Thursday, March 5, 2009

Women, Rape, and Pashtuns

Oh, man. I have SO much to say on the matter of rape (and how women are always the ones who get the blame) that I don't even know where to begin ...
As everyone knows already, rape is an extremely sensitive topic, in every culture and time. Unfortunately, in our Pashtun culture, as in many others, we still punish the victim and set free the criminal; we haven’t learned how to penalize the latter nor how to handle the whole issue. Many of us also seem to think that only girls get raped when in fact, boys do as well (though, yes, not as severely and not as much as girls, and male victims of rape don't have to suffer as much as female ones do). Less than a few decades ago in the west, too, it was considered a female's fault every time she would be raped; but today, that’s not the case for the most part. And it'll take a while for our people to reach this level, but we have to START somewhere.

Perhaps we Pukhtuns need to start re-evaluating our thoughts about females; we need to STOP treating the female like an "honor of the family"; we need to STOP letting her symbolize our whole reputation, our honor, our everything else. Does anyone have any idea how much pressure that puts on the female? *That* is the sole reason a female will rarely speak up about having been raped or molested. What is more important, a daughter or a reputation? Clearly, to too many Pukhtuns, their reputation/honor is more important because that may be all they have, but why use your daughter to represent it for you? I think that’s just selfish, and I have NO respect for any man, ANY family, who thinks this way.

What's worse, a rape victim knows she will never be married, and we know that Pukhtuns generally don't have much respect for families who have unmarried daughters. One way to resolve this, I'd think, is ... well, let's just say ONE respected family stands up and says, "I know so-and-so's daughter was raped and all, but I don't care; that doesn't make her any less of a woman or a human than my daughters or any other females, and I am going to ask for her hand for my son." Since people would much rather follow than lead, much rather go with the flow than stand out, more and more families will GRADUALLY do the same thing. By gradually, I mean it could take decades and longer, but it's still something.

If ONE respected, educated, right-minded man stood up to his parents and said, "I know that just because so-and-so is a rape victim, you'd never want her as your daughter-in-law, but unless you can find me a better reason than that as to why I shouldn't marry her, I am going to..." then more men will hopefully do the same thing -- with TIME, of course.
It's gonna be a painful and slow process, but that's how it works; it's not gonna happen any other way, and I'm convinced we just need people to start fighting for rape victims' rights to marriage and happiness AND to start speaking out in the first place, about anything.

Then there's marital rape. Indeed, that's another tragedy in our culture that too many of us tend to ignore. We seem not to acknowledge marital rape at all. Yeah, well, husbands have NO right to force themselves on their wives, or demand of their wives what they cannot give at whatever time, so when they get it by force, it's called *rape*. And these husbands should be punished for it (I'd like death to be their punishment, but I'll keep quiet on the matter for now, I promise). It IS rape whether anyone wants to admit it or not, and it's time we started acknowledging it -- and if not, then let's start imagining our own selves (if we're females) or our daughters/sisters in these women's shoes, and ask ourselves how we would respond to this injustice.

Another thing is that we have to start talking about these issues with our families and friends. We need to stop thinking that this topic is "behaya" (immodest) and shouldn't be discussed openly. It's reality and affects far too many victims (both females AND males) too often. The more we ignore it, the more it’s going to continue harming our society.

I’m sure everyone knows that children are keen learners and listeners, and they retain more information than anyone else. When we’re around children and are discussing a rape case, we should emphasize our sympathy towards the rape victim and our desire to punish the rapist. Some of you are probably thinking, "Why would you discuss this near children anyway?!" Yeah, well, when I was a little girl – under 10, that is – everyone around me talked about rape ALL the time. Everyone shared rape stories, pitied rape victims, and talked about how sad it was that these girls will never be married, and blah, blah, blah. These people would also say things like, "She shouldn’t have told. Now it’s just created too many problems for everyone." Or "She shouldn’t have taken that route to school. Who told her to?" Or “Maybe her paruney wasn’t long enough, or maybe her face was showing," or some other sick excuse like that.

When people talk like this around children, young girls will grow up to think that they must never tell when they are raped or molested, that it’s their fault, and because they know no one will believe them that it wasn’t their fault, these girls don’t see ANY point in telling at all. No one will understand their case, no one will listen to them, no one will fight for justice for them, so why bother?

Also … we need to stop trusting our long-bearded mullahs and Qaaris too much. We may love to pick on the Christians who are notorious for molesting little girls, but we Muslims aren’t any better than them; the only difference is that with us (Muslims/Pukhtuns), it’s never reported. I know of numerous personal accounts – and have read tons of articles and non-fiction stories – in which young children, male AND female, have been molested and raped by Quran teachers. The girls I know this has happened to refused to tell (back then) for the obvious reason: “C’mon – he’s a QURAN teacher! Who’s gonna believe that he molested someone?!” These girls would be as young as seven and eight, definitely under 12. And if they know at such a tender age not to tell, what does that say about our culture, our elders, our society, our people? I say SHAME ON US!! These girls are forced to carry this heavy burden for the rest of their lives, not even being able to share it with their husbands because they know what the result will be. Many don’t even have close enough friends that they can share such a confidential story with, and we’re so cool we lack counseling centers and social workers who will help these victims get back on their feet.

