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Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest athletes of all time

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Muhammad Ali, the silver-tongued boxer and civil rights champion who famously proclaimed himself “The Greatest” and then spent a lifetime living up to the billing, is no more after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. Muhammad Ali, revered as one of the greatest boxers of all time, has died at the age of 74.

Muhammad had suffered for three decades from Parkinson’s, a progressive neurological condition that slowly robbed him of both his legendary verbal grace and his physical dexterity. A funeral service was held in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

The man who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, dazzle the world of heavyweight boxing at the height of the sport’s golden era, and stand against war and injustice in America, is in our memories. His daughter Rasheda said that the legend was “no longer suffering,” describing him as “daddy, my best friend and hero” as well as “the greatest man that ever lived.”

While some debate remains over whether he was the greatest heavyweight to ever enter the ring, boxing historians unanimously agree he was the greatest entertainer the sport ever produced.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to middle-class parents, Ali started boxing when he was 12, winning Golden Gloves titles before heading to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, at the age of 43

Achievements and controversies

The first boxer to win the world heavyweight title three times, Ali’s exemplary skills in the boxing ring, colorful trash-talking and historic fights against some of the toughest fighters of all time ensured his place as an immortal icon of the sport. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” was one of many phrases Ali used to describe what he could do in the ring, while “I am the greatest” was a common catchcry. His vanquished foes included George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston. His road to immortality began at amateur level, after he was snapped up by a policeman come gym manager to take up boxing to arrest his aggressive behavior. The rising star soon turned professional and won 19 successive bouts — 15 by knockout — before taking on Liston in February, 1964 for the world heavyweight title.

Aged 22, he took on heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in Miami. He won and proclaimed to the world: “I am the greatest!” Ali was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.

A supremely gifted athlete who excelled in one of the greatest eras of heavyweight boxing, Ali will also be remembered for his quick wit, charismatic turn of phrase and his brave stand against conscription, the Vietnam War and racial inequality. But Ali also proved to be a divisive, polarising figure in America, refusing to be conscripted into the US military in 1967 due to his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. His stance against conscription cast him as a left-wing symbol of the anti-establishment movement in America.

Ali successfully defended his title six times, including a rematch with Liston. Then, in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Ali was drafted to serve in the US Army. He’d said previously that the war did not comport with his faith, and that he had “no quarrel” with America’s enemy, the Vietcong.

As his profile rose, Ali acted out against American racism. After he was refused services at a soda fountain counter, he said, he threw his Olympic gold medal into a river.

The new champion soon renounced Cassius Clay as his “slave name” and said he would be known from then on as Muhammad Ali — bestowed by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. He was 22 years old. The move split sports fans and the broader American public: an American sports champion rejecting his birth name and adopting one that sounded ‘subversive’ to fanatics.

Ali attended his first Nation of Islam meeting in 1959 and converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. In 1967, he famously refused to fight in Vietnam, citing religious reasons.

Recoiling from the sport’s tightly knit community of agents, mafias and promoters, Ali found guidance instead from the Nation of Islam, an American Muslim sect that advocated racial separation and rejected the pacifism of most civil rights activism. Inspired by Malcolm X, one of the group’s leaders, he converted in 1963. But he kept his new faith a secret until the crown was safely in hand. That came the following year, when heavyweight champion Sonny Liston agreed to fight Ali. The challenger geared up for the bout with a litany of insults and rhymes, including the line, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He beat the fearsome Liston in a sixth-round technical knockout before a stunned Miami Beach crowd. In the ring, Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.”

Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics or controversy, releasing a statement criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” he said. The remark bookended the life of a man who burst into the national consciousness in the early 1960s, when as a young heavyweight champion he converted to Islam and became an emblem of strength, eloquence, conscience and courage.

Ali was an anti-establishment showman who transcended borders and barriers, race and religion. His fights against other men became spectacles, but he embodied much greater battles. He turned professional shortly afterward, supported at first by Louisville business owners who guaranteed him an unprecedented 50-50 split in earnings. His knack for talking up his own talents — often in verse — earned him the dismissive nickname “the Louisville Lip,” but he backed up his talk with action, relocating to Miami to train with the legendary trainer Angelo Dundee and build a case for getting a shot at the heavyweight title.

