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What It's Like To Be Young And Male In Pakistan


Researchers have been asking a basic question of young people. Should men be allowed to beat their wives? How you answer that question may depend on where you live. U.N. researchers put that question to adolescent girls in India and Pakistan and 53 percent - a majority of girls - said yes, wife beating is justifiable even if it's for refusing sex. So what does that mean? NPR Pakistan correspondent Philip Reeves finds the beginnings of a story in that number. Hi, Phil


INSKEEP: What's the number tell us?

REEVES: Well, I think it tells us that attitudes of young people in this region towards sex and relationships between the sexes are profoundly unhealthy in many cases. And we're talking about a lot of people, by the way, Steve. About a sixth of the world's population lives in South Asia and about half of them are under 25.

INSKEEP: So younger people - not just older people - holding this basic underlying attitude that's suggested there that women aren't worth much, that they're property, that just about anything can be done with them.

REEVES: Yes, exactly. And a lot of attention has in fact been given to the effects of that - the trafficking of women and kids for sex, gang rapes and so-called honor killings in South Asia. And we've heard from women over the years about the horror of being the victim of this kind of abuse. Much less, though, has been said about men. Men are obviously a huge part of the problem. The sexual abuse that goes on in South Asia of women is no way justifiable. But I think it's very important to try to understand the way men think in this society. And I wanted to explore that angle a little bit. So I set off along a road that you know well, Steve, the Grand Trunk Road, to a city a couple of hundred miles away from here called Gujranwala and to a park that's got a big problem with the behavior of young males towards girls and women. And it was in that park that I met a man called Ansar Ali who was showing off his pet monkey. That's how Ali makes a living. He's taught his monkey to pretend to be a gentleman.

A. ALI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: The monkey sits down and neatly crosses its legs. It struts around looking very refined before giving the crowd of onlookers a very gentlemanly salute. Ali's monkey's example, though, Steve, has failed to influence many. This park's a hotbed of what South Asians call eve-teasing, a euphemism for harassing women. Park security guard Kashif Nawaz says young men come here...

KASHIF NAWAZ: (Through interpreter) To shout, to pass comments, to write their mobile number and throw it in a paper towards women or to tease, to hoot.

REEVES: The city authorities have had so many complaints about harassment, they've decided to crack down. Today, about 20 guards in high-viz green jackets are roaming around looking for men behaving badly.

AMIR HUSSAIN: (Through interpreter) First, we tell them politely. And if they don't stop, then we use this, the stick.

REEVES: That's Amir Hussain. He's brandishing a big bamboo pole. It's family day, the one day in the week when single males are barred from entering the park, and groups of young males are glaring through the gates.

MOHAMMED AZIM: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Mohammed Azim, who's 17, is angry about being locked out.

They say that boys like you are causing problems for girls.


TAYEB AHMED: Yeah, it's true.

REEVES: It's true, is it?

AHMED: It's true.

REEVES: The person speaking English is Tayeb Ahmed, who's 20. A debate begins. The young men say they come here because it's very difficult to meet girls anywhere else. Wagas Hussein, who's 19, says he'd be in big trouble if his relatives discovered him dating a girl.

WAGAS HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) My family will either kill me or they will kick me out.

REEVES: Seriously would kill you?


AHMED: That's reality. It's not a liberal country. This is Pakistan -Islamic State.

INSKEEP: Where it's culturally not approved to date in the way that people do in the West. So is this the result, then, Philip? You have young people throwing wads of paper at each other in a park because they think that's the only way to meet each other.

REEVES: Yeah, that's how out of whack it is. But I wanted to go a bit deeper, Steve, and to get some context really by exploring the mindset of young Pakistani men and the environmental in which they're nurtured. And that means talking to some guys simply about what it's like being young and male in Pakistan right now. So I got back on the road and drove south to Lahore.

INSKEEP: Why that city?

REEVES: Because it's a big city. You can see many of those contradictory forces that are bearing down on kids here. You know, there are movies and there's mass advertising, music, all of which use sex as a selling point. And then, of course, there's revivalist conservative Islam. I met some young guys who'd come from across the country to study in Lahore. We got together in a park, sat down on the grass in a circle and talked. And one thing that came out right away, Steve, is that there are just not a lot of people to confide in. Listen to Mudabir Ali, who's 21.

MUDABIR ALI: It is like being in prison. There is no one except your friends.

REEVES: Not your father?

M. ALI: No, no, not at all.

REEVES: Because...

M. ALI: The concept of religion and the teachings of religion you have been getting for such a long time stops you to go to your father and discuss such kind of things.

REEVES: Are you perhaps worried your father will be angry with you?

M. ALI: Yeah, absolutely.

REEVES: I asked Ali how much he actually knows about sex.

M. ALI: I have not got any kind of sex education.

REEVES: You've never had any sex education?

M. ALI: No, no.

REEVES: But I assume you know quite a lot about sex.

M. ALI: Yeah, I know. I know.

REEVES: So where did you learn that from?

M. ALI: From Internet, obviously.

REEVES: You see, most schools in Pakistan give their kids zero sex education.

INSKEEP: What about other institutions, the mosque, say?

REEVES: Well, you could, theoretically, they told me, seek advice there. But I put it to Gohar Khan, who's 21. And this is his reply.

GOHAR KHAN: The clerics here, they're not quite OK with questions that are not in line with the religion, so, you know, they feel offended.

SHAISTA KHAN: I think the people here, they are, like, I think sexually frustrated and then they, like, Google pornography.

REEVES: Now, that's 21-year-old Shaista Khan. Young Pakistanis do view a lot of internet porn, even though the government blocks hundreds of thousands of pornographic websites. Zahid Ali, who's 22, says it would be a lot easier for him to get a date with a girl in a big city like Lahore than it is back home.

ZAHID ALI: I live in a village.

REEVES: And everybody there knows you, right?

Z. ALI: Yeah.

REEVES: And if you did in your village - let's say you met a local girl and you like her and you wanted to have a relationship and the village found out, what happens then?

Z. ALI: A serious backlash from my family, from rural society because in rural areas from your childhood, they make relationship with your cousins.

REEVES: Ali's talking about a practice that's pretty common here. Most marriages in Pakistan are arranged by the family. Many people wind up marrying their cousins. Ali says he doesn't want any of that. And that's really the bottom line here. This is a clash between a traditional society in which parents want to hold all the power - power over their boys as well as their girls - and the kids want to play it another way.

INSKEEP: Philip, thanks as always.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. He's in Islamabad. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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