Mera Jism, Meri Marzi – And then we spend the next decade explaining to everyone what that REALLY means?
There is this huge debate in Pakistani media presently. Some Feminist groups are conducting demonstrations where women are holding placards saying: “My body My choice”, “Divorced and Happy”. Now in essence there is nothing wrong with this. Everyone has a choice to do what they want to do. If one is divorced and happy then it is great.
But there is a problem with this narrative. Actually the problem is not with the narrative but with the connotations associated with the slogans.
Pakistan is a country where when a woman becomes pregnant, she, along with her husband and almost everyone in the family wishes the child to be male. Doesn’t matter how well-educated, well-read, well-groomed the family might be, the wish is deep rooted and is still as strong as ever.
Boy gets the best family has to offer and girl gets enough to get by.
Boy can openly discuss if he likes a girl (mard ka bacha), but a girl is forbidden from uttering such things out loud (behaya larki). Boy gets the best food in the house, and girl gets the leftovers.
Now this is not the case in every person’s family who is able to read this text, but this is the situation by and large.
Women playing cricket for the national team are still frowned upon. Women working as a TV hosts are too modern. If there is a good looking guy on TV then, his whole family is proud of him but if there is a good looking girl on TV the girl’s brother might be embarrassed and try to hide this from his friends.
The problem is not just restricted to less educated sections of the society; a working couple may return home at the same time, but the responsibility of preparing dinner falls on the woman’s shoulders. It is a husband’s and brother’s right to ask for a glass of water and not lift a finger in the house.
So this is how ‘normal’ society functions in Pakistan.
There is a definite a need to stress on equal education for women, equal job opportunities, equal right to choice of choosing their life partner for women. There is no doubt that things need to go in a better direction and there is nothing in our religion that stops things going in the right direction. Islam gives women right to education and many more rights which society is prohibiting.
On another note, there is so much polarization within the society.
The convenient resort is to think of the person with a different opinion as an enemy and to brand them as such. Call them funded, call them western, call them maulvis, call them anti-state, call them jahils living in the 18th. century. Call them whatever you feel like calling them. Call them out. Make them look bad.
So if these problems exist, what’s wrong with Aurat March. And if there is something wrong, what’s the big deal anyway? These are just some women holding placards. What if some placards are obscene? What if they demand the right to do or voice vulgar demands? And what is vulgar and what is not? Who is anyone to decide?
What is the problem? What is YOUR problem?
The problem is, that ambiguous and hard to understand slogans are counterproductive. They are being championed by an entitled crowd who might or might not have problems in their lives with regard to gender equality, but they are making life tough for a daughter of a poor farmer. They are making life tough for the young girls of middle class families. Their parents fear that their daughters may grow up to be “shameless” like these women on the streets and may deny them education.
Now the champions of the cause – Aurat March, may say that the problem exists only in the mind of those parents and not with the slogans.
They may be wrong , they may be right. Who am I to decide? I don’t know if those slogans are bad or good. I don’t know if those parents’ mindset is good or bad. I may be allowed to make judgments about people not exercising and eating themselves to an early heart attack but I have no judgments on who is right and who is wrong here.
The problem is that it appears that this kind of Aurat March is doing more bad than good.
“Mera Jism Meri Marzi” – This is a vague slogan and everyone will interpret it as per their own understanding. For someone it may mean to show off their genitala in public, for others it may mean that their body should not be touched against their wish. Just the fact that they are being misinterpreted means that the slogans should be more clear.
A large portion of women are not behind the movement because they don’t agree with the usage of the language even though they want equality which is supposedly the basic motive of this whole movement. There is no need to alienate women and men who believe in equality.
We are not black and white. We are not evil and saint. We are good AND bad. We are all grey.
There is no need to paint men as evil. A man is also the victim of the same society which expects him to be tough, to be able to provide for the family. And we all know “Men don’t cry”. “Toxic masculinity” is also a huge problem. Living with that burden, a man is also trying to do what is best for his family. He is waking up early to work in the fields, he is working hard to put food on the table for his family. He is eating less to save for the money he will have to spend on his daughter’s marriage.
We are all products of the society we are born in – and victims as well. But in order to work towards wholesome change, we must take each other along.
People should not be ridiculed. They need to be educated. That’s the way forward. We need to consider our problems and try to move forward and we need to be patient. The change will not happen over night but hopefully it will happen. We need to be more inclusive and talk about issues rather than inscribe vague slogans that divide more than unite.
What about about a new slogan. What about “Mujhe bhi taleem do” (I have an equal right to education).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FUCHSIA Magazine.