To be a woman in Pakistan

Published: November 26, 2012

Intro: The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

Out of the four Pakistanis who made it to Foreign Policy’s influential Global Thinker’s List for 2012, three are women. Congratulations to those who made the list but irrespective of what Foreign Policy’s selection criteria for the list is (a 15-year-old student’s intellectual contribution to the society cannot be measured with that of a parliamentarian who has worked on important legislations affecting millions), it must be noted that in a country like Pakistan where women are constitutionally and legally considered of lesser worth, where they are valued less in cases of Qisas and Diyat, some are at least making a name for being fearless and courageous thinkers.

Every citizen has a social contract with its government. The notion of that social contract implies that the people give up some rights to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order where they are allowed to practise their religion, work freely and live in a secure environment. The state of Pakistan does not distinguish between its citizens when it comes to citizenship responsibilities. Women are expected to pay taxes when they are involved in economic activities, they vote in the elections and help select the government and are expected to observe the criminal laws enacted by one’s government.

However, the state of Pakistan does not deliver to its female citizens when it comes to equal rights. It is very unfortunate but the Pakistani constitution does not view women as equal and productive citizens of the country. The state views them as Muslim daughters, wives and mothers and values them according to their assigned roles in society — not as individual citizens with rights and aspirations of their own. Take the imposition of laws such as the Hudood Ordinance which gave control of a woman’s body and sexuality to the state and other members of her family. Then there is the Qisas and Diyat Law, or the Law of Evidence, which institutionalised a reduced value assigned to a woman’s testimony based on the assumption that a woman’s role in society is different, or perhaps less productive, compared to that of a man.

It is not just that but these legal and constitutional inequalities have also made certain types of criminal activities such as honour killings, domestic abuse and violence within families and tribes ‘compoundable’ — i.e., they are treated as crimes against the individual rather than as against the state.

Every year, November 25 is observed as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is usually observed in Pakistan as well. This year, it will be followed by a 16-day-long campaign called Take Back the Tech against gender-based violence. Campaigns such as this can only work when the women are allowed a level playing field which, unfortunately, is not the case in Pakistan. The very political parties who depend on their female voters to get to assemblies have continuously thwarted attempts to pass a much-needed domestic violence bill in parliament. If a country cannot acknowledge that a woman needs to be protected in her home, its government cannot be expected to protect her.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2012.

Reader Comments (28)

  • Parvez
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:43AM

    Women in Pakistan will always be treated as second class citizens, sadly because the State can not make a clear distinction whether its secular or theocratic in nature. The fumbling going on in this regard today has resulted in us being neither. If both terms are correctly understood and either one followed in letter and spirit, not only women but all would benefit.

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  • Nov 27, 2012 - 2:30AM

    HOW very sad that women anywhere must assert their rights to God given equality and fairness. After getting her freedom, unharmed, at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Yvonne Ridley was nearly shocked that the Holy Koran gives such undisputable rights of equality to women, augmented later by the Prophet’s pronouncements, that she converted to Islam. Even in the U.S. women could not vote till about 50 years ago. This is just not how it should be. PLEASE help articulate these messages to the abundantly present jahalia among us. ‘Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they preach.’

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  • Uqaab
    Nov 27, 2012 - 2:54AM

    Yes, unfortunately there’s been a lot of discrimination against women in Pakistan. On the other hand I do feel that we don’t do this any favour by trying to make them SAME as men and not EQUAL.

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  • SK5
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:13AM

    The author has only one research theme!

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  • F
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:35AM

    If a religion cannot acknowledge that a woman needs to be protected in her home, its country, its government cannot be expected to protect her.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:44AM

    Legislation alone is not likely to do the needful, because religion plays a major role.

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  • shahida kazi
    Nov 27, 2012 - 10:57AM

    What is the purpose of thi article?What new thing does it say?

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  • Humayun Pervaiz
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:49AM

    It has always been observed, whenever a religion dominates the constitutionary clauses of State, it violates a many of general human rights pertaining to the Citizenry. The case is not only common with the Pakistan but the major Muslim States of the world including Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on. Modernization (according to fundamentally accepted methodologies) in the Constitution will make Perfection; I hope so.

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  • Observer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:05PM

    @Ms. Javed,

    An excellent and to-the-point article. I just have one observation on your statements:

    The state views them as Muslim daughters, wives and mothers and values them according to their assigned roles in society — not as individual citizens with rights and aspirations of their own. Take the imposition of laws such as the Hudood Ordinance which gave control of a woman’s body and sexuality to the state and other members of her family. Then there is the Qisas and Diyat Law, or the Law of Evidence, which institutionalised a reduced value assigned to a woman’s testimony based on the assumption that a woman’s role in society is different, or perhaps less productive, compared to that of a man.”

    As you know, Pakistan is an Islamic state. As an Islamic state, why blame the “state” for your valid observations. An Islamic state, by decree and definition, has to follow Islamic laws. All your points about anti-women treatment, therefore, comes directly from Islam, the Islamic state just being an enforcer.

