Raising Boys Not Barbarians

4 May

We all remember the barbaric footage of the Taliban flogging a young girl in Public. Chillingly similar was the story of the police in Faislabad, flogging a woman who had gone to report a theft.  We all remember the months of debate on whether the flogging of the girl in Swat was authentic or not. We argued about whether this was planted by the NGOs with their liberal agenda of destroying our pious and well-functioning society by encouraging women to run around demanding things such as rights. The recent news reports of flogging a woman in Faislabad, seem to confirm my worst fear that what happened to Chand bibi in Swat is by no means unique. The Taliban are not the only ones brutalizing women in Pakistan. Apparently, there is a bit of barbarian in most Pakistani men.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, it is estimated that up to 90% of women in Pakistan are victims of domestic abuse. The public flogging of the girl in Swat, presents an endemic social problem in heightened form. Aurat Foundation believes that, in one out of every three households, there is violence against women. Violence takes the form of beating, torture, rape, burning, confinement and even murder. And regardless of which statistic you believe, (and I know that statistics can be tricky!) we have to admit that Pakistani women face staggering amounts of violence.

Unfortunately, these acts of violence cannot be attributed to American drones, RAW or the Zionists. The causes are internal and require us to take a good look at what we are teaching our boys that turns them into barbarians capable of inflicting such harm on an innocent and unarmed human being. Given that a large proportion of women suffer from such violence in varying degrees – we must realize that what we saw the Taliban do is not limited to the realm of the poor, the illiterate, the smelly and unkempt. The richest, the smartest, the most educated are all equally involved in the brutal treatment of women – except they don’t do it in public squares where people can make videos.

Given our high tolerance for domestic violence, it is evident that there is a fault within our social structure that impacts large parts of our population. And those fault lines lie on the shoulders of the parents and teachers of such boys and barbaric men. From a young age, many Pakistanis discriminate between male and female children both in the home and in school early on in life; we make our sons believe that they are better. We inculcate in them an undeserved and unearned sense of superiority.

When it comes to the distribution of goods like food, education and healthcare, male children receive preferential treatment. They get the best cuts of meat, the juiciest slices of fruit and access to the best schools. We teach our sons that somehow they have a natural right to what is better. We instill in them a greed for the best of things without teaching them how to share.

We send our sons out in the world to make them aware, street smart and independent. We never send our daughters. We make them dependent. We teach our sons that women are to depend on them. We create boundaries of work and space without teaching our sons the tolerance and respect for those women and girls who, through choice or necessity, do not adhere to the male-female divide of the public and private space.

We teach our sons to have courage merely to fight but we teach our daughters to have the courage to resist and persevere in the face of even the most brutal physical or mental assault. We teach our sons the value of honor but we peg it to their mother and sisters. We teach our daughters the value of honor but we peg it to their own conduct. We tell our sons that success is getting what you want but we teach our daughters that success is dealing with what life throws at you.

As a result, we have raised a nation of very resilient, resourceful, considerate and brave women but we have raised a country of spoilt, insecure and violent boys who will resort to violence against those who are weaker when they don’t get their way. What is most disturbing is that often women have been at the forefront of inflicting pain on other women. When these wonderful women become the mothers of sons, they fail to teach their sons the lessons of tolerance and respect. The cycle and selective teachings of preference continue and we continue to churn out barbarians.

In order to break this cycle of violence, we need laws that will protect women, and the domestic violence bill is a step in the right direction. But a law is of no use till we can get the people to internalize its spirit. This is no easy task and will not happen overnight. But in my lifetime as a Pakistani woman, I have not seen even one concerted nationwide attempt by the government to denounce domestic violence or to raise awareness about it. On the contrary, governments have shunned and further harassed the victims.

And one would imagine, that in our schools, the preparation grounds for real life, we should have something that addresses this source of violence and conflict. We don’t. Our school curriculums, both for government and private schools continue to pander to harmful attitudes about men and women which are imbibed by impressionable young minds. We are not teaching our boys to adjust to shifting gender roles. And until we make a concerted effort through the media and our system of education to address this imbalance we will continue to churn out girls that are made of, “sugar and spice and everything nice” and little boys made of not just “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails” but things more sinister like rage and hate and a propensity to hit their mate.

Published in The News Wednesday, May 05 2010 http://www.thenews.com.pk/default.asp


8 Responses to “Raising Boys Not Barbarians”

  1. Aitchisonian May 5, 2010 at 5:22 pm #


  2. Gulbadan May 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    I have read pretty much all your newspaper articles and op-eds and found this one to be the most relevant, well-written and spot-on. You have covered this issue wonderfully well. I was particularly floored by the line “we have raised a nation of very resilient, resourceful, considerate and brave women but we have raised a country of spoiled, insecure and violent boys”. Bravo!