Recoiling from the sport’s tightly knit community of agents, mafias and promoters, Ali found guidance instead from the Nation of Islam, an American Muslim sect that advocated racial separation and rejected the pacifism of most civil rights activism.

Religion and freedom

Inspired by Malcolm X, one of the group’s leaders, he converted in 1963. But he kept his new faith a secret until the crown was safely in hand. That came the following year, when heavyweight champion Sonny Liston agreed to fight Ali. The challenger geared up for the bout with a litany of insults and rhymes, including the line, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He beat the fearsome Liston in a sixth-round technical knockout before a stunned Miami Beach crowd. In the ring, Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.” “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some dark skinned people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what?” Ali said in an interview. His stand culminated with an April appearance at an Army recruiting station, where he refused to step forward when his name was called. The reaction was swift and harsh. He was stripped of his boxing title, convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison.

Ali fought for freedom, justice, equality and religious beliefs. Ali’s fiery commentary was praised by antiwar activists and black nationalists and vilified by conservatives, including many other athletes and sportswriters. His appeal took four years to reach the US Supreme Court, which in June 1971 reversed the conviction in a unanimous decision that found the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious belief.

Released on appeal but unable to fight or leave the country, Ali turned to the lecture circuit, speaking on college campuses, where he engaged in heated debates, pointing out the hypocrisy of denying rights to blacks even as they were ordered to fight the country’s battles abroad. “My enemy is the white people, not Vietcongs or Chinese or Japanese,” Ali told one white student who challenged his draft avoidance.

Toward the end of his legal saga, Georgia agreed to issue Ali a boxing license, which allowed him to fight Jerry Quarry, whom he beat. Six months later, at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, he lost to Joe Frazier in a 15-round duel touted as “the fight of the century.” It was Ali’s first defeat as a pro. That fight led to one of boxing’s and sport’s greatest rivalries. Ali and Frazier fought again in 1974, after Frazier had lost his crown. This time, Ali won in a unanimous decision, making him the lead challenger for the heavyweight title. Finally, Ali delivered a historic performance in the ring, knocking out Foreman in the eighth round. The maneuver has been copied by many other champions since.

The third fight in the Ali-Frazier trilogy followed in 1975, the “Thrilla in Manila” that is now regarded as one of the best boxing matches of all time. Ali won in a technical knockout in the 15th round. Ali successfully defended his title until 1978, when he was beaten by a young Leon Spinks, and then quickly took it back. He retired in 1979, when he was 37. The following year, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Health and travel

Even as his health gradually declined, Ali — who switched to more mainstream branches of Islam — threw himself into humanitarian causes, traveling to Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 to seek the release of American hostages. In 1996, he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, lifting the torch with shaking arms. With each public appearance he seemed more feeble, a stark contrast to his outsized aura. He continued to be one of the most recognizable people in the world.

He traveled incessantly for many years, crisscrossing the globe in appearances in which he made money but also pushed philanthropic causes. He met with presidents, royalty, heads of state, the Pope. He told “People” magazine that his largest regret was not playing a more intimate role in the raising of his children. But he said he did not regret boxing. “If I wasn’t a boxer, I wouldn’t be famous,” he said. “If I wasn’t famous, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.”

In 2005, President George W. Bush honored Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and his hometown of Louisville opened the Muhammad Ali Center, chronicling his life but also as a forum for promoting tolerance and respect.

Divorced three times and the father of nine children — one of whom, Laila, become a boxer — Ali married his last wife, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams, in 1986; they lived for a long time in Berrien Springs, Michigan, then moved to Arizona.

