Pakistani women – A call to arms
There has been a lot said (although little done) about Rotherham and the scale of child sexual exploitation it has revealed all over the country, at various levels, past and present. There has, however, been very little acknowledgment of how race comes to play in this issue and the responses to it. The only times race has entered the conversation has either been to deny its role for fear of being labelled racist or in the Daily Mail style narrative of being held responsible for it.
There is more to it than that though and I reject the idea that race has nothing to do with what has happened in Rotherham. As a Pakistani Muslim woman, this is what I have to say about it and I am mostly speaking to my own community when I say this because it is about time we had this conversation and only we can have it: race is ABSOLUTELY relevant in the conversation around Rotherham and if we don’t start talking about it, we are perpetuating the culture of silence and hypocrisy that lets Pakistani men get away with everything from corruption to murder.
Let me be clear. I do not think white men are not capable of being perpetrators in the same way – this entire year has been proof of that. Male violence against women and children is a global epidemic. It happens in all countries, all cultures – the common denominator is men, the problem, patriarchy.
But patriarchy manifests itself in different ways in different places and cultures and Rotherham has highlighted how it is manifested in our culture, in the Pakistani community. It has also given us an opportunity to identify these aspects of our so called ‘culture’ and fight them. I cannot speak for the South Asian community as a whole although I suspect the experience is similar but I think Pakistani women will find this familiar.
The fact is that in our community, we are taught to see white women and girls as ‘easy’ and immoral. They are presented as the other end of the spectrum, everything that we must never be. The more a Pakistani woman behaves in a way that is perceived to be similar – goes out, has a boyfriend, wears ‘revealing’ clothes – the more ‘characterless’ she becomes. Pakistani men on the other hand of course have a free pass to behave in whatever way they want with white women – you’ve got to love the double standards that patriarchy throws our way! The consequences for the men only go as far as a slap on the wrist, the women who ‘stray’ get the shame, the violence and even death
White women are said to be asking for it, they want it, they are ogled at, made the target of many a dirty jokes. I have seen this, I have heard it, this is not some stereotype I am perpetuating. This is why I do not put pictures of my white friends on Facebook and why I avoid the mosque in my Western clothes. Yes, not all Pakistani men are like this but this is representative of a general mindset that uses these ideas to control our behaviour and keep us silent.
This brings me to the other reason why it is absolutely essential that we talk about race in this context. While white women are portrayed as easy and the rape of a white woman not necessarily seen as a big deal, this does not mean that sexual abuse does not occur within our community. Of course it does. We know that. We know because it happens to us. We also know how incredibly hard it is to talk about it and this is precisely because of these reasons. There is a deafening silence around sexual violence with no tools to talk about it, hardly any support and a culture of shame that puts all of the blame on our shoulders – on women. The men who do this to us carry on living their ‘respectable’ existence with no consequences while we suffer in silence.
This is all part of the same picture and Rotherham has given us an opportunity to join the dots. This is NOT the time to be defensive. By speaking out against a culture that harms women, that puts us last, we are not betraying our community – we are standing up for it. We must acknowledge race in all of this and Pakistani women must lead this conversation. Will you join me?
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