I was invited last month to take part in a campaign for UN Women Pakistan to raise awareness about violence against women. This is part of a larger campaign all over the world which I have seen called both “16 Days” and “Orange the World.”
The brief I got said that this would be a social media campaign addressing the misconception that women are inferior to men. “Women are UNbeatable” was the tagline, a play on the UN and the word “beat”. It also refers to the shocking violence that women face in Pakistan, and referenced the Council of Islamic Ideology’s advice that men can “lightly beat” their wives.
The campaign puts an emphasis on stories of women who have reached their goals despite the patriarchal mindset they face every day – their stories are featured online as well as in print. Additionally, people from many walks of life (social influencers, parliamentarians, personalities and celebrities) inside Pakistan and beyond have come forward at the opportunity to express how this issue is of personal importance to them and shared messages of support for the campaign. UN Women Pakistan’s ‘#BeatMe’ campaign is part of a longer-term, multi-faceted effort to end violence against women and girls.
They released the linchpin of their campaign last week, a video showcasing Pakistani women achievers daring men to “beat them” on an even playing field. The mountaineer Samina Baig inviting you to “beat me on the mountain top” and the singer Meesha Shafi inviting you to “beat me with your voice”. You’ll find a link to the video here.
Sometimes what looks good on paper doesn’t quite come out right in execution. The video starts with women whispering “beat me” in a tone that sounds almost seductive. Then the strong women come on screen in their various scenarios exhorting men to “beat them” at the things they’re good at. The styling is black and white, meant to be slick and glossy. At the end, a pregnant woman appears on screen and tells men to “beat me” at life.
The minute this was released, protest came vociferously from Pakistani feminists. As Pakistan Feminist Watch said in a statement on Facebook:
We must ask: who is this campaign for? Only privileged English speaking women? Were any women’s rights activists consulted? Did the people making the video even think about consulting experts in VAW in Pakistan?
This campaign shows a lack of understanding about the psychology of abuse, especially intimate partner violence. Perhaps those who made this video were a lucky minority who haven’t experienced abuse because this videos offers absolutely no insight.
Sexualised violence has impunity, especially domestic violence in Pakistan. This has been discussed, studied and talked about regularly in feminist circles. In order to get rid of it, we necessarily require a conscious shift. We need to stop putting the burden on women. The video should have made people aware about the psycho-social reasoning behind why it happens and how it can end.
The person who beats the woman is the culprit who needs reform, not the woman. We need to stop putting the onus on women. A woman should never have to even say “don’t beat me” or “beat me” ever. We need to work towards a world where no one thinks of committing violence against anyone.
Did the video mean to imply that only strong women remain unbeaten, while domestic violence is the domain of the weak? Not so, said the feminist collective Girls at Dhabas, in their statement:
My mother was married to a man who could not, as you mentioned in your video, beat her at academics, at intellect, at work ethic, and mostly, at human decency. He could not beat at her at parenthood, at community building, or at kindness. But he still beat her. Because that is how domestic violence works. It does not come from men looking to compete with women professionally, intellectually, or even socially. It comes from men who are looking to abuse women physically to silence, punish, and hurt them.
That they made the women look sexy is also an issue. It’s true that eye candy sells, and perhaps the creatives behind this video looked to Nike’s Da Da Ding video for inspiration. As editor and PR specialist Lena Moosa Marcucilli says, “Yes, it’s glorified and simplified. Eye candy sells. Still a good effort. Just wish they could have been a bit more obvious with their mission rather than inviting men to ‘beat’ them. It takes away from the gravity of the issue and makes it silly-seductive.”
But this is a big problem with the video’s execution: sexing up the women is one thing, but associating domestic violence with seduction is a big mistake. With the women whispering “beat me” and some of the women looking at the camera in a provocative way, it sends the opposite message than the one it intended. “I dare you to beat me” can be taken completely literally, as it often is in a domestic violence scenario. “Hit me, come on, hit me!” a woman may taunt a man. And he does.
When a man with violent tendencies, with impulse control problems, or other psychological issues hears women whispering “Beat me”, what will embed itself in his brain? And how triggering might this be for victims of domestic violence? Were any of these questions considered, were any psychologists consulted, or gender specialists?
For an example of a wonderful video on the subject of domestic violence, here’s India’s “Bell Bajao”. It places the onus of violence directly on the male perpetrator, and introduces a man who takes it upon himself to stop the violence in a small but significant way.
The UN Pakistan “Beat Me” video certainly failed at putting across the vital message that men should not beat women under any circumstances. When questioned about this at a press event, the UN Women country representative Jamshed Kazi (why is this post filled by a man?) said that it had to be a simple, reductionist message, but he never clarified why. UN Women Pakistan has also not responded to the two statements I’ve quoted above. It would be good if they acknowledged the criticism and it isn’t too late to make changes in the campaign.
How do you translate “Beat me at life” into Urdu anyway?