Bringing up boys – Kamila Hyat

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After the Senate passed a bill, which would allow men to take one-month paternity leave with full pay after the birth of a child, there has been greater attention on the issue of paternity in the country. The bill has now been approved by a standing committee in the National Assembly, and could go before the president for a final signature very soon.

The question is: how many men will avail of this new law? It is true that in many Scandinavian and other countries, men do take paternity leave. It is now a norm to see the father opting to take care of the new-born while the mother continues work. But this is unlikely to happen anytime soon in Pakistan. It seems that child care, like other household tasks, is something seen as purely the concern of the women in the family and not a question that men should address in any way. This is perhaps one of the reasons why housework is considered a low priority job. And housewives are forced into admitting, almost as if it were a crime, that they are ‘merely’ housewives (or home-makers).

Housework, of course, can be extremely arduous – all the more so when this is combined with rearing children, and dealing with all the many related concerns and issues, including that of schooling, health and related matters. Yet, men rarely come into the picture. This in itself is a signal that something is amiss with our society. While men claim they are too busy earning for families, the fact is that even President Obama during his eight years in power made it a point to take time off daily to spend time with his two daughters, talk to them and act as a normal family. While his girls were young, he read stories to them and spent as much time as he could with the growing family.

In our country, few men consider family or children more important than work. Most leave them entirely to mothers. And this, of course, is a pattern that extends further. It may be part of the reason why there’s so much disrespect for women, or why the rate of rape, gang-rape and other crimes directed against them is so high. We hear of new crimes on almost a daily basis. And, according to the figures available, at least four rapes are committed each day, somewhere in the country. This is far too many.

The attitude of the police is even worse and fits in with the broader misogyny which is seen in many places, including talk shows on TV and also online, where, under the pretence of liberalism, there is a gentle attitude that women should not adopt certain behaviours, and restrict themselves far more than men.

We need to bring up our sons better. This has to be something that parents are made aware of. There’s no reason why boys should be allowed to roam freely into the night, while girls are restricted from doing the same. It is true society is a more dangerous place for women. But it is dangerous because of the behaviour of boys and men and the attitudes they hold towards women. If boys were taught from a young age, to respect girls, to be polite, to be careful about addressing them and to treat them as equals, the rate of rape and other crimes directed against women including domestic violence may fall.

The example set by the government is not a good one either. One comment after the other, which is misogynist and directly aimed at hurting women comes from ministers and other members of the government. We have seen this in the attacks on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and on other women in politics. Even TV anchorpersons who happen to be female have been made the victims of chauvinistic jokes, some of them in the most ill taste and repeatedly targeted simply on the basis of their gender.

If we have to change society, we need to change men, not women. There’s little purpose in putting women in white ‘dupattas’ or insisting that they stay at home when so many women face violence at home. And we hear account after account of little girls being molested or subjected to severe sexual abuse within what should be the safety of their homes. This is the truth we must face. The only solution is to bring boys up in a different way; to teach them that housework is something that everyone in the house should participate in, in one way or the other; that sisters are equal to brothers; that women may be different to men in some ways, but are still their equals. This is also a part of our religion.

The example should be set by leaders of the country and others who are prominent within it including clerics and celebrities of various kinds. Television dramas, which attempt to show the problems women face, have been condemned as being somehow obscene or unsuitable for our society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such depiction of reality is necessary to bring home the truth. We should also understand that there is nothing wrong with women taking up public roles, as Maryam Nawaz Sharif has done. Other women have done the same before her, including Benazir Bhutto and others at a local level.

Indeed, we have a situation where girls outperform boys in many fields, including academics at all levels. Again, the reason for this may lie with the fact that there’s more pressure on girls to perform well at school or face a possible withdrawal from education by their parents. Boys do not face the same level of pressure. Indeed, parents are often content to allow them to roam the streets, the rich in fast cars, the poor on their motorbikes and indulge in whatever behaviour they see as the norm and whatever the attitudes are pushed forward by their peers. This needs to change.

Taking part in housework, beginning at an early age, is one tool to change the manner in which boys learn to grow up. Only the most cowardly men attack women or make jokes directed towards them. The more confident, the more intelligent and those who are well brought up refrain from doing so and as such, create for women a better place to live as well as a society which is more united and more equal at all levels.