In recent years, Ali’s health began to suffer dramatically. There was a death scare in 2013, and last year he was rushed to the hospital after being found unresponsive. He recovered and returned to his new home in Arizona. In his final years, Ali was barely able to speak. Asked to share his personal philosophy with NPR in 2009, Ali let his wife read his essay: “I never thought of the possibility of failing, only of the fame and glory I was going to get when I won,” Ali wrote. “I could see it. I could almost feel it. When I proclaimed that I was the greatest of all time, I believed in myself, and I still do.”

An all-time boxing great and one of sport’s most charismatic entertainers, Muhammad Ali leaves behind a legacy of thrilling fights, trash talk poetry and taking a stand against inequality and war.

Tributes have poured in for Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion boxer who riveted the world with his sporting feats, quick-witted commentary and civil rights activism. Fellow athletes were quick to offer their condolences. “God came for his champion. So long great one,” boxer Mike Tyson said on Twitter. “RIP to The Greatest Muhammad Ali, you have given something to boxing that will never be forgotten,” tweeted Floyd Mayweather. British boxer Amir Khan, meanwhile, offered “prayers and thoughts”. Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino former world champion professional boxer, said the boxing world would benefit from Ali’s legacy. “We lost a giant today,” said Pacquiai. “Boxing benefited from Muhammad Ali’s talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefitted from his humanity.” “A part of me slipped away,” George Foreman said on Twitter, calling the legendary fellow boxer by his “the Greatest” nickname.

Our hearts are deeply saddened yet both appreciative and relieved that the greatest is now resting in the greatest place.

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New Social Compact

Reimagining Governance after Covid-19

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What will it take to rescue the global economy in the wake of COVID-19? Are adjustments, improvements or amendments enough? Haven’t we done this before? Maybe it’s time to rethink this with a mindset, not of ‘starting again’ which would tend to invite ‘again’ thinking, but instead to begin with a completely blank slate – no preconceptions – just goals.

 I suggested a new paradigm, a total reset.

Change most often happens incrementally, over decades, if not centuries and many historical truths define the present long past their relevance. For one, the fundamental principles of our global economy still rest on the agrarian and industrial revolutions. Tilling the soil and staffing factories remain the foundations of today’s economic planning – despite the fact that we have well entered the digital, automated world.

Another of these historical, yet increasingly outdated conventionsis the pervasiveness of male leadership.

The position of women has evolved incrementally and at best- unevenly – throughout the world. Although women comprise half the population, the world’s political, economic and social systems continue to be based on designs stemming from and reflecting men’s nature. 

All things being equal, it is very costly to knock down the entirety of something and start from scratch. Perhaps fortunately, the devastation caused by COVID-19 is happening at a time of acute and increasing awareness of the imbalance in society. This offers a rare, first-ever opportunity to revisit the definition of effective.

That is whyit make sense to re-architect these systems now, imbuing governance with a mix of qualities of success that are peculiar to women as well as those of men.An op-ed in the British Medical Journal recently noted that to avoid ‘groupthink’ and blind spots, policy decisions must include representatives with diverse backgrounds.  But during the outbreak of covid-19 the male-led governments of the UK and Sweden relied mainly on epidemiological modeling by internal advisors. Few channels were open for dissenting views. By contrast, Merkel looked to outside sources, beyond epidemiology to medical providers, and as far as South Korea’s successful testing and isolation procedures.

Two notable characteristics of leadership of women leaders during Covid-19 were inclusiveness and compassion: embracing diversity in political institutions and empowering society. In the battle against corona this meant transparency, clarity of responsibility with everything visible – not behind the scenes. It meant swiftly finding ways to allow the populace to become stakeholders in the solution. It included appealing to the citizenry with an executive demeanor that conveyed commitment and a sense that there was a consistent plan of action that demanded civic responsibility while at the same time, leaving the people with a great deal of discretion and personal influence over their own experience. 

Compassion informed a compelling vision presented with warmth. 

Some like Peter Huang of the University of Colorado Law School, have already noted the most important leadership lesson of COVID-19:put more women in charge. But is that enough when the system itself is informed by and imbued with male characteristics, language, energy?