My main suggestion: We need to start raising our children in such a way that they will TRUST us, as their parents, to open up to us about these things. They should NEVER fear telling us how they were touched or talked to, in school or in mosques or madrasas or markets or wherever else. We need to know where our children are going, where they are learning, who they are with all the time, and who their teachers are. We need to build such a relationship with our children’s teachers that they will know never to harm our precious ones in any manner at all. We should speak against rape so much that our sons will grow to hate it just as much and help fight for justice for rape victims; and we should encourage females to speak up about it so much that our daughters will never fear revealing any forms of injustices done to them.

I understand I’m probably saying this just because I’m not a parent myself yet and don’t know what it’s like to be one, but if we sincerely care about the overall well-being of our society, then we need to start giving more attention to our children. And if we don’t have time for our kids, then perhaps we shouldn’t have so many in the first place, eh?

Oh, and BOTH parents – not just the mother – need to be heavily involved in the lives of all of *their* children. That’s the only way to raise them well.

And FINALLY :) ... I say we need more Pukhtun female lawyers (or then male lawyers who are more sympathetic towards women), counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals around this zip code. So we should be encouraging our females to be heading towards these fields and others that are bound to help Pukhtun women and hence the whole of Pukhtun race, ka khaire :)


  1. I believe it's not that easy, remember the whole idea of jirga etc.? How people are excluded from society for such reasons like dishonour? Even women themselves prefer having such daughters murdered or the victims commit suicide for the sake of izzat.

    There is plenty of sexual harrassment in masjids, when I was still wearing a burqa I was alone with the Imam once(my face completely covered) and then he began to sexually harrass me, I reported it but nothing happened, there is a new Imam in charge now though. It was also the moment where I asked myself what purpose does a niqab have if it doesn't stop men from molesting me? I told that story to friends and for some reason I got all the blame "Why were you alone with him first place? "Why did you talk to him?" etc. He was a buddha, so obviously you don't expect such behaviour from a guy who could be your grandfather init?

  2. Salaam, Sultana!

    It's true - even some women themselves prefer to have their daughters murdered or brutally mistreated in the name of izzat and all.

    Ahhh - I long to write on Imam/Quran/Islamic teachers and how they molest young kids, often girls! I know of so many stories of this type, and I've witnessed a couple of myself. You're right -- the blame is always put on the victim, which is why no one ever speaks up then, like the girls in cases I know of. The worst thing is that you know no one will believe you because it's a MULLAH/Imam/Quran/Islamic teacher you're talking about; it's like you'll be accused of blasphemy if you dare to tell.

  3. Hello,

    Generally I agree with most of the things you say, and I think you're doing a great service to our community.

    However, I take *great* offense to your line that males don't get raped as severely and suffer less. With respect, I really don't think you know what you're talking about. Boys/men get raped anally, and without-- let's call it-- preparation, a forceful penetration can result in anal tears, etc, and physical damage much beyond a forcefully penetrated vagina, for obvious reasons.

    Second, I do not mean to trivialize at all the social ramifications for our women of being raped. Its is barbarous that so many of us continue to blame the victim. But rape of women is something that we at least speak about. No one speaks of rape of men, and men can't tell anyone generally, because that speaks to their own lack of manhood. There are hardly any NGOs or community programs that provide services to raped boys/men.

    In summary, it is callous (and wrong) to declare that men/boys suffer less when they are raped. I think it's factually incorrect what you are saying-- but even worse, I think it does everyone a disservice to talk about degrees of rape. Rape is rape.

    This is not to detract from the rest of your blog, which I think is fantastic.

    1. Salaam, Anonnie! And thank you for your insight!

      Oh man - this post is old! I wrote this years ago, way back when my knowledge on gender issues was far more limited than it is today. I need to actually edit this post so that it incorporates the new knowledge I've gained in the years since, which includes information about men's and boys' sexual abuses as well. I think in general that neither women's/girls' rape nor boys/men's rape is any more worth talking about than the other, or that one is necessarily more painful or less painful than the other, and I believe it is wrong to think in such terms. As you also note, and rightfully so, few people talk about sexual abuses done to males, whereas people generally think only females get raped.

      Thank you for pointing that out. :)

      Also, do you watch this TV show called Law & Order SVU? If not, you should start watching it. It's brilliant, and I for one have learned so much from it!

      Thanks again for your comment!


Dare to opine :)

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