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.

Also read: How Pakistani morning shows are keeping women 'where they belong'

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.

Read on: SlutWalks and short skirts — When (and how) a woman’s modesty became linked to her clothes

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.

Read on: Why women moral police women

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.


ak Oct 24, 2016 01:10pm
My sympathy to the trainers daughters, though I pray she never has any.
MB Oct 24, 2016 01:22pm
this is appalling
Ali S Oct 24, 2016 01:23pm
Instead of women it's men in Pakistan who really need to take gender sensitization issues. Even women who travel around in hijabs and abayas (as per the trainer's advice) in Pakistan still get catcalled and stared at. Marrying girls at 12 will only make our perverted men start ogling at 12-year-olds as potential sex objects. The solution is in changing the mindset of the perpetrators, female leadership skills and all are good projects - but the sexuality problem in our society stems from men's mentality and that has not been addressed for fear of insulting their masculinity or undermining religious clerics.
Swati Bhattacharjee Oct 24, 2016 01:24pm
Thanks for writing about it, instead of trying to put it behind you asap. These disastrous "gender training" programs are not rare, and I had to sit through a similar "media sensitisation" program on trafficking in the US Consulate in my city, Calcutta. I suppose the "cultural diversity" element blinds US organisations to on-your-face misogyny. The lady "trainer" is a basket case, but the organiser is accountable. The person who wrote the invitation letter to this lady has much to answer for.
SyedChaudhryGangaDinKhan Oct 24, 2016 01:26pm
Ph.D. in women's studies from Axact/ hahahahahahahahahaha
Zohaib Oct 24, 2016 01:47pm
I am a male and I completely disagree with trainer. In fact this shows the state of mind we are all in. I think men are mostly to blame because of this bad mentality.
charu Oct 24, 2016 01:47pm
unbelievable.. not just for the corruption of content but also for lack of common sense shown by "trainer" Am absolutely shocked at NGO my firm supports organises similar sessions across rural India...they are mostly centred around creating employment opportunities. Imparting basic computer education, enstilling right value system in kids in urban cities ofcourse they are mostly about self belief and motivation and furthering career...they dont even talk about husbands and kids let alone gratitude and right age for marriage!!!
Ranga Oct 24, 2016 01:51pm
I once went to a conference where the well known Gandhian and social activist Ela Bhatt was a speaker. What she said got etched in my mind forever. She said the biggest tragedy / misfortune of human beings is poverty. Poverty transforms a human being into an animal. If you watch the thoughts and actions of a poor person carefully you will find them to be remarkably similar to an animal. Unless our collective efforts lift every single person out of poverty we will have a large number of human animals living in our society. It is the same misfortune that has befallen the women of south asia. centuries of gender discrimination and misogyny has pushed them into social poverty. Unless our collective efforts lifts every single woman out of this social poverty, we will all be guilty of deliberately pushing a large number of our better halves into becoming animals.
Hassan (Karachi) Oct 24, 2016 01:57pm
"...women's leadership program organized by a prestigious US organisation" Inform the US organisation of what was discussed in the seminar. They will either stop funding this particular PhD "Disaster" or reprimand them which will cause some shuffling of steps. This is very important.
Ali Raza-Brisbane Oct 24, 2016 02:01pm
Sexual harassment is bad for everyone. Women and men both are the victims of it. Sexual harassment also includes men too. It is not limited to women. A son of my friend has to leave the job in MNC due to taunting by women. The teased him for need being married even at 40. Some senior women even blame his mother for not marrying him. Please don't say it is one off event. Women in Pakistan do pass comments about men who are not married.