Societal norms are defined and shaped by millennia of men at the helm.  Thus most women remain compelled to conform to the existing framework, created by and for men, to attain and hold their positions. In most cases, that means; act like a man. Adapt to systems where leaders are expected to be aggressive, domineering and cut-throat.

The devastation wreaked by COVID-19 shows that the existing framework is no longer relevant, opening an opportunity to invent something totally new. The virus has created a moment where we can begin to see the possibilities devoid of the limitations of our old ways. The time has come to expand the definition of what is effective and reimagine measures for governance based on entirely new systems that emerge from a cooperative process of creation. For the first time in the history of humanity, society can be built on foundations rising from a fully cooperative process between men and women.  With a clean slate and a balanced – male and female, yin and yang -defined approach, we have the opportunity to do it right.

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Contextualizing the causes of rape: Battle of ‘wrong’ perceptions

Wardah Irum

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The recent sexual assault committed at the outskirts of Lahore motorway has sparked tremendous outrage in Pakistan, from highlighting CCPO’s misogynist remarks, defending him, demanding public hanging, justice for the victim and overall security for women to spreading gender awareness in the society. However, to my utter surprise, the discourse rarely mentioned the perpetrators the way they should have been mentioned. The predominant yet absolutely fallacious focus remained on how ‘rape’ stems out of some ‘sexual deprivation’ or ‘uncontrollable sexual urges’. In other words, rapists seek ‘sexual gratification’ through rape. The problem with this statement is that it minimizes the legal responsibility of rapists and attributes the causes of rape to something beyond their control. Once the legal responsibility of rapists is removed or reduced, then either the circumstances or the victims themselves are blamed for creating situations in which the criminal lose control of themselves for sexual fulfilment. How can one consider and accept this supposed ‘uncontrollability’ of men, when this very society ‘informs’ us that men are more ‘rational’, ‘sound’ and ‘prudent’ while women are ‘emotional’ and ‘sentimental’. In religion and in wider social discourse, majority of leadership and managerial positions are reserved for men because they are considered logical and mentally more stable than us females. How can someone who is allegedly more rational, more reasonable and sensible have no control over their sexual behavior? Have no sense of individual dignity and self-restraint, personal responsibility and moral accountability? If we accept this wrong perception about men’s incapability to control their sexual desires, then, we should immediately overhaul the society and put men into the confines of their homes and must restrict their exposure to public space, because they have no power over themselves. Do you see where this argument may lead if we keep thinking that men cannot control their sexual urges and rape just happens out of lust and sexual desires?

The truth is both genders have equal sexual needs and desires, the only difference between them is that society has ‘normalized’ male sexuality and stigmatized ‘female sexuality’. And yes, both genders have equal control over their sexual urges. Rape never happens randomly and just out of extreme sexual urges, remember, it is an act carried out by the rapists intentionally. Moreover, majority of rapists (as various researches shows) have multiple venues to fulfil their sexual needs through extra-material ‘consensual sex’ and prostitutes. Paradoxically, a lot of rapists are married men, and men in powerful positions who have unlimited access to free but ‘consensual sex’. Therefore, we need to reject widespread notions that perhaps sexual impulses are uncontrollable, and because they cannot be controlled, they will ultimately lead to sexual crimes or rapists are essentially some ‘sex-deprived individuals’. The wrong emphasis will lead to wrong solutions to eradicate this social evil.

In this context, it is extremely necessary to understand the reasons and motives behind rape and sexual harassment. Various researches on this subject indicates that majority of rapists are motivated by an impulses of aggression incorporating power, acceptance of violence, revenge and anger. They are also encouraged by a combination of aggression and sexual expression emerging directly from the traditional male sex-role which is why when rapists are asked about motivations, ‘they often indicated that rape most commonly stemmed from a sense of sexual entitlement, and it was often an act of bored men… seeking entertainment’ (Rachel Jewkes, 2010)

