I went to a women's leadership program in Pakistan and was 'trained' to internalise misogyny

I went to a women's leadership program in Pakistan and was 'trained' to internalise misogyny

The trainer leading the talk said sexual harassment doesn't occur unless you invite it. Um, what?
Updated 26 Oct, 2016

As someone who works in the development sector, I'm always excited whenever any capacity building opportunity presents itself, specially those that relate to gender.

Being Pakistan's focal person on gender for the humanitarian organisation I work for, I strive to replicate the same training for my female staff later.

Last week, I was accepted to be a part of a women's leadership program organised by a prestigious US organisation promoting cultural exchange programs, taking place at a government directorate. I attended the training with high expectations but the elation I felt quickly turned to dread.

The trainer who was leading the seminar is also currently employed in the government sector; the content provided had been developed by one of the most renowned consulting firms in the development arena.

Participants included women from diverse walks of life and backgrounds. After four hours I couldn't take it any longer. The trainer's ignorance and lack of gender sensitisation was too much to tolerate and she never even addressed the training topic to begin with.

Just so you know, this lady was a PhD scholar.

Here is the gist of just some of the appalling things she said during the discussion:

1) Women themselves are responsible for the horrific situation of women in the country

Her reasoning for this was that as mothers, they do not raise their sons to respect women so they should stop blaming men and take responsibility.

This was a completely tone-deaf, one-side of the coin opinion, according to me. There are several other factors, such as societal and cultural pressure or religious barriers that she didn't bother addressing at all.

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2) Men work hard to earn for us and in return, we just blame them for not giving us our rights

In a nutshell, she said that men are not responsible for promoting any kind of chauvinist and misogynist ideas and practices; it's women who are responsible because their mothers' taught them to behave in such a manner.

Yeah, and it only gets worse from here.

3) Sexual harassment doesn't occur unless you invite it

According to the 'trainer,' she travels alone all the time, even during the night and has never being sexually harassed or assaulted.

This is a classic case of victim blaming, by the way.

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4) Women's empowerment movements = sex workers trying to legalise their work

One of the participants was giving a historical background about the various women's empowerment movements that sprung up after World War II, to which the trainer responded that such movements were not aimed at empowering women but were just some prostitutes who gathered around to pressurise governments to legitimise their work.

This was a blatant distortion of history, not to mention also a defamation of feminism and women’s movements.

5) We need to start marrying off our daughters as soon as they hit puberty

While discussing the basic needs and necessities of life, the trainer said sex is one of the basic needs and the reason for our society's moral bankruptcy is that we're not getting our daughters married on time.

To my shock, she added that a girl should be married as soon as she reaches puberty -- at the age of 12.

She was obviously unaware of the consequences of child marriage.

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What was truly sad was that most of the participants had no earlier knowledge on the subject; this lady was their only source of knowledge. They also lacked exposure and were either giggling or nodding their heads in agreement.

Initially, I remained silent, hoping and praying she actually starts talking about the topic at hand i.e. leadership skills for women but that didn't happen. Every time I'd try to correct her, she shut me down by dismissing my ideas.

I eventually left feeling angry, frustrated; what is the future of our country if PhD scholars foster ideas like this?

If anything, I'm treating it like a wake-up call for our organisation to carefully fund institutions to first assess the technical skills and capacities of the people responsible for shaping the minds of tomorrow.

Already struggling to carve a place in a patriarchal society, women in Pakistan don't need the dissemination of distorted information through such training sessions. This is specially detrimental when women who are susceptible to taking everything at face value and do not possess the knowledge and exposure to critically evaluate the information they receive.

It's a gross injustice and dishonesty to the cause of women's empowerment.

Such ideologies will only worsen the situation and incapacitate any attempt made for awareness and uplift of womenfolk, let alone educate them about their basic rights or apprise them of their ever increasing role in these changing times.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.