On the controversial UN Women Pakistan #BeatMe Campaign

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?

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4 thoughts on “On the controversial UN Women Pakistan #BeatMe Campaign

  1. Munawar Memon says:

    Reporting voilance is a huge problem for women. Gender-based voilance campaign by US embassy is mere formality!! US embassy should think of innovatotors/ entrepreneurs who should be burdened with a task of developing a low cost handy but efficient device which than may be passed on to women subjected to voilance to fecilitate them to easily report the gruesome act. I am willing to help pass on an idea of how it might be done.

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  2. Munawar Memon says:

    Bina shah is a noted writer and when she happens to like some one’s reply one would expect ( In this case) US embassy at Islamabad to feel obliged to Bina Shah who has resented violence against women and convinced at least one person( That is myself ) to agree with her views and suggest a possible way out of this outrageous act on the part of men. In view of the foregoing I was expecting good deal of appreciation and hoping that someone from the embassy would connect with me to further this cause of grevience and put his head together to find a solution to this gruesome act. But nothing of the sort happend and the life is as usual. Nevertheless, i happen to have an idea to resolve the issue of violence against women all over the world and expect that I would be heard to earn the approval of those in charge of finding solution to this pathetic situation in which women find themselves. In the event I am able to establish the credibility of my idea and it’s ability to resolve or substantially diminish the recurrence of violence against women which will only be possible with the help of ( Mechnical device which will be small and handy for every women ) Now that device that I would want to make needs very firm support of an organization based in the US. All of this effort is heart throbbing and could be heart breaking as well because of patent the right to which will be as good for that CO: agreeing to make it( If they find the idea feasibile and purposeful) and my own potion of patent ( As the idea belong to me) I have narrated above my resolution to help free women of violence all over the world. Now I don’t know who ownes the responsibility of freeing women from impending violence? Be that UNO or US embassy or some other agency but Bina shah has done her job and I have done mine. May I expect that our efforts will be heeded to by whosoever and a reply to the above submission will be forthcoming at the earliest. My submission and Bina Shah’s efforts will be a matter of record for all times to come and delay or inaction on the part of those delegated to eradicate violence from the lives of women all over the world will find my untested and unattempted effort as burden of proof. My cell No: 92-0321-8267682.

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  3. Munawar Memon says:

    Bina shah I expect of a writer of your esteemed repute to do justice to the very agenda which you happen to sacredly own. I was neither against U.S embassy Islamabad ( whose apparent participation in this issue you believe properly belongs to UN ).

    Nevertheless, do you not think Miss Bina Shah that I have addressed this abnoxious issue by suggesting a possible way out which need as aggressive a power as UN to go to the root of this grusome act against women in order to set women free of unsolicited violence by men.

    In view of the forgoing facts and in view of your desire to resolve this Gender- based issue. I am confident that you as a versatile writer and as a Journalist of ” New York Times ” can prevail upon UN authorities to work with what is available rather than let my ideas go untested and untried. My correspondence with you on this very demanding issue will be a matter of record for you as well as UN and will be remembered by women who are victims of violence.

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