  3. Maria May 10, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Education seldom changes people’s mindset .. its all in there.. but hope’s always there…may things improve for the better ..

  4. Hikmet Jan May 11, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    Dear Ms. Tariq,

    As someone who actively reads all your columns, I hope I may offer a serious and sincere criticism:

    While your attention to the issue of gendered violence in Pakistan is much appreciated, I must say, with all due respect, that it is scary when someone studying Policy at Princeton can write so generally and uncritically, simplifying an issue that is so layered and complex.

    You make a sentimental argument:

    “…male children receive preferential treatment. They get the best cuts of meat, the juiciest slices of fruit and access to the best schools.”

    The vast majority of Pakistanis cannot afford meat and do not attend any sort of school at all. Most parents are not making their choices in the ideal and controlled world imagined for the sake of your statistical speculation. By the same token many boys who do attend the best schools often have educated mothers and sisters and a reality that is quite different from what you are describing. There are exceptions and nuances that you show no appreciation for in this article and while there is truth in what you are saying, your high-handed use of sweeping generalizations lends a hollowness to your analysis.

    “We send our sons out in the world to make them aware, street smart and independent. We never send our daughters. We make them dependent. We teach our sons that women are to depend on them.”

    ‘Never’ is a strong word, as is ‘we’ if you are referring to a country as diverse and divided as Pakistan. You have overlooked the realities of most working class women (maids, nurses, policewomen, sweat-shop seamstresses) for whom being asked to stay at home and depend on a man an unfamiliar luxury. They single-handedly support themselves, their children, and their unemployed husbands and are most likely of all to suffer domestic abuse. I can think of so many more exceptions to your argument because you have not defined which demographic you are referring to.

    It is true that male violence against women (did you know that social workers who deal with domestic abuse think it is necessary to specify that it is “male” violence and that this field in Pakistan is developing its own semantics?) is a serious issue, but it is not so simple as fanatic, conservative people consciously choosing to teach their sons something bad.

    The men growing up in this society suffer a great deal of abuse themselves (at the hands of abusive fathers and relatives, as the products of violent homes, in schools, wherever there is child labour, etc) and often the women raising them are too battered to make a conscious decision about teaching their sons to be brave while teaching their daughters to dutifully submit to pain.

    When you speak of these women, of parents, and of teachers, even of abusive men in a way that sums them up so generally, you inadvertently dehumanize them and trivialize the force of their emotions and the reasons for which they continue to suffer and inflict violence. It is too easy to say “Women and Teachers of Pakistan, raise your sons better, turn them into boys not barbarians!” I will not insult you by explaining why this is insufficient and unfair but I will add that by offering such a bland overview of this social ill you also negate the effort that dedicated psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and volunteers are doing (conducting workshops, gathering oral histories, doing outreach, operating helplines, etc) to raise awareness about the nuances and complexities that stand in the way of alleviating gendered violence and gender disparity.

    You are asking the right questions–there is something wrong with our social framework and we do need to examine it carefully. Did you know, for instance, that 90% of acid burn victims treated by the Acid Survivor’s Trust in Pakistan elect to return to the husbands and fathers that maimed and disfigured them? What could be a greater indication that something is deeply wrong with our society? But in order to arrive at real solutions we need to listen to these women with an open mind, examine, study, and understand their reality and the true source of their reasons (more economic than emotional). It does not serve us well to charge ahead with our passions, proclaim our single-minded disgust for men and construct arguments based on logical assumptions.

    As a Masters student from Princeton (something mentioned by everyone who posts your columns) you speak with great authority and people are willing to listen to you. That means the burden of careful analysis is yours, of valuing nuances, of educating your impassioned and aggravated audience, of bringing clarity to the fray of conscientious but confused opinions. You write so well and people are moved by your attention to issues they care about, but they need more than one more journalist with a lot of “feelings”…

    Please consider this to be an appeal offered up by someone who has a high opinion of you and therefore higher expectations of your work as a writer and a future policy maker.

  5. SlabefSeize May 23, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian, iwspo.net

  6. SlabefSeize June 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian,Earn Free Vouchers / Cash


  1. Tweets that mention Raising Boys Not Barbarians « Sehar Says…. -- Topsy.com - May 4, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Swat Crisis. Swat Crisis said: Raising Boys Not Barbarians « Sehar Says…. http://bit.ly/cmZj0g #swat […]

  2. Raising Boys not Barbarians – Sehar Tariq « CHUP! – Changing Up Pakistan - May 7, 2010

    […] Sehar Tariq, a Master’s student in Public Policy at Princeton University and who blogs at Sehar Says, delves into a discussion on the prevalence of domestic violence in Pakistan and what the says […]

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