With recent headlines surrounding the treatment of women in Islam and Islamic countries, it seems the news outlets just don’t seem to want to leave the Muslim community alone. As if arming Syrian mercenaries while denying access to desperate refugees fleeing the carnage wasn’t enough, horrific stories centering around shady brown men attacking white women in European cities and gangs of Pakistani paedophiles preying on young white girls are continually being brought up in order to defend the inhumane treatment of innocent, unrelated refugees. As a British Pakistani woman I thought I could offer a unique perspective that might help to cut through the stereotypes and expose such narrative for the propaganda that it is. silent muslim pakistan islam ladies girls slave

Some context is first needed: when we discuss Pakistan, we’re talking about a country that is less than 75 years old. A country that still lacks basic infrastructure like enough electricity for every home because of political conflicts with its neighbor and former countrymen, India. A country that allocates more of its national expense budget on military spending than education, one of the highest rates of expenditure in the world, with the exception of Iran and the UAE. It’s literacy rate is ranked 180th in the world with just 21% of the population being literate.

Now this is not to excuse or justify the treatment of women in the subcontinent, just that some context is necessary when throwing around generalizations that tarnish everyone with the same skin colour, nationality or religion with the same brush.   Since nearly every one in the privileged, developed west benefits from access to education (unlike in Pakistan) we have no excuse not to understand the differences between skin colour, nationality, culture and religion. They are all ingredients which when supplied in varying amounts, form unique individuals which may or may not fulfill certain stereotypes.

Let us not forget that it was merely decades ago that we finally granted women equal voting rights in the UK. And this is with all the industrialization and economic advancement we gained as a result of colonizing every country on this planet. And we still have issues in Britain with intolerance towards minorities, a growing class divide, illiteracy among our population and an underclass that is becoming ever more dependent on handouts instead of leg-ups. politics vote hilary clinton

The treatment of women in the Asian subcontinent is by no means strictly a ‘Muslim’ issue either, acid attacks, female foeticide, infanticide and rapes are common in India as well, a secular country. Some could argue that this might be a cultural issue restricted to brown men and the way they treat women but I would argue it is more an intersection of religion, culture, socioeconomic issues, lack of education and a lack of infrastructure in this part of the world, much of which can be attributed to the 200+ years of rape and pillage suffered at the hands of British colonialists and the subsequent divide and conquer in-fighting left by the British as a parting gift.

While my Pakistani father was certainly a lot stricter than my white friends’ liberal dads, he is not Muslim. And while he was vetting all the phone calls I made to teenage boys as a hormonal 14 year old, my Muslim grandfather had given his blessing for 3 of his daughters to marry Christians and one to marry an Israeli Jew. While my mother grappled with her ill-informed choice to marry this authoritative Christian her older sister enjoyed her blissful marriage to her Muslim husband. Some might say these are exceptions to the rule, but I would argue there are no rules, only trends and when observing trends, we have to understand the source of them before we start applying ignorant generalisations across an entire community.

And while my white friends have long ago been turfed out of the family home by their liberal parents, barely more than 5 minutes after their 18th birthday or live with the cultural shame of ‘still living at home’ my parents would be appalled if I wasted my money on rent in an increasingly overpriced capital city where demand exceeds supply and while my childhood bedroom remains unoccupied. The knock-on effects are palpable. When women (and men) are forced to work increasingly long hours or remain stuck in codependent bordering on emotionally-abusive relationships in order to keep a roof over their heads instead of pursuing their dreams like I enjoy the privilege of doing, what does that say about Western civilization and its treatment of not only women, but young people in general?

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Vogue Cover Ft Sundal Roy

And when discussing trends we could discuss that in my work as a globetrotting model, I have had the pleasure of working for clients from all over the globe, including many of Pakistan’s top fashion designers, stylists, makeup artists and photographers. Every time I have worked on a Pakistani production I have been treated with dignity and respect, always being offered a private place to change and delicious vegan food at lunchtime. Of course there are cultural differences between Pakistan and the UK and one of them is that a woman’s dignity is respected (even if she’s just a model) and another is hospitality. A Pakistani, especially a Pakistani Muslim will always welcome you into his or her home and feed you and offer you a place to stay if needed, for as long as you need, as if you were family. It’s just a part of our culture and it is reflected in the way we interact with each other such that working with the cream of Pakistan’s fashion industry felt more like being surrounded by family than being at work.