Skeptic Oct 24, 2016 02:12pm
It takes two to tango. You only get back what you shell out for others. That's called 'equal opportunity'.
zs Oct 24, 2016 02:18pm
Not all the points raised by the trainer were wrong although she just needed to elaborate more on that. Moreover unless we have the trainers side of the story we csnt be sure about this atricle.
analyses Oct 24, 2016 02:21pm
lolz @ SYEDCHAUDHRYGANGADINKHAN... indeed that may be the case. The fact that Axact owner is roaming freely now even after massive fraud goes to show that we all believe in the 'immortal quote' stated by our respected politician "Degree Degree hoti hay, chahay asli ho ya Jaali'
Ambi Oct 24, 2016 02:28pm
I would highly recommend you contact the US organization which organized this training and give feedback to them so they do not hire such a person again. Normally such organizations have one of their members at the training for monitoring purposes any way. I am a faculty member at one of the prestigious universities in Pakistan and am absolutely frustrated at the lack of gender sensitization shown by other faculty members. I can completely imagine one of them (whether foreign-trained or locally trained) presenting such opinions. I have also had personal experience of such thinking in both one-2-one meetings and public forums.
Truth Oct 24, 2016 02:31pm
Seems to me that the author is essentially saying that women should not be blamed for any of the failures of our society or take ownership for their own destiny. And men are to be blamed for everything that happens to women in our 'male-dominated world'? Sorry, I disagree. I've actually witnessed women judge other women, put them down, or show disdain based on 'perceived' class and social status of women. Have we not seen women gagging at men who drive expensive, flashy car? Women also tend to gravitate towards other women who are 'trendy' 'pretty' or' considered 'well-off' in our society. So, don't blame men for all that ails the society. Take some ownership for our prejudices as well.
amanullah wahab Oct 24, 2016 02:40pm
so if these comments come from a religious person he or she is just plain extremist. if they come from a well educated well travelled phd. they just dont know anything and they are wrong. basically what you are saying is that we are only gonna believe what we think is write. all other ideas are absurd one way or another. good thinking.
Naveed Oct 24, 2016 02:51pm
Maybe this Phd Scholar was paid by the Mullahs to promote their views??
M. Malik Oct 24, 2016 02:59pm
At least this fiasco was organized by a US organization, and not by a 'dysfunctional' Pakistani group. Shows that we don't hold a monopoly on narrow-mindedness or ignorance.
Munib Oct 24, 2016 03:03pm
I attended a training on Anti-Harassment legislation, and while the trainer was fantastic and had no illusions about the state of matters in Pakistan, she also refused to address the religious resistance to women's rights in the country. Is this a standard policy that government and non-govt organizations adopt? I honestly think that (like many other issues) the patriarchy has corrupted religious ideas on women's rights to a point where they do not even resemble the originals. I also think that these issues need to be tackled with a multi-pronged approach, of which education, awareness, and religious knowledge need to be a huge part. Kudos to the author for sitting through this torturous session, and kudos to the men and women working on women's empowerment in such adverse circumstances.
Naveed Oct 24, 2016 03:05pm
The trainer was most probably enrolled in one of those online diploma mills, that hand out Phds for writing some papers, all in a matter of hours or days!
savvy Oct 24, 2016 03:09pm
is it real or just made up article ? Hard to digest that a leadership development trainer would utter these lines especially point no. 5 , and if its real then a surprise !!
Feroz Oct 24, 2016 03:22pm
Where I must agree with the Phd scholar is that women are equally responsible for gender bias which would never spread or go from generation to generation without parental contribution -- more so contribution of mother. Who brings up the daughter to feel inferior to the son ? Who does not give the same freedom to daughters as they do sons ? In families that bring up their children where the daughter can enjoy all the rights and freedom the son can, feelings of misogyny or gender bias will never occur. On all other points I am with you.
Bala Oct 24, 2016 03:40pm
The trainer was right in every respect of her address.. The irony is that People don't like to hear the truth they just want to hear what they want to hear
AHA Oct 24, 2016 03:49pm
There is no need of any enemy to ruin the country
Realist Oct 24, 2016 03:49pm
You couldn't take it after "four" hours? As a gender expert, why didn't you call her out far earlier? This also raises doubt on the "renowned" consulting firm status - clearly it wasn't one, since renowned firms have better practices. Either this was a self-proclaimed renowned firm, or you have yet to engage with some high quality output produced by professional firms in the country. The PhD also raises question - perhaps from a low tier, online programme recently being closed in the country? As an expert in the area, you really should have spoken out - particularly to the management, and especially to the US organization which funded this. This would not have been overlooked.
