decreased, almost all children go to school, and women’s labour force participation has increased dramatically. It has contributed to Bangladesh’s economic growth. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have challenges, but both government and society have reaped the benefits of good development choices.
Can Messrs Sharif and Co agree to making similar choices? Women are worth it.
The writer is an instructor of journalism.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2023