By Huma Munshi
Women are hated all over the world. Our lives are expendable in the face of family “honour” or a man’s spurned pride. This sounds like hyperbole but given how the news has unfolded of late, it is hard to dispute.
In Lahore, Pakistan, Farzana Parveen was waiting outside a courthouse with the man she wanted to marry. Her family attacked her with such ferocity that she was killed onsite and her bloodied body was left for bystanders to peer over. They looked on in the aftermath just as they looked on as Farzana was attacked. She had dared to refuse her parents’ choice of partner. Her lover got away and it was later found that he had killed his first wife.
In Santa Barbara, USA, Elliot Roger went on a shooting “spree” after writing a diatribe outlining his hatred for the “sluts” that would not sleep him. How dare he be refused.
In India, two sisters from the Dalit community (the “Untouchables”) were gang raped and strangled. Their bodies hung from the trees, like some lose debris, used and discarded. Their gender coupled with their lower caste made them expendable, fit for one purpose only. The police were informed but turned a blind-eye.
In China, a woman was been beaten to death in a busy McDonald’s for, allegedly, refusing to give her phone number to a male customer. Other customers looked on as this brutal murder took place, with some continuing to order food.
Boys will be boys, right? It’s just a bit of fun.
These incidences are a tiny snapshot of the global prevalence of violence against women. Women are stoned to death in the name of so-called “honour”; they are butchered and bloodied as a result of male anger. Because women are a nuisance; how dare we choose who we love; how dare we refuse to sleep with a man. Our clothes are too provocative; our intellect too threatening; we are too outspoken; not contrite enough; not willing; not passive.
This global pandemic is about one thing and one thing only: It is a hatred of women – our bodies and our independence. It is not the case that in the Indian sub-continent the brown men treat their women worse; or that in Muslim countries, religious text is more effective in legitimising male violence.
Soraya Chemaly powerfully describes what misogyny is: it is “a system whereby women are subjugated and dehumanized” and it permeates all spheres: it is the “systemic exclusion of women from leadership”; “the ritualized silencing of women by male domination of religion”; “the message that women are base, where we are grossly objectified by pervasive and dehumanizing imagery and language”.
Intimate partner violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, “honour” killings, and the language of “sluts”, “bitches”, “witches” are all a manifestation of a deep-seated hatred of women. The ideology of misogyny legitimises people being bystanders or the police and other bodies turning a blind eye. It is the combination of the pervasive influence of the ideology and the institutions that collude that has created a culture of institutional misogyny.
And we do not tackle instuitional misogyny with politicians selectively condemning some acts of male violence and not others. William Hague condemns Farzana Parveen’s murder but remains silent at the misogyny in USA that bears witness to the murderous acts by Elliot Roger and the horrific rape in Steubenville.
Indeed, the statistics tell us the true picture of the scourge of male violence permeating all spheres of society. In England and Wales on average two women a week are killed through domestic violence. This statistic cannot be overlooked when Hague condemns Farazana Parveen’s murder. We need a fundamental change in how male violence is addressed: from police training; to the resourcing of the voluntary sector; to tackling the language of victim-blaming; to effective governance on this issue.
If the international community has a role to play it is firstly tackling the culture of misogyny within our own countries. More widely, it is to support women’s education around the world; encouraging accountable governance; encouraging adherence to the rule of law; supporting organisations on the ground because strengthening civic structures and encouraging participation will lead to change.
These things provide the platform for women to speak out, organise and lobby for change. From experience I know that once you start speaking out against oppression, you will not stop. But there must be opportunities and institutions that give women the platform. In the end, only the true liberation of women will see an end to male violence.
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.
She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. Her weekly column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here