AHA Oct 24, 2016 03:53pm
Is there a Phd in brainwashing?
Hassan Oct 24, 2016 03:59pm
Feminazzi Alert!
truth Oct 24, 2016 04:04pm
@Ali S , You said it . Finest comment
truth Oct 24, 2016 04:07pm
@Zohaib ,, Yes sir .
Hemant Oct 24, 2016 04:17pm
Trainer was an absolute disaster. What is she doing Ph.D in? I hope at least it were a man so that it could be passed off a routine matter.
hk Oct 24, 2016 04:41pm
She is perfectly right
Fudayl Oct 24, 2016 04:44pm
It seems nothing but a biased view of some one who thinks PhD's working for Government are not smart. Secondly, who knows whether the trainer said those things or the writer just imagined.
Aadil Oct 24, 2016 04:53pm
I don't understand the bewilderment displayed in the comments. I lived in Pakistan for a long time and such distortion of women's movements as well as blatant discrimination is a rampant phenomenon. Just take a look at how we as a nation treat people of a different cast or creed. Why would gender discrimation be excluded from the wrath of the people of this nation?
mah Oct 24, 2016 04:54pm
@hk - Try to be a bit more specific. ' She'? Who are you talking about? The Trainer or the author of this article??
Ali Oct 24, 2016 05:05pm
Can we have a name ? who was this amazingly talented independent thinking Phd lady??? Such depth of thought is amazing!
Misogynist Oct 24, 2016 05:23pm
@Ali No Ali. You can neither have her name nor the exact transcript of the talk. Because if you have both you'll be able to make your own conclusion.
Rao Oct 24, 2016 06:11pm
@M. Malik : You are right. The deep sense of male superiority has infiltertTed in most societies for a long time . No one has been an exception.
Rashid Sultan Oct 24, 2016 07:32pm
Prof Hoodbhoy has often commented on our PhD quality or lack of it. This truly supports his views. Our PhDs are at the level of making people literate without knowledge or wisdom.
Khan Oct 24, 2016 08:40pm
@amanullah wahab on
RHK Oct 24, 2016 11:37pm
Ma'm after hitting puberty, thinking of a male and female changes and their sexual desire urge them to fulfill this desire either by hook or by crook- you better knew it. marriage is a best solution for quenching thirst but it has complexities, according to you, then they turned towards adultery as I know, now could you please tell me what your organisation is doing in this aspect- eradicating adultery either by mutual desire or...- as adultery have more complexities? Or your organisation is only against lawful act? Kindly must reply me ma'm
RHK Oct 24, 2016 11:43pm
@Ali S sir early marriages for both male and female will lessen this to great extent, otherwise ideal countries- according to someone's thinking- could not control it rather this situation is more vehement there but they do not care about it
Ali Kamal Oct 24, 2016 11:50pm
Why don't we write the names of these so called Academic's?
Paxton Roy Oct 25, 2016 03:15am
@Zohaib : fact is , this speaker is a "PhD Scholar" but NOT in women's studies as her " women's leadership" training monologue indicates. I suspect she is a religious studies candidate 'stool pigeon' in Pakistan brought in to harangue women into accepting their "traditional, subservient" status--which will only serve the current male power structure. "[ladies], we have seen the enemy, and it is us!"
Wasif Imam Oct 25, 2016 03:19am
I request Ms. Aisha Batool and/or Dawn to translate this so-called training on Misogyny in Urdu and publish it. Even better if an entire research article be published in Urdu in Wikipedia since all other leading languages cover Misogyny in Wikipedia.
Mango man Oct 25, 2016 03:21am
@ak well said
illawarrior Oct 25, 2016 04:11am
@zs Which ones do you think were right???
Talkn Parrot Oct 25, 2016 04:50am
Maybe women should learn to use the computer - so that they can get their own knowledge from whichever source they prefer. I realize that some will go to ISIS, but this systematic brainwashing is even worse.
tar Oct 25, 2016 06:04am
Was this lady working for Trump
E.Somapalan Oct 25, 2016 06:09am
@Ali S Yes you are absolutely correct. It is the gender of men that has to change or trained to change. Men have great inferiority complex and to overcome it they use their physical strength to impose patriarchal rules.