In my 8 years working in the UK, only once have I been asked if I was comfortable posing topless, and this by a stylist of South Asian descent. It’s taken as a given that you are comfortable, if you’re a model, your body and your dignity are no longer your own. I have learnt to disassociate my ego from my physical self after many years working in the UK so when I experience a situation like being on a calendar shoot with 3 other naked models with several white men on set taking behind the scenes pictures to post to Instagram (or send to their mates) with the hashtags #itsatoughjobbutsomeonehastodoit and #justattheoffice and other such tongue in cheek jokes at our expense, I have learnt to not take it personally and laugh along at my sexual objectification. After all, it’s just a part of the job and here in the west, sex sells. Or when a stylist asks me to strip down to my underwear in the middle of a street in London because she’s never heard of this fantastic invention called a changing tent that somehow has managed to find its way to production companies all over Asia. I have learnt to just ignore the passersby and their leers and stares and take it in my stride as just part of the job.

And a personal anecdote, I have learnt to not be surprised when, after a friend’s wedding, my white male friends casually walk off suited and booted and leave me to struggle with my suitcase in gale force winds while my sari is being blown around and my stilettos are getting stuck in pavement cracks because hey, we’re all equal now, right? Meanwhile white feminists might have me being offended if my Indian friend drives me home to make sure I get back safely as an affront to my ‘personal freedom’ as it insinuates that I’m somehow weak. Because I am totally capable of fending off a potential rapist in my heels and little dress just as well as he could… aren’t I? trade rape inequality women cartoon satire

Again, this article should not be seen as a justification for many of the horrific crimes against women committed by Pakistani men such as the spate of acid attacks and honour killings which are committed across the Indian subcontinent, nor even the crimes committed on UK soil such as a paedophilic gangs preying on mostly vulnerable young white girls. There is some credence to the argument used by white nationalists that argues that these young girls were targeted because there is a perception amongst South Asian men that white females are more sexually available than South Asian women. Just as there is credence to the argument that Asian women are viewed by white men as more sexually submissive and also inferior due to our lower socioeconomic status, on average. Both of these perceptions are based largely on truth. The average white woman is more sexually liberated than the average Asian woman and this has left both vulnerable to attacks from the most virulent members of the other. Sadistic Pakistani males manipulating young, mostly white girls into prostitution in Rotherham, meanwhile hordes of white males flock to Thailand every year to participate in the world’s largest child sex trade.

THe SOLD project demonstration in front of the Memorial Union child sex trade

I have seen it with my own eyes, having lived in Thailand for two years and overheard the casual ways in which white men will talk about their ‘conquests’ with young sex workers from the most impoverished backgrounds. So while I meet many white men who fetishise me and tell me how much I look like an Indian princess (that they’d no doubt like to ‘conquer’), to put them in the same category as the lobster pink sex tourists that hang out at the lady bars on Bangkok’s soi 4 would be ignorant. The same can be said when white nationalists such as Tommy Robinson try and put every Pakistani Muslim in the same category as the Rotherham paedophiles. In fact when you’re making assumptions about a minority group based on the worst examples that belong to that group it’s more than ignorant, it’s racist. The fact that I need to write a whole article explaining this is ridiculous, but that is the nature of the world we are living in today. women need to be

There is a difference between how women are treated in South Asia vs how we are treated in the West. But let’s not get it twisted that it is as simple as a linear evolution with Asia somewhat lagging behind. We have veered off on a tangent in the west and we should perhaps look to Asia to see where we might have gone wrong and take the best from both cultures and leave the rest. In South Asia we have still held on to traditional gender roles, something that white feminists have long since thrown out the window, emasculating men in the process. In South Asia we acknowledge that men and women have and will always have biological differences that dictate that both are suited best to different roles. While I understand gender is a spectrum rather than a binary and everyone should be free to decide where along that spectrum they want to sit, I would argue that the association we have made with masculine qualities as being inherently oppressive is the scourge of white feminism. And then we wonder where have all the good men gone and why we don’t fancy most of them anymore? We have gained economic empowerment for women but destroyed trust in male female relationships. Instead of relying on men for support and protection white feminists will have you believing that you as a strong, independent woman don’t need no man. This is a fallacy. Because believe it or not, for all our economic advancement and ‘sexual liberation’ there are still rapists lurking in our midst and no matter how much we want to claim we are the same, men will never be able to give birth and nurture a child with their bodies like we can and no amount of equal paternity leave will change that. They are the yang to our yin and we need their protection and support as much as they need our nurturing life-giving energy. This is something Pakistanis understand very well so before we go around enforcing our ‘liberal western values’ on every other group, perhaps we all, white Brits included, should take a look at the worst examples of our own communities and wonder what this might say about our own culture.

By Sundal Roy

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