<%-- Page Title--%> Human Rights <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 123 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 19, 2003

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Security Equals Mental Well being

Dr.Nighat Ara

Today women no doubt enjoy more freedom and contribute their share in the economic growth of the country. This transition of conventional to a more modern role has a cost to their mental health. Having a job and being occupied outside the home is often helpful for women's mental health though, it is actually the total amount of stress experienced by an individual that determines the level of mental wellbeing. Women who stretch themselves beyond their capacity are making themselves more vulnerable. They are sometimes imposed with super human roles, which can lead to a crisis. Housewives also find themselves under severe stress in day to day matters.

Violence against women is constantly rising. Someone may argue that the situation was always like this; the only difference is that they are getting more coverage now. Still, a vast majority of cases remain unreported. Rape, inhuman torture for dowry, physical/mental/financial abuse by men in the family as well as sexism and discrimination against women are regular phenomena in our social life.

Women in this country face the greatest insecurity. They are angry inside and this internalised anger gives rise to depression. Richard von Krafft-Ebing invented the term “masochism”. He defined it in his Psychopathic Sexualis (1886) as “the wish to suffer pain and to be subjected to force”. He saw it as a “perversion” only in men. “In women”, he contended, “voluntary subjection to the opposite sex is a psychological phenomenon.

Owing to her passive role in procreation and long-existent social conditions, ideas of subjection are, in women, normally connected with the idea of sexual relations. They form the harmonics, which define the tone-quality of feminine feeling. Krafft-Ebing insisted a deviation to masterful behaviour, though loudly rejected, that this is often accepted with secret satisfaction. Twenty-first century women will not accept this outdated concept. Feminist movements in the western world (in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) evolved through different stages to address these issues of discrimination, social injustice, and “social purity” (which advocated a single standard of sexual morality against the double standard of secret lives). It was identified that violence against women is closely linked to social issues like power,
marriage, sexuality and prostitution.

Finally in the seventies of the last century, equal rights for
women were recognised as the solution for these discrepancies. Women can enjoy a freer life today in respect to their choices in lifestyle. Unfortunately, the main issue “
violence or crime against women” is still alarmingly high even in the western world. Rape and wife beating occurs mainly among the poor, emotional abuse (negligence, moral hypocrisy) is more common among the upper
and middle class.

Women who stretch themselves beyond their capacity are making themselves more vulnerable.

Our own society is also getting liberal to some extent. But a safer environment is essential for mental health. In general, women are poorer than men and are paid less than their male counterparts. The issue of violence is also closely linked to poverty, overall law and order situation as well as social attitude.

There are also many contradictions for women in our society. Women are trained to be dependent on a society that is not at all dependable. Women are taught to be caretakers of others but unable to take charge of their own lives. It becomes very difficult for an abused woman to convince others about her situation. People usually question her share of responsibility in the abuse at the initial stage. By the time the pattern becomes obvious, it is already too late. Single living is yet not a valid choice for an adult woman and the society fails to recognise the emotional complexity of the situation.

Women are held responsible for the monumental task of building and maintaining relationships. If she fails in making others happy, she proves herself worthless. Over emphasis on feminine youth and beauty constantly makes women feel inadequate. Shame and guilt is part of upbringing in a woman's life. Secrecy and tendency to sweep everything under the rug, ultimately gives rise to multige-nerational anger and rage.

Family and community are affected too. At the slums, streets and crowded residential areas people are seen yelling, swearing and hitting each other. Look at politics, how aggressive the political rivals are. It's a lose-lose scenario everywhere, nobody is interested in healthy conflict resolution. It didn't happen overnight. The root is in the family, in childhood learning. Introducing newer laws with severe punishment cannot be the only answer. In a dysfunctional family of power and control intimidation, abuse, threats, exploiting children, male privilege are some of the recognisable features.

In a family of equality- there is shared responsibility, economic partnership, respect, trust, honesty and responsible parenting. How many families are operating on the basis of equality? Men are ashamed when they lack power and status as they are viewed too much like women. Women lack power and status and feel ashamed because they are women. If they strive for power and status, they are ashamed of being “unfeminine”. Either way they lose. Incompetent parents are producing children with conduct disorder, personality disorder and who become substance abusers. Ironically, we need a license to drive a vehicle but can become a parent whenever we wish!

Life batters us whether we are rich or poor, male or female. The wounds we suffer may be an open cut or a silent slow haemorrhage of the soul. On the outside we might look all right but inside we are shattered into a thousand pieces. With negligible support for the healing of the wounded souls, often we feel frightened and fragile. Our dysfunctional behaviour is mainly motivated by fear. We fear being hurt by others, being destroyed by others and use a huge amount of ego-defences for self-protection. In society when we repeatedly come across dysfunctional people, eventually we react in a dysfunctional way too.

A lower middle class mother accompanied by her adolescent daughter comes to a psychiatrist. After giving a long list of vague symptoms, the mother finally reveals (in a confidential tone and physically shaking in fear), a history of incest in the family. The psychiatrist looks at the innocent blank face of the young girl. Outside is waiting the sick, alcoholic father without any remorse. The psychiatrist has no “magic pill” to rewind her life to normalcy. Lack of a meaningful support system for these kinds of victims is a shame for the society. “Don't Talk”, “Don't Feel” rule of the society cannot be an answer. The psychiatrist wanted to tell her client; “ Cry! Cry out loud till this indifferent pretending society is rocked!”

The next patient comes in; she gives a horrific history of physical and mental abuse by her spouse and in-laws but is unable to leave, as her personal skills or family support do not allow her to be courageous enough. She wants medicine to numb her true feelings. The psychiatrist feels bad about dehumanising her feelings and gives a diagnostic label to this normal person. In an attempt to offer her temporary relief by a relaxation therapy (guided imagery method), she says, “Imagine a time when the situation is under your control; imagine a society, which will respond to your crisis and offer a helping hand; imagine yourself as a woman who exerts, initiates and moves on her own behalf…” The poor woman cries. “ I cannot imagine”. A little nervous and hopeless, the psychiatrist then tries to “imagine a big tidal bore that comes with all its rage and ferocity to take away the ugliness and sickness of the society, leaving you alone in a new land of peace and non-violence. You are a free woman.” It seemed to work. The psychiatrist felt guilty though, for inventing this culturally sensitive method at such a high national cost.



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