The United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, launched the HeForShe campaign last year. The philosophy behind the campaign though simple was immensely important: Men had to rise up to protect women’s rights. In her famous speech that was copiously shared and spoken about, she asked the men to pledge to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” Real change she insisted, was not possible unless everyone was part of the conversation.

The campaign swiftly became popular around the world. President Obama, Ban Ki-Moon, Michael D. Higgins were amongst the many who lent their support to it. Governments in the African continent, USA, India, Dubai, Sweden, Netherlands and Guatemala were some of the first to acknowledge and commit to the campaign’s subsequent initiatives. Individuals, mostly men, from around the world shared their pictures with the hashtag #HeForShe imprinted on placards they held. According to UN Women the campaign reached out to 1.2 billion individuals across social media and generated valuable conversations and debates. Ever since its launch, a total of 222,563 men all over the world have committed themselves to the gender equality pledge. Out of this number, only 670 men are from Pakistan.

Let’s be honest though, this alone cannot represent the real picture of Pakistani society so let us indulge in some more statistics: According to The World Bank, only 13% of the non-agricultural sector employment is shared by women. The Social Institutions and Gender Index of 2014 calculates a 0.3012 value for Pakistan (one of the highest levels of inequality in the world) in line with prevalent discriminatory family codes, restricted physical integrity, son bias, restricted resources and assets and restricted civil liberties. According to the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranks 141 out of 142, the second-worst, in terms of equal distribution of opportunities and resources made available to women. According to the National Plan of Action 2013-2016 for achieving Universal Primary Education published by the Government of Pakistan, a gender parity of 0.78 continues to exist in terms of education attainment. A UN report claims that 63% of the girls of school going age in Pakistan are out of school. According to the Millennium Development Goals database, women hold only 20.7% of the National Assembly seats and 17.1% of Provincial seats. PATTAN, an NGO working for women and other marginalized groups, claims that only 5% of the women folk own cell phones in comparison to 69% of men. Pakistan topped the list of acid throwing countries with 93 cases in 2012 and according to Awaz foundation, a startling 2,713 cases of rape were reported in South Punjab alone that very year.

These are but a few of the statistics collected for the research of this article. If nothing else, they show that inequality is an unfortunate reality in Pakistan. A largely conservative and patriarchal society, almost all of Pakistan’s woman populace (89.16 Million) is subjected to a number of gender-based discriminations. The concept of women’s rights in the country have been left abstract by various factions of the society in order to manipulate the emotive public and further agendas that have nothing to do with woman empowerment. Enforced or implied strict dress and ethics codes for example, plague the social and professional fabric of a Pakistani woman’s existence. In order to ‘protect’ the woman, her mobility, freedom, and ability to think is restricted. At Institutional level, this is done by entities such as the Council of Islamic ideology in the form of their depressingly obtuse declarations. At the familial level, almost all parents tend to justify unequal rules on their children in line with primitive tradition-based rationales. At the political level, no party besides those affiliated with the Bhutto family has ever had a woman chairperson or leading party decision maker. At the legislative level, laws passed or pursued in favor of women protection are mostly left unimplemented. At social level, televangelists such as Amir Liaquat and Junaid Jamshed and people like Shahid Afridi ridicule the concept of woman equality. At personal level, almost every one of us men is guilty of staying adamant to a belief ridiculously and obviously, gender biased. A lot has to change and it needs to be quick.

The Pakistani man needs to recognize the destructiveness of the curse of patriarchy. For one, it instills a deep sense of insecurity within the male psyche, weakening him. A man who enforces his dominance is but a coward, a mere weakling. A bully, he uses his societal, physical or cultural dominance to hide his weaknesses and failures. Such men protect societies that use religious and political propagandas to dictate the very worth of a woman’s life. They indulge in self-serving customs that only hamper the evolution of their community. Such individuals greatly undermine the potential and contributions of women and are very much responsible for the dire state of women rights in the world. The Pakistani man needs to be bigger than this; he needs to be better than this, atleast for his own sake.

Feminism has been wrongly stereotyped as a movement initiated and propagated by aggressive women. This is a very unfortunate misconception. Feminism is a philosophy that seeks equality within the society; equality in terms of rights, opportunities and indeed freedom. Feminism does not undermine the role of men but instead seeks to realize the full potential of the women who have been forced to stay behind. Feminism hence is not an anti-men movement. It is but a movement of unison, of complementation, of acknowledgement and of acceptance.

A large segment of civil society is doing a commendable work in advocating equality but the preceding narrative is indicative that this is not enough. The only way out of the quicksand of loathsome discrimination within the Pakistani society is an active army of socially aware and intellectually nurtured feminist men. For a society like Pakistan, where most of the women have been indoctrinated by generations of patriarchal injunctions and have been deprived of opportunities to construct an institutional or philosophical framework for the protection of their rights, it is very important that the common Pakistani man rises up for them. The ‘he’, hence, needs to rise for the ‘she’, not for her sake but for himself, for his society and for his country. It is not a choice for there is no rationale for protection of any form of discrimination. It is but a debt that we owe to the Pakistan of the future where every individual can realize their potential and contribute socio-economically to its refinement and development. Every step is crucial, every feminist man is important.