Also, Rape is often ‘used’ as a weapon by the rapist to control, violate, and belittle the victim or to compensate for his perceived inadequacies such as lack of power, control, identity, and authority through the act of rape. There are extensive interviews of rapists available, in which, the perpetrators have elaborated how the act of rape was not really about ‘sexual pleasure’ but rather how it satisfied their wish to attain control, spread violence, and seek punishment and domination. Susan Brown miller, a feminist scholar, famously proclaimed that: “Rape is not a crime of irrational, impulsive, uncontrollable lust, but is a deliberate, hostile, violent act of degradation and possession on the part of a would-be conqueror, designed to intimidate and inspire fear…’Moreover, another feminist researcher MacKinnon found out that ‘aggression against those with less power is often experienced as sexual pleasure, an entitlement of masculinity that creates and maintains a sexual/gender hierarchy’. This has been demonstrated through Sanday’s Study on rape that distinguished between ‘‘rape-prone’’ and ‘rape-free’’ societies. Her cross-cultural study found that rape-prone societies were associated with interpersonal violence, male social dominance, and the subordination of women. In contrast, rape-free societies were characterized by respect for female authority and decision making and the near absence of interpersonal violence.

Besides, if we look at the history we will realize that rape has been used as aweapon of war and oppression throughout history. It has been used to degrade women and weak, vulnerable- unprivileged man and their communities and for ethnic cleansing and genocide. In jails all over the world, male rape is pervasive and never even highlighted through ‘breaking news’. In the famous rape case of Mukhtar Mai, the focus almost entirely diverted towards her, whereas her 14 years old brother was, also, a victim of repeated gang-rape by the three Baloch Mastoi men. And let’s never forget that it was the local Jirga who ordered the rape of Mukhtar Mai. How sick is this society where men are not punished for their criminal acts but rather their sisters, daughters, wives and mothers are punished. If a man sexually assault a woman, that man should be punished not woman belonging to his family. There are hundreds of examples where woman and man were sexually assaulted to humiliate or dominate and take revenge or inflict pain and injury either directly on the victim and their family or to disgrace one gender as a whole. Therefore, It can be established that rape has numerous motives as Beverly McPhail, renowned feminist scholar who has done extensive research on causes of rape, asserted that rape is both “a political, aggregate act whereby men as a group dominate and control women as a group,” and “a very personal, intimate act in which the body of a singular person is violated by another person(s).” She asserts further that “Rape occurs due to multiple motives rather than the single motivation… The multiple motivations include, but are not limited to revenge, power/control, and attempts to achieve or perform masculinity recreation or sexual gratification (of violent ‘nonconsensual sex).” 

However, the common misperception in the society is that rape occurs because of ‘uncontrollable sexual urges’, ‘late marriages, ‘broken families’, ‘women not wearing veil’ and the like. The whole notion that the rapists might have felt ‘out of control’ is a gross rejection of the fact that rapists ‘intentionally’ commit assault to ‘control’ the victim. This line of thinking perpetuate the false notion that perhaps man are some desperate beasts and therefore cannot control their sexual urges. Unfortunately, there is a subtle acknowledgment of such wrong, delusionary and misplaced perception in the tone of so many people, who, perhaps think our society is ‘sex starved’. In fact, our society is obsessed with sex and the daily news of sexual assaults are emblematic of this. Men in our society have raped ‘dead females after exhuming’, minors, (both boys and girls) and animals. If this is not obsession then what it is? This doesn’t sound like ‘starvation’.

