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Incident In Pakistan Reminds Me Why I Hate The Phrase ‘Men Protect Women’

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Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual abuse and rape

On the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence day, as the “azaan” played in the background, a woman was attacked, abused, harassed, thrown, and molested by hundreds of men. The incident took place in a crowded place and hundreds of them, including minor boys, participated in the attack. What’s worse is that plenty of netizens justified the attack by blaming her, her choice of attires, her decision to venture out and have a social media handle.

Apart from the victim-blaming, what made the crime worse is that the survivor was not defended; instead, more came in to attack her. Plenty of women online expressed how they lost their confidence in crowded places.

While violence against women (VAW) is limited to dark spots after 8 pm, this mass attack during broad daylight showed that expecting others to come to one’s aid can end up in disappointment. Back in 2014, I remember watching a YouTube clip taken by a woman in Delhi’s highly crowded market. Several men were seen catcalling, harassing, and eve-teasing her.

Plenty of women online expressed how they lost their confidence in crowded places. Representational image.

Another video titled ‘No Country For Women’ showed men openly expressing how they like to eve tease women and that they go “wherever they can to find women.

Now, Raksha Bandhan is practiced every year in India. Women tie a talisman on their brothers’ wrists, symbolically meant for protecting them. The main message is that brothers protect their sisters. Recently, I came across a long debate on social media about Raksha Bandhan and its origins.

Some called out the sexist/patriarchal nature of the festival whereas others accentuated the traditional symbolism. Amidst that, I read this one comment from a woman that bugged me. Responding to rhetoric that brought up sexist nature, the lady said, “it is men who protect their sisters, you should be thankful for that.

My point is that the incident in Pakistan and mentioned instances remind me why I despise the phrase “men protect women.” There are a few reasons for this.

Protection Or Control?

Men standing up for women or ‘protecting’ them is basic human decency. Not protecting women means letting the crimes happen to them. Further, by blaming the victim and accepting the nature of the crime as a ‘normal’ phenomenon, they are perpetuating the existence of the crime.

The entire onus of ‘honour’, humanity, and morality is on women. Women have to follow a certain code to typify their worth. She has to move within the parameters set by her family. She has to dress in a way, act in a way, limit her timings, relationships, and what not.

Women are being overprotected to such an extent that they end up losing their basic rights. Men in their families are given the task to ensure that nothing untoward happens to them by giving them the agency over women’s mobility.

Religious texts have mentioned that “woman is held under man’s arms to be protected.” My question is, from whom?

In a heternormative patriarchal society, men experience privilege at the cost of women. Brothers coerce their sisters to stay indoors, dress in a certain way, restrict their mobility, etc. After that, they step out without any restrictions imposed on them.

There is no doubt whatsoever that men have a lot of advantages over women, both biologically and socially. Men are physically stronger, in terms of muscle density. This alone designed the social structure which made it easier for them access to public spaces and face lesser scrutiny and primarily due to social acceptance as a result of centuries-long traditions and practices.

When it comes to women’s safety and men’s role, idea is propagated is such that people forget both the humane and moral aspects of it. When it comes to morality, actions should promote the general welfare.

Instead, humanity itself is segregated into different forms, based on which an entire section of the human race has to pay the price. We had been and are following a dangerous path, unfortunately.

When it comes to a man’s responsibility, it is not just about saving women who are under attack but also about not committing the crimes themselves.

Unlearning Regressive Ideas And Misogyny

Since the onus of male violence is on them, women are made to feel sorry for ‘crossing the line’ and thankful that ‘not all men’ commit the crime. Sexual violence is not just one person’s doing. We can easily call the hundreds of men who attacked the TikToker in Pakistan ‘monsters’ and ‘animals’.

Evil is not born, it is created. This incident took place weeks after the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed women’s clothes for the presence of rape. Several religious fundamentalists have echoed this statement. For the men who attacked her, these words are excuses. Victim blaming is equivalent to excusing perpetrators’ actions.

The older days saw people referring to women who step put after 6 pm or travel alone as sexually promiscuous. These words as ‘excuses’ have been programmed in every individual’s DNA for generations.

 

Women have to follow a certain code to typify their worth. Representational image.

Victim blaming is fed by individual or group’s choice to dehumanise women based on her choices or circumstances. As mentioned before, since the moral onus is on women, society sometimes chooses not to protect women who distance themselves from codes and curfews imposed. We see when a politician says, “she deserved to get raped for wearing short skirts,” or thatrape is sometimes right.

Both the social acceptance of women in all spaces and putting the entire onus of sexual violence on perpetrators alone will take a long time of achieving. It requires learning and unlearning.

A brother can promise his sister that he will protect her on Raksha Bandhan. But, if he will just lock her up then he is just letting the crime that can happen to her, happen to someone else. He is protecting no one.

Currently, men who protect women from physical violence are glorified. Men who say “I respect women” are thanked. While righteous actions should be acknowledged, social responsibilities should not be forgotten.

Unlearning regressive ideas is the only way to protect women. I can write an essay with thousands of words about how rotten or morally decremental it is to blame women’s clothing and circumstances. If #NotAllMen commit the crimes then victim-blaming furthers #possiblyallmen.

Dehumanisation of women who don’t follow social or religious codes should be stopped. Her attitude or lifestyle choices should not become ‘excuses’.

Right now, the world is witnessing women and girls at the helm of the Taliban’s regressive ruling in Afghanistan. The Taliban has attacked and killed women who didn’t follow their codes. Taliban is living the regressive ideas that many fundamentalists have (yes, all religions).

Nothing should stop social acceptance of women based on their skills, motivations, abilities, and rights under the law. Protecting her best interests is the only way to protect her physically. It is not just up to one man but a system that should be built and maintained collectively.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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