T Oct 25, 2016 07:34am
Did we hear the trainer?
speed Oct 25, 2016 07:38am
i hope women get rights and get educated about their rights i also hope that they get educated about other peoples rights
Salman Oct 25, 2016 08:03am
The attitude should change on both gender sides .
Jay Oct 25, 2016 08:04am
You say something like this to an Indian woman and you will get pumelled. Muslim women are in a much better condition here in india
Salman Oct 25, 2016 08:05am
@Ali Raza-Brisbane exactly .
Sonny Oct 25, 2016 08:14am
Although...the "trainer" needs "training" I agree. However, point 4 in this article about most women empowerment grew after WWII by sex workers to legalize their work has some half truth. WWII statistically male population of the West was declined in comparison to women population. Approximately 3% of world population was killed according to US Census Bureau (See Wikipedia). Therefore, in the West prostitution was legalized for women to earn and contribute to the economy. However, there were many women (exact numbers are still being researched) who married to already married men, in other words polygamy was accepted back then!!
Nehar Shirin Oct 25, 2016 08:37am
The author should have guts to mention Ph.D. trainer's name so that others are warned before inviting her for such trainings.
techscribe Oct 25, 2016 08:37am
It's appalling that there are women like that in the world. I am happy that DAWN allowed you to share this experience. I hope one day all women in the subcontinent are truly empowered.
Hazard Oct 25, 2016 08:52am
This Phd highlighted all the points perfectly. You cannot end sexism, catcalling and oogling now matter how much you cover up. What you're doing is promoting feminism, it is the sole movement that has destroyed marriage in the West. Women should stay as they are. It's a man's world not a woman's. And no we are not equals men prefer to go out, work late and harder jobs in STEM and are the social bread winners I'm not saying women can't but they don't like STEM subjects much and then complain about the gender pay gap which of course is a myth.
Babs Oct 25, 2016 09:32am
well...if one steps back and stops themselves from knee jerk reactions then she may not be completely depends on who is she addressing...she may have done her homework, in this case pHD, on what works for which class of society...what credibility will she have if she just outright blames men?? don't women have fathers?? what would she be saying about them in that case...and what eventual results would that produce...not everybody leads a privileged lifestyle where they can sit and comment on computers and argue points...what solutions work for the lesser privileged may not seem appealing for the upper class segments, but it works for them and that's a whole lot better for them than trying to mimic those who are driven around in their gleeming cars and SUVs by chauffeurs to fancy malls to drink their fancy coffee in their designer handbags with maids in trail. If you had such reservations you should have had the courage to ask her rather than discredit her.
khan Oct 25, 2016 09:36am
Pray for the ignorant trainer.
Marium Oct 25, 2016 10:40am
Seminars and conferences in Pakistan with knowledgeable content are a rare occurance. For your audience'sake you should have named the trainer so we know which conferences not to attend.
Amit3D Oct 25, 2016 10:54am
As if the "trainer's" views weren't scary enough, some of the comments of other Dawn readers are simply intolerable.
aneesh Oct 25, 2016 12:01pm
I just could not believe what I read. I am still shocked that these are invited events where people go. Thank God I am not born in such a land where to fix a problem the first hurdle itself is so big . Long way to go friends and I truly hope change happens to the mindset of the people soon and they can start looking in more mature problems of economics and politics.
Riya Baig Oct 25, 2016 12:16pm
I was lucky enough to attend this training too. and I can confirm that whatever, the author of this article is saying, is total fabrication, misinterpretation and misquotations. I don't recall any of such things said by the trainer. I personally feel that this author has written this article only to seek attention.
sid Oct 25, 2016 12:24pm
Dear Ayesha batool, You haven't attended the whole training of 3 days and you misperceived the whole concept. The trainer said that we need to be strong. And she did some psychological experiments without telling us. When she allowed the guy to sit in between girls she actually wanted to show how we are scared from men. For your kind information when she talk about early marriages she wanted us to give the correct answer because she wanted to check our mental level and wanted to give us the opportunity to think in a rational way. This article is totally a nonsense which is the prove of your intolerance towards listing to others .
sid Oct 25, 2016 12:30pm
@Naveed Ayesha didn't attend the whole meeting
Chmfi Oct 25, 2016 12:45pm
You should disclose the name of the trainer. That'll b social service. In not exposing her, you are becoming party to such deplorable thoughts. These can only be personal on trainer's part and she shouldn't b made to getaway by using a public forum to such obnoxious sentiments.
