Attacking women in Pakistan

October 31, 2009

Back in the spring, when the Pakistani Taliban still controlled the Swat valley, video footage of a girl being flogged became one of the most powerful images of their rule. The footage, shot on a mobile phone and circulated on YouTube, turned public opinion against the Taliban and helped lay the groundwork for a military offensive there.

In the latest spate of bombings sweeping Pakistan, women have again become targets.  First came the twin suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad which included an attack on the women’s canteen.  Then last week, more than 100 people were killed in the car bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar which was frequented largely by women.

“It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan in two years and its target was clear: not the police, not the security forces, not political leaders, but Peshawar’s women,” wrote Rafia Zakaria in the Daily Times. ”The site of the blast, Peshawar’s Meena Bazar, as is well known in the area, is an exclusively women’s shopping area where women and children shop for clothing, household wares and similar goods. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those killed were women and children.”

“While the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have denied involvement in the bombing, investigations, the modus operandi of the attack and most importantly the target of the bombing all point to their culpability. Most significant of these factors is that the attack targeted women. It is after all females who have borne the brunt of the TTP’s onslaught since they began their reign of terror in the northwest of Pakistan. As the Taliban’s war against the Pakistani state has ensued, the marginalisation of women, the destruction of schools constructed for their education and their banishment from public spaces like the Meena Bazar have been a central facet of the Taliban’s campaign of terror and hatred. This latest attack thus fits perfectly into this grimly familiar design. The massive and indiscriminate killing of scores of innocent women and children who had dared to leave the walls of their home inculcates the very fear that the Taliban seek to instil among Pakistani women across the country.”

There are many overlapping reasons for women being killed, of which forcing them to stay at home is only one.  Misogyny, in any culture, has always been the preserve of the weak who cannot show their power in any other way. So what seems to be happening here is actually about power. By attacking women and children, along with the teenage girls in Islamabad University, the militants can prove they will stop at nothing in order to drive fear into the civilian population.

My question is how this should be addressed.

In Afghanistan, the west has begun to “load-shed” the rights of women on the grounds that the environment is already complicated enough.

But what if we turn this around and say that the only way to respond to the current wave of violence sweeping Afghanistan and Pakistan is by looking at the 50 percent of the population who are women?

 Please post whatever links you can, and I’ll collect and make sense of them.

(Photos: funeral of a girl killed in Islamabad; after the bombing in Peshawar)

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