The major problem emerges with patriarchy and how ‘sexual violence’ has been normalized and accepted. Yes, our society has stealthily ‘accepted’ sexual violence when majority of populace of Islamic republic chants in unison the notions of ‘chadar and char devari’ to ‘save’ women from sexual harassments. Ironically women are not even safe in their homes or in some cases in their graves, and don’t forget a huge number of girls and minors are raped by family members. Such mentality forgets to look at the causes of rape, ending rape culture, and correcting male behavior, instead it just loves to assume as if ‘chadar and char devari’ has saved and protected women. Our society has accepted and normalize sexual harassment when films and media is blamed for spreading vulgarity and spoiling the young generation, as if before the advent of social media and films, rape cases were non-existent. Our society has normalized sexual harassment when male children are brought up differently than females and when the family and educational institutes do not inculcate gender sensitization in students. This very ‘Islamic republic’ tolerate sexual violence when women are routinely given rape threats but law enforcement agencies rarely take actions; when rapists are not punished and roam freely. When criminals committing domestic violence, acid attacks, honor killings go unpunished. Every time when women is stared at by men in streets (even if she is wearing burqa) , when she is groped or touched in public, in schools, universities, offices and she remains silent out of fear of retaliation and humiliation and cannot hold the culprit responsible, this ‘rape culture’ is nourished and strengthened by ourselves. Moreover, the extent of hypocrisy that is maintained through this rape cultureis such that perpetrators are virtually ‘morally acquitted’ of their heinous crime. For the most part, there is a little reference towards them being ‘real culprits’. Our society has attached no stigma no disgrace towards the offenders of sexual violence, staring, catcalling, eve teasing and the like. Instead, it dearly devotes all its energy towards ‘disgracing’ and ‘dishonoring’ the victims and their family. We never shout out and label the perpetrators as ‘disgraceful’, ‘dishonorable’, ‘criminals’ and of course ‘sinners’ as well. This society tell victims that how they are ‘disgraced’ or have ‘lost their honor’ by the sexual assault whereas in reality the victim is innocent and mazloom. The victim’s human rights are violated and s/he is oppressed, and who is oppressed cannot be ‘dishonored’. It is only the oppressor, the criminal who is disgraced and dishonored by his crimes and sins.  But have we ever, collectively and vocally, renounced and stigmatized the rapists in particular and perpetrators of other acts of sexual harassment in general? Would it be wrong to say that staring, catcalling, abusing, eve teasing etc. by Pakistani men have actually become our ‘national character’ and majority of man are not even sorry for these shameful and inhumane acts. The day when sexual harassment is removed in all these forms at grassroots level, heinous crimes like rape will tremendously reduce as well.

To add insult to injury, the clergy (the Mullahs, the Allamas) has all the time in the world to ‘preach’ and perform their ‘religious duties’ during Ramzan and Moharram, and who, vociferously condemn ‘bad behavior’ in women, suddenly disappear from the scene when incidents of sexual harassment occurs. No ‘jaloos’ or ‘rallies’ by these religious leaders are organized to denounce the crime committed largely by individuals from their gender. Of course they can’t come out and condemn such crimes as most of these religious figures are themselves involved in such crimes and the others simply do not bother about the societal problems because their sole responsibility is to strengthen and disseminate their respective sectarian believes through Mosques, Iman bargahs, jammatkhanas and madrassahs. Because, they are very part and parcel of patriarchal society and all the notions of male superiority and domination have given them tremendous advantages in their personal and professional lives.

Nonetheless, it is their moral responsibility to ‘educate’ the masses (particularly males) that how grave a ‘sin’ rape is (and a crime against humanity in both national and international law), that how God has ordered men to ‘lower their eyes’ and guard their modesty. In the common discourse all the notions of modesty and chastity are only confined to women, as if God has given men the ‘freedom’ to do as he pleases. The truth is modesty (sharm-o-haya) is compulsory for both men and women as God has ordained in verse 24:30 ‘Tell the believing men to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do’. Have you ever noticed that most of the time no one talks about this, people only talk about how only women need to veil and act modestly, and if they don’t ‘behave’ this way, it is the God given right to men to sexually harass them.

Sorry to disappoint you, God has not bestowed any such right to men, He has, explicitly, ordered men to guard their chastity, but majority of the men in our society have ‘completely’ forgotten and neglected to safeguard their modesty (Sharm-o-haya). In fact, if society had taught this sharm-o-haya to our men, sexual violence would not have become endemic and gender equality would not have become so hard to achieve. Therefore, if we really want to become a civilized and progressive society we need to inculcate this fundamental principal in our men with the same emphasis, because they are fully accountable and responsible for their actions. It is about time that we change our focus from ‘victim blaming’ (or women blaming) to ‘reeducate’ men in our society. To achieve this, we have to break the cycle of patriarchic values and advocate the absolute inviolability of individual dignity and equality of human beings. Don’t wait for the society to miraculously change, start with the person in the mirror.

