When she says ‘no’, it means ‘no’

In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, women are subject to male gaze and have to give in to sexual advances not withstanding a feeble no or a roaring one. A woman's consent has never been given due precedence and respect. It is time men and the society take a woman's no for a no

Rape culture is sadly a pervasive phenomenon in our country and rooted in patriarchal beliefs, power and control. Despite agonizing soul searching, public lament, media discourse and passing of new laws, alarming number of reported rape incidents in Pakistan continue to make uncomfortable headlines as women are not even spared in public places. The ensuing furor is justified and the outrage is understandable, arousing various emotions such as disbelief of ‘oh it happened again’, of anger, shame and blame shifting.  All one hears are muffled voices of scores of women irrespective of their faith, culture, skin color, profession and temperament as victims of sexual violence, in one form or another, at one  time or another. Our social environment allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified, fueled by persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality.

We as a society need to address the root cause of this gender based abuse. We seem to overlook the attitude, mindset and ethos behind the enormity of these unmentionable crimes. The rape culture is allowed to continue when we buy into ideas of masculinity that see violence and dominance as ‘strong’ and ‘male’ whereas women and girls are less valued. The issue is exacerbated with insensitive remarks, the most commonly used being ‘boys will be boys’ or when we question the ‘modern women’ thinking it alright to move around unaccompanied at night. A rape does not occur because of any provocation or stimulation. A rape occurs to unleash an emotion of misplaced masculinity; of frustration; of a show of emasculated power; of dominating the weak; of ‘men can’.  We would never be able to address the problem if we continue with these excuses, pretexts, explanations and justifications. It all boils down to the subliminal training that boys are a superior gender. When parents consider it kosher for a boy to hit a female sibling; when lurid commentary on females is considered machoism; when a husband hitting his wife is him just being a man. Rape is also underpinned by victim blaming, an attitude that suggests a victim rather than the perpetrator bears responsibility for an assault. It is tragic during cases of sexual violence, discussing the victim’s sobriety, clothes and sexuality is irrelevant. It is normalized by objectifying women and calling them names. What a woman is wearing and where she was at a certain time is not an invitation to rape her.

The solution in my humble opinion is simplistic that lies in changing the present narrative and zeroing in on the fact that when a woman says ‘no’, the men in our lives, be they our fathers, sons, brothers or spouses, must not disregard a woman’s quiet or a stern clear no and top stop the violation of her body. The tragedy seems to be our attitude of disregarding a no with ‘what is the big deal about it?’ This empowers the rapist who has sadly been indoctrinated to disrespect a woman. The ‘no means no’ should be initiated as a campaign on the lines of ‘No Means No World’, a global rape prevention organization in order to raise awareness and to reduce the occurrence of rape and sexual assault. We can train our women to identify risks, say ‘no’ and talk their way out of trouble. We can train our women to identify risks, say ‘no’ and talk their way out of trouble. Physical skills should also be taught as a backup if that ‘no’ is not respected. We also need to take a critical look at what masculinity means to males and how they embody it. Self-reflection, community conversations and artistic expression are just some of the tools that ought to be made available to examine and redefine masculinity with feminist principles. In the era of #Metoo movement, survivor victims of sexual violence, majority of whom are female, are speaking out more than ever before. Let us listen to the experiences of these traumatized victims.

It is in our hands to inspire the future feminists of our country.  We must challenge the gender stereotypes and violent ideals that children encounter in the media, on the streets and at school. Let our females know that their homeland is a safe space for them to live.  Affirm their choices and teach the importance of consent at a young age to the males. Concluding, we can explain ‘a no means a no’ simply as ‘leave me alone’. The stance that nothing other than ‘no’ needs to be said to convey a woman’s unwillingness to participate in any kind of sexual encounter. No means no!