Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, and other forms of Patriarchal Violence.
There is no Justice here.
Her name was Zainab. She was 7 years old. She was kidnapped by a man. He kept her for his pleasure. He raped her repeatedly. He then strangled her and left her body by a dumpster. And here we are, demanding justice for this little girl, but, we can never have justice for Zainab, not the way we are right now anyway. Even if we find the man who did that to her, it isn’t justice. Because we as a society killed Zainab.
We as a people have a problem. And it’s called Patriarchal misogyny. No matter how much we parade on the streets and talk about Ayesha (RSA) and Fatima (RSA), the fact is that we hate women. Because whenever Pakistani women try to speak of the atrocities and violence they suffer from at the hands of the patriarchy, they are shunned, and shammed, and are silenced. They are told that they are giving the country a “bad name” by speaking out against the abuse they suffer.
We as a country care more about our image than we do about our women.
Mukhtar Mai, for example, was called to the village council to apologize for her brother's actions. When she arrived, she was dragged to a nearby hut where she was gang-raped by 4 men while an additional 10 people watched. Following the rape, she was paraded naked through the village as a punishment for her brother’s alleged actions. [Read the full story here]. When she raised her voice, and spoke out against the atrocities and demanded justice, she faced an immense amount of backlash. Then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharaf, admitted that he placed restrictions on her “movements” because he was fearful. He was afraid that the work she was doing, and the publicity it received hurt the international image of Pakistan.
Women speaking out threatens us so much that even the most powerful man in the country at the time was afraid of a woman demanding justice.
Qandeel Baloch, for example, had her life snuffed out of her in her sleep by her brother in the name of “Honor.” Prior to her “honor killing”, Qandeel was an advocate for women’s rights. She was forced into marriage at the age of 17, where she was constantly abused. She left her marriage and became a social media star. She said and did what she wanted, and made the mistake of exercising her agency. She celebrated and owned her own body. But Pakistani women are not human. How dare she?!
Prior to her brother’s “honor” woke, Qandeel was being threatened by celebrity religious clerk by the name of Mufti Abdul Qawi, who sent her death threats after the news of them meeting in a hotel room broke out. Following the incident, Qandeel, as mentioned earlier, was killed by her brother, he suffocated her because she had brought shame to the family.
And then Pakistan did what Pakistan does best, we blamed her. Qandeel’s murder became one of the most defended, and justified murders of all time. The entire nation screamed “She had it coming” “look at what she was doing” “She was polluting the minds of young men” and “I mean, I condemn murder, but like, she should have thought of her family.” We screamed it at the top of our lungs and condemned all those who defended her.
And I can go on, and on and on naming countless women being punished for being women.
Patriarchal violence kills our girls and women by the thousands, and we sit back and defend the ones who participate. We are asking for #jsuticeforzainab, but how? Justice for Zainab how? Because we somehow found a way to blame her too. Even a 7-year-old girl is to be blamed. Her mother is to be blamed for the monstrosity that occurred.
I somehow found the courage to watch Pakistani News, and came on Mr. Orya Maqbool Jan, a well-known columnist, a CSS officer and the previous Director of Social welfare, Department of Human rights and Women’s development. And as an “expert” on women’s issues. Mr. Maqbool went on a rant on national television about how there was no rape in Pakistan during his time. He spoke of how Zainab’s tragedy was her mother’s fault. How the mothers of young girls are to teach them about pedophilia and warn them, even against the men inside their household. He then continued and asked, “are the mothers sleeping?” He then went ahead and blamed the tv shows that teach women how to do makeup and the women who appear in editorials, because they are the ones that somehow incite the men to behave in ways that they do. And not once did this “expert” on women’s issues bring up patriarchal violence. Not once did this man, an expert on women’s issues, give some blame to the existing power structures, not once did he bring up rape culture and not once did he speak on the disparities faced by women. All he spoke about was how these lude women are to blame for the atrocities of all women. Oh, by the way, did I mention? He is also a lawyer.
This man, an influential columnist, a lawyer that gets paid thousands to speak on television, this wealthy man in power was called upon to speak as an “expert” on women’s issues, and all he did was cause more pain and justify patriarchal violence.
And don’t think I am letting upper-class women off the hook. The sheer number of upper-class women that have come out and asked why wasn’t Zainab accompanied by someone are just as bad as the patriarch. Blaming a family for not being able to afford safety for their children is abhorrent. Class privilege prevents women from acknowledging the atrocities against other women.
And the outpouring of posts by men, whose consciousness somehow suddenly woke up after the news went mainstream, called upon authorities to find the man and hang him. While forgetting every time they themselves participated in violence against women.
Listen, calling for justice for Zainab because it makes you look like the “good guy” makes you just as bad as any patriarch. You don’t want justice for Zainab, you just want to jump on the hashtag bandwagon and use little girls and the atrocities they suffer from to push forward personal agendas, gain social capital and feed into your own savior complex. This kind of behavior is just another form of patriarchal violence. No one needs you to come and save Pakistani women, we just need you to stop killing us. And in all honesty, you don’t even know what justice for Zainab even means.
Hanging that man will be satisfying, but it is not justice for Zainab. Eliminating patriarchal violence, misogyny, rape culture and all the existing power structures that are caused by the patriarchy is. Which means:
- Eliminating a sense of ownership over women in all forms.
- All men actively recognize that they play a part in women’s subjugation, and actively work towards dismantling toxic masculinity and smash the kind of society that allows such heinous crimes to occur.
We created a space for that man to exist, we fostered him and therefore he committed the acts that he did.
The Sindh and Lahore High Court have ordered to arrest the culprit as soon as possible, and people are calling for capital punishment for that man, but all of this means nothing if we are not advocating for legislation that protects women and girls. Capital punishment is likely how this case is going to end. And how it always ends when rape stories go mainstream. But what we need is protection and safe spaces for women and actual legislation that create such spaces and prevent such acts from occurring in the first place. We always yell “hang em” to assert our masculinity as a nation and then we move on.
There is no justice for Zainab until there is an end to the patriarchal violence.
Rather than making spaces for women and girls where they can feel safe and work on self-defense, the response to this has been extremely reactionary (which in itself is a form of erasure of atrocities, hence beneficial to the patriarchy). Once the topic is no longer mainstream, and the hashtag is no longer trending, there will be thousands of Zainabs' that have nowhere to turn to because we wanted to ease our guilt and yell “hang him” rather than doing something about fundamentally changing the way our society works. Our society that allowed what happened to Zainab occur.
Justice for Zainab means allowing women to speak and assert themselves. But as mentioned earlier, we don’t like that. We don’t like it when women speak. We only like it when they die so we can then somehow save them.