Ayshia Zehgeer

Gender justice: a conversation long overdue

Gender justice: a conversation long overdue
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In the past couple of months, more particularly, amidst voices getting shriller across the globe against instances of sexual assault, which triggered an enormous global response supporting women who came out against their violators, there have been growing apprehensions on the other side about the movement being “misused” to take out personal vendetta, across circles. The arguments, however, are fundamentally flawed. The reason being, that taking context away from the very important movement is a dangerous prospect, thus allowing floodgates of whataboutery. The fact remains, that, unlike most crimes, the offenses of sexual assault are difficult to be spoken against, in the first place primarily because they always ensure to put the victim and not the perpetrator in the dock, with victim being put through various litmus tests to check the veracity of allegations, so there is in an allegation of sexual assault unlike in an allegation of any other crime, an in-Built check. The check of immense consequences faced by the victim compared to the perpetrator. Also, most of the time it goes unreported given the same reason thus resulting in nurturing a culture of silence. A minuscule percentage of probability or proved cases of vendetta do not and must not in all sense of fairness cloud the genuineness of cases that merit serious concern. A knee-jerk reaction to the popular movement is the only plausible response thought of by those, who found themselves at the receiving end of allegations.

In places of no apparent conflict of ideological interest, it is easy to take on social evils and crimes that are not necessarily seen as ploys to subvert or subdue popular movements. However, in states with diametrically opposite political realities, there are endless outcomes of conversation on social evils, seen as an assault on the popular political dissent.
The reasons, for display of such reluctance, are varied, complex and misconceived all at the same time. Varied and complex because in political conflict all conversation leads to one reality, that of political subjugation by the more powerful… Therefore conversations that do not necessarily lead to that “conclusion’’ are seen as an assault on people’s aspirational comforts and a balm to the subjugating force. This fact of discomfort, however, is not at all based on conjectures as some would have made us believe, but past and continuing experience of sexual assault being used as a weapon of war with impunity and conversely every conversation concerning social evils, or say sexual harassment faced at the hands of society, being seized to assimilate into anti-people narratives, discrediting an entire populations character and consequently their legitimate demands. Misconceived, because we do not perhaps understand that from the standpoint of the victim, the offender does not decide the gravity of the offense. So, while it is erroneous to draw parallels, between the two kinds of assaults, as a natural corollary of living in a perpetual state of conflict, there is a sub-conscious comparison between the two. Between impunity, which insulates an act of violence by uniformed men from any recourse to law, to an act from amongst the society which law provides recourse and punishment. In the process, however, we critically downplay societal stereotyping, which has trappings of pushing victims into silence and the idea behind any movement, as in the case of #Metoo, is not more often than not, realized to its full potential once it comes to that platform that doesn’t appreciate the struggle of, less privileged who fought their way through to have their voices heard.

Therefore, once an idea triggers mass or popular support, it may also digress from its course, given sensationalism and popular names took the majority of the space and times and letting an impressive number of cases go unheard. The flip side of such movements has been critiqued by some popular feminists, opining that some trivial instances are being highlighted and that women must use their agency to say NO and stand their ground. All these arguments for and against, and majorly for but partially against, the course the movement has taken, should lead us towards a more meaningful discourse rather than one-upmanship.

Fundamentally, we must know these movements may not necessarily be aimed at putting the legal process into motion, which most believe is the ideal way of dealing with instances of assault, but what it aims at is more critical. It aims at breaking away from the tacit agreement of silence. The agreement is internalized at various stages of growing up as a woman, whether it’s the first time a young girl is catcalled on the street when she has just started to develop her physical traits, then being systematically eviscerated from activities she would ordinarily like to engage in, to endless nightmare of groping and nudging while commuting in public transport, immensely suggestive and unwelcome advances at work, by men in positions of authority and power. All these present a grim but stark picture of a woman’s everyday life story. No woman can deny having experienced at least one or two of various kinds of harassment. Yet you are taught to never confront any welcome behavior thrown at you, because you may be inviting a bigger evil. Thus, with acceptance, there is another aspect of acknowledging the idea of entitlement over a woman’s existence. Entitled to abuse and not being called out. This entitlement comes in diverse packaging. So, for instance at a charity event in the UK, women were directed to dress skimpily to attract more men to the end, and in other places, women are directed to put on as many numbers of layers as men find appropriate on a woman’s body.

A considerable number of women conquering milestones after milestones may speak of their personal grit; however, it does not define the everyday reality of most women, who continue to be torn between decisions such as catering to societal expectations and personal aspirations. In the wake of all realities, what is worse than simply acting indifferent towards women’s complaints is to be in denial. Denial of ‘nothing’ of this kind existing in our society, because we have an agreement of silence forced on us through collective bargaining power of the society, that wants us to believe we are averting a bigger evil by staying silent. The only evil, however, we are averting, is unmasking the evil itself.

Many would ask how could one express support or express solidarity with women who decide to speak of their experiences of assault, especially in a state of political affairs that we find ourselves in, without playing into the hands of assimilative attempt into discrediting people’s movement. The answer is simple, all women speaking out, whatever platform they may choose to come out on, deserve serious and patient listening, for starters. It must result in introspection, awakening, sensitization, and lastly but most importantly questioning our own perspective on gender roles and norms. Have we all, inadvertently internalized the idea of silence and acceptance, if the answer to that is a YES, then we are all guilty of being complacent and complicit both, in what translates into enabling subjugation, if not partaking in it actively.
For women who see this movement as unnecessary noise making and berate the very objective of the same don’t realize, that what may be a symbolic inception of a unilateral breach of a unilaterally imposed ‘agreement of silence’ can prove to be catalyst in engaging those women who neither have the privilege nor luxury of voicing their experiences, thus caught in a web of violence with no respite in the near sight. Capitalizing on symbolism must not on the other side lightly look upon by those who have taken upon themselves the task of giving women the voice they needed. If the majority of women who are not aware of conversations taking place at such platforms they may have no idea of, not to talk of access, are not engaged and involved in what concerns them, then we are heading towards a major fizzle out of this movement.
In the times to come, more events may present opportunities of awakening and introspection. Our response must evidence our propriety not prejudices. Our response must be one based on objectivity, not subjective denial. In the changing dynamics of the world that we live in, strict adherence to conventional allotment of gender roles will increasingly be unacceptable and challenged. Our reason, impartiality, and intellect must be the only factors informing our response. Physically and psychologically daunting task of the realization of our basic political rights, that we are engaged in, we must not lose sight of the fact the wellbeing of our women must run synonymous and simultaneous with our movement and cannot be postponed to any future contingencies. The immense character that we have shown in the face of insurmountable adversity must remain unchanged in its response to women and protection of their honor.

The author is a lawyer by profession, she can be mailed at ayshia.zahgeer@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position or editorial policy of Oracle Opinions.

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