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Women Lead More Humanely During Times of Pandemic

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Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway. Photo: Wikimedia

As insignificant as it may seem to apologists of patriarchal social structures, it is evident that at least during the first phase of the pandemic, nations governed by women have witnessed a lesser number of deaths. This is not to suggest that women inevitably become better leaders in situations of crisis. The challenge ranges from reforming labour markets to waging wars, but the observation is still worth contemplating over, nevertheless.

There is surely a risk in devising these kinds of conclusion even though they sound feminist, for they perpetuate the gender-stereotype that kindness is inherently a feminine trait, which goes on to strengthen the socially enforced gender-based roles that have more to do with our mindsets than biology, but in an age when presidents such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro have gone berserk with their politics of toxic machismo, women seem to be treading the path during times of crisis with a lot more calmness and precision.

While Trump and Bolsonaro might be indulging in faux masculinity and denying the severity of the issue, Jessica Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, has been addressing people of her country via social media in a tone that is informal and yet reassuring and convincing.

Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, which has reported 264 deaths, told her country’s children that it is alright to feel scared during unprecedented times such as these. Such a response takes a person’s vulnerability into account while retaining their confidence and faith in the ability to tide through difficult times.

Perhaps more leaders should wield such empathetic approaches that acknowledge people’s apprehensions, fears and vulnerabilities and infuse faith in them without making them feel as if their pain is rendered unseen. Such an approach is more sensitive from the perspective of mental health too.

In a new global analysis, Supriya Garikipati at the University of Liverpool and Uma Kambhampati at the University of Reading have compared the 19 countries being led by women with their neighbours considering a cluster of influencers such as population, economy, gender equality, openness to travel, health expenditures and proportion of elderly people. They had to exclude Taiwan, a country run by a woman, from the research as it is not a member of the United Nations.

They reached an unequivocal conclusion. Countries governed by women literally suffered half as many deaths in comparison to the countries suffered by men. This is partly because female leaders ordered lockdowns much earlier, and “flattened the curves” of outbreaks in their countries. Ardern for instance, implemented a second round of lockdown in her country after a new cluster of cases had emerged following 100 days of no local transmission at all.

One possible reason, as many studies corroborate, is surely that women tend to be more risk-averse during such situations of crisis. But it is not simply a choice between more or less risk. It is also a choice between what to risk and what not to, and up to what extent. So the difference in the approaches of male and female leaders, as observed by the authors of this study, was that women took less number of risks with lives and more with the economy, and men took more number of risks with lives and less with the economy.

Of course, there comes a time when death and economic losses get intertwined together.

Women also, as per the observations, tend to communicate with people differently. For long, it has been hypothesized that men in positions of leadership tend to be more autocratic and directive, while women more often adopt democratic and participatory approaches to leadership. This conjecture has been hard to prove, but researchers are still examining the supposition that women bring more empathy in their decision-making process and accord due importance to emotional information while arriving at a conclusion.

Clearly, an interpersonal, empathetic, and participatory approach does more to heal distress and steer forth a nation during the trying times of a pandemic. This requires a leader to build and maintain a consensus that the threat anticipated or observed is indeed real, that sacrifice is vital to protect others, and that public health considerations deserve to be accorded a greater priority over individual liberties and privileges during times that are anything but normal.

Men who are still attracted to traditionally masculine approaches towards situations of crisis that seem to heighten anxiety with their unflinching narrative of heroism and do little to bring relief on the ground; might find such approaches built on empathy and consensus building difficult to imbibe.

Meanwhile, other more tolerant and progressive leaders, both female and male, could surely learn from such lessons and infuse more empathy in their approach. While individuality and talent trumps gender, and it is not to be assumed that all women leaders would be embodiments of sensitivity and temperance, a lesson could surely be taken from observations such as the ones evident during the first phase of this pandemic.

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