Palwasha kahar Oct 25, 2016 12:58pm
Dear Ayesha Batool, the writer of this Article "i-went-to-a-womens-leadership-program-in-pakistan-and-was-trained-to-internalise-misogyny", being a participant of the same training session you have mentioned in your article, it is my responsibility to clarify the situation for all others who were not the participants of tht session. Dear all, it might be the perception of Aisha Batool which she portrait in her article and she has a complete right to express her views :), but let me tell you all that there were roughly 35 participants ( females ) who were attending same session and luckily I created a whatsapp group of all participants on same day. We discussed the same above article in tht whstsapp group and I found no one agreed to Aisha. So according to majority whatever said by trainer on tht day have no literal meaning as portrait by our fellow in above article. Regards
Chris Roberts Oct 25, 2016 01:06pm
Can't imagine the trainor talking such utter rubbish in this day and age - for a women's leadership programme no less! Sounds like this particular trainor should have been properly screened beforehand. Since when can a woman be subservient and be a leader?? So sad and pathetic.
Khalifa Oct 25, 2016 01:58pm
The trainer needs to take some training and brush her basic education. There is complete distortion of facts, as voiced by the trainer. And let her view certain case examples from our society. Sara Shagufta, eminent poet and Qandeel Baloch could be two interesting case studies for her to begin her study.
Ajar Oct 25, 2016 03:08pm
She was right dead right women should be blamed for their suffering Because as long as women like her exists in our society
Lailakhn Oct 25, 2016 06:08pm
I think there should be awareness about what the words empowerment and leader ship mean
Alisha Oct 25, 2016 08:11pm
If this is how appalling the program is, then why not expose the program organizers and the PhD scholar who was in charge of "educating" the participants. If she is that horribly uninformed then we would be better off discrediting her, rather than keeping her and the organization's identity a secret. By hiding such information, we allow the programs to remain unchanged, and it will only hinder the "progress" that they purportedly wish to make. Why keep it secret? Expose them and force a reevaluation of the program and similar ones.
Samia umer Oct 25, 2016 08:33pm
I had also attended this training. These quotes were never there in her training. Instead, she motivated, encouraged and emphasized on empowering women thoughts with facts that one is a sister, mother, wife and daughter. Its a wrong depiction of what she said, I
Laila Amjad Oct 26, 2016 12:28am
I , Laila Amjad , Participant of women Leadership Program on behalf of my co-participants hereby reject the wrongly perceived accusations of author . It is merely a misunderstanding of author and she needs to correct her judgment . I have been to many training and seminar . I myself working in a very reputable organization of Pakistan . I didnt find anything offensive in whole training sessions . In fact , it is the best leadership training session I have ever attending . Our trainer has tried to create awareness regarding importance of women in society . She quoted Nepoleon : " Give me good mothers and i shall give you a great nation!" In Nutshell her message was : Hum mayein, hum behnein, hum betiyan Qaumon ki izzat hum se hai Hum baaniy e mehar o wafa Hum kashmakash hum irtaka Tareekh ne khood likh dia In ki ibarat hum se hai Hum mayein, hum behnein, hum betiyan Qaumon ki izzat hum se hai
Sarah Khan Oct 26, 2016 06:59pm
I know the trainer personally.She was kind enough to take me in as intern when I had absolutely no experience at the all.The lady taught me everything during my internship period. She was kind of considerate and always treated like her own daughter.She gave me the confidence to make mistakes and learn from them.She has been a mentor to me.I assume that since you did not attend the whole training you might have misunderstood her words.Sometimes experts use reverse psychology to make us understand.If she did say that it might be to realise the unfortunate socially constructive negative mentality of people.