Religious Talk Show Fodder in Pakistan!

The Women’s Protection Act, recently passed in Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab gives women new and unprecedented legal protections against domestic abuse. It also aims to establish a toll-free hotline for reporting abuse as well as women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence. It would seem that Pakistan is slowly being dragged, kicking and screaming into the 21st century when it comes to women’s rights. This should be very good news for countless Pakistani women hunkered down in physically and emotionally abusive marriages across the region with no rights, no escape, and no sympathy.


Unfortunately, there's a fly in the ointment and it comes in the form of powerful religious groups that influence lawmakers. They claim the law criminalizing violence against women is un-Islamic. In other words, to punish men who inflict physical abuse (in the form of beatings) and psychological torture upon defenseless women is inconsistent with the teachings of Islam.


One of the most outspoken opponents of laws to protect women is the self-labeled “Council of Islamic Ideology”. In case anyone forgot, this is the same group that pushed to make DNA evidence inadmissible in rape cases as primary evidence. They also supported the requirement of rape victims to produce 4 male witnesses before a case could be heard in court and they blocked a bill mandating more severe sentencing for the forced marrying off (equivalent to sexual slavery) of girls as young as eight or nine.


It comes as no surprise that the leaders of Pakistan’s most powerful and influential religious organizations are all male and mostly mired in the muck of anachronistic dogma. What’s a bit surprising is the particular pulpit from which they spew their misogynistic mantras. That’s right folks, don’t touch that dial! Female bashing and anti-feminist hate-speak can be enjoyed in “prime time” from the comfort of your living room sofa!


Religious talk shows have dominated network television for years in Pakistan and other Arab countries. It’s important to keep in mind that in many middle eastern countries there is no culture of marriage or couples counseling. No social workers and no support or advocacy groups of any substance that women can turn to for relationship advice. Religious clerics on TV, typically sitting behind desks and taking calls from anonymous viewers have become a major source of male-slanted misinformation for women seeking guidance to help them work through troubling marital issues. Such shows typically espouse an extremely chauvinistic worldview with men’s superiority over women at the core of their teaching.


One particularly popular talk show host with millions of followers (mostly men I’m guessing) used his prime-time pulpit to compare women to a donkey or camel for the sake of an instruction in best practices for wife beating. Apparently the most critical aspect of delivering a proper beating is making sure your blows land on parts of her body where permanent deformity is least likely to be caused. The second most important consideration is that no signs of trauma (cuts, bruises, abrasions, black eyes, etc.) should be visible when you allow her to go out in public.


Is it just me or is it starting to make more sense why Muslim women in some places are required to cover themselves from head to toe. And here all along we thought it was merely to keep men’s impure thoughts at bay.


I have a great idea! If any country or society on this planet should decide that laws against beating women are incompatible with their religious belief system…. we, as a country, should say to them…. “our belief system doesn’t align with committing violence against women. Therefore, we cannot tacitly approve of it by doing business with, or having any kind of relations with your country until such time as all of your citizens, without regard for gender, have the exact same rights and meaningful protections are put in place to assure those rights!”


What do you think? Isn’t it time to demand that our government ban all trade and cease diplomacy with any regime that oppresses women, regardless of profits, oil, strategic value or any other considerations?

Published by Bill Hoover