The detonation of a suicide bomb in a concert stadium, filled at the time with 21,000 teenage girls and women, could logically be considered a targeted attack on western society, in particular in this instance, the United Kingdom. However, one of the UK’s leading prosecutors argues that the attack runs deeper than this and is instead a powerful example of the systematic terrorism used on women and girls that occurs in everyday society in every part of the world. An article in The Atlantic similarly argues that although there were men at the Ariana Concert (like “a 64-year old grandfather who was injured while waiting to collect his granddaughter”), and the motives of the bomber are yet to be fully ascertained, the crux of the issue is that “the venue he chose to target speaks volumes… the impulse to hate and fear women who are celebrating their freedom, their freedom to love, their freedom to show off their bodies and their freedom to feel joy together is much older than ISIS, older than pop concerts and older than music itself.”
Ann Powers (an NPR critic) vividly describes attending a concert as a girl as a “potent experience, the best night of your life girl version!…a ticket in an envelope you’ve marked with glitter glue, putting on too much of your mum’s makeup and dancing experimentally looking up at the woman on stage,” hoping you too will one day be as powerful and influential as she is. Nazir Afazl, the leading prosecutor in the Ariana Grande concert bombing, states this is exactly what the terrorist took aim at. “There is no community in the world where women and girls are safe. It is about power and control. Men don’t want to share power and control.” What Afzal is denoting is that there are countless mechanisms used by men, consciously or subconsciously, to instil fear in women and girls all over the world to ensure the power imbalance remains. These mechanisms include infanticide, FGM, child and early marriage. He goes on to say “you name it, we will do it to you…we [men] are the bloody problem, we need to understand what it is we are doing and what we can do to make women throughout the world safer.” He further explains that “we have to recognise that if we eliminate attacks on women and girls we can keep ourselves safe from terrorism and criminality.”
Afzal’s claims are heroic and to be applauded. It is a monumental step forward that a man is using his power and authority to call out male violence and to shed light on the issue of female repression in present times. This is especially so as he faces personal suffering and backlash from his colleagues and friends in response to his stance. After the attack, Afzal reported that, as a Muslim, he had wanted to speak publically about the unacceptable, everyday ways men establish authority over women using fear-driven tactics. However, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners advised him not to appear on the BBC’s question time. In protest, Afzal resigned from his post as the Chief Executive of the country’s police and crime commissioners. Bold actions like this, which gained widespread public and political attention, are critical for ensuring women achieve genuinely equal status in society. Men must be part of the conversation to bring about meaningful change. As equal halves in the world’s population, we can share the process of finding solutions.
The overall theme of Afzal’s message is that fear and terror are used in everyday life, everywhere, to make women and girls believe that they must trade their freedom and the power that comes with being a woman, for their immediate safety. More powerful men manipulate the situation so that women do not pose a threat to their dominance. The Manchester bombing simply brought to the fore an example of the power and control tactic we collectively denounce and are sadly increasingly familiar with – terrorism. Most people, including myself, are quick to give examples of this gender-based systemic violence in the developing world. Such examples include the proposed law in Iraq to let girls as young as nine marry, the genital mutilation of Kenyan Maasai girls, or the six-year-old Afghani girl who was traded by her father to a 55-year-old man in exchange for a goat and some cooking oil. However, bombing at the Ariana Grande concert forcefully demonstrates that this violence happens in the developed world too. In “England there is more than one acid attack per day, and the victim is almost always female,” reports Global Citizen. In New Zealand, 24% of women claim to have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime and “disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of abuse compared to other women in Aotearoa,” according to Family Violence. Economic dominance, male privilege, minimizing, denying and blaming others, emotional abuse, isolation, coercion and threats are all generic tools used in today’s world to restrain half of the world’s population. It is time that we acknowledge the Manchester bombing was not an attack on England, but another attack on women and girls.