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  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:08PM

    @Nasser: “Even in the U.S. women could not vote till about 50 years ago.”

    You are perhaps confusing the women’s suffrage movement in US with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which helped to enfranchise the African Americans. Many states and local counties had given women the right to vote in the 19th century but the federal law on women’s suffrage passed in 1920. Thus it is 92 years not 50 since the women have been able to vote throughout USA.

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  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:11PM

    @Uqaab: Separate but equal was a legal doctrine that justified segregation in US and South Africa and has since been discredited. Please do not use this to deny rights to women.

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  • islooboy
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:31PM

    oh and by the way Pakistan has more gender equility than india http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-11-05/india/282432981maternal-mortality-india-ranks-pakistan

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  • islooboy
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:32PM

    what we need is to raise awareness among women about there rights most of the time they dont even know that there husband can be jailed for 2nd marriage without there permission

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  • Hammad Siddiqui
    Nov 27, 2012 - 1:32PM

    So when women are allowed to vote in Sind Club which still has a ban on women voting?

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  • Genius
    Nov 27, 2012 - 5:25PM

    @ Observer who wrote:
    “As you know, Pakistan is an Islamic state. As an Islamic state, why blame the “state” for your valid observations.”
    Very kindly allow this humble sinner to dare to correct the wishful thinking rampant among people. Sane people, educated people, intelligent people.
    The question to start with is: Is there a Pakistan anywhere on the face of our Earth? The truthful answer is No.
    Pakistan is an Islamic state is another misconception. True? So let us explore as to what kind of system makes an Islamic state. The very first Islamic state was the model Islamic state. Who was the King, President, Ruler or Dictator of that first Islamic state? No one.
    How did the system work. The system worked because the people, true Muslims made it work. It was a system of the people, by the people, for the people. People dedicated to shoulder their responsibility to make Divine Laws the law of the land. People who would not go on the orgy of chopping off hands and heads very unlike whatwe see happening today. They were the people whose wonderful deeds won them tribes after tribes, nations after nation as allies and friends.
    Tyrants govern those who do not like to be governed by God. Tyrants govern and have been governing this bit of land of Western India, ever since the British relinquished their responsibilty to govern this land. Tyrants will keep on governing this land.
    Did those Muslims, managing the first Islamic state endure any tyrant? No. Why not? They were true Muslims so participated in those matters that affected their daily life. They participated in obedience to the commands of the Lord. People who take responsibility of participating in making Divine laws, laws of the land are guaranteed, never to endure any tyrant. They do not allow any tyrant to crop up just because they are there all the time, never leaving their responsibilities to others as we do.
    If we ever will have the will to make this part of Western India into Pakistan, the very first thing we will need to do is to become Muslims en masse. Muslims who practise Allah’s Islam, not Mullahs’ Islam. To be a Muslim means to become heart warming, heart winning person.
    Islamic system does not allow creation of a human allah in the form of a King, President, Ruler etc. That system is indeed Yazeedic system and most part of Muslim rule in the past was indeed Yazeedic in nature as we know. It still is. They have King or Ruler. In those days if any true Muslim came their way and refused to show allegience to that human allah, that true Muslim was murdered. To create Islamic system is the responsibility of every Muslim and they will have to answer for it on that terrible day, the day of Judgement.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:26PM

    @Genius:

    Well said Sir. Really brilliant!

    Obviously Jinnah did not know all this. Maulana Moududi knew, but no one listened to him.

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  • Jack
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:53PM

    @Genius:
    You have not offered the practical answer. You DID mention a long essay of imagined view. How does it matter when you cannot apply it to society. The world has long rejected such views. Even Taliban has similar imagined views.

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  • Cynical
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:11PM

    Excellent write up as always Tazeen!

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  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:17PM

    @Jack:

    That Sir, is called idealism.

    You say,“How does it matter when you cannot apply it to society”

    A true Muslim will tell you, “So what if it cannot apply to society? It applies to me because Allah said so.”

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  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:41PM

    @Parvez: Welcome to the discussion. You get around. The Torch bearer of Women’s Lib.

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  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:26PM

    @islooboy: “oh and by the way Pakistan has more gender equility than india http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-11-05/india/282432981maternal-mortality-india-ranks-pakistan

    That ranking was based on outdated maternal mortality figures of 450 for India – which were 2005 numbers for India. India’s MMR in 2010 at 200 is lower than Pakistan’s at 260. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html . In the 2011 report, Human Development Report India’s gender equality score is 0.645 and Pakistan’s is 0.611 http://hdr.undp.org/en/data/profiles/

    The fact that India’s gender inequality score is higher than Pakistan is no cause for satisfaction. There are many inequalities in India that prevent women from achieving their full potential, if they are allowed to be born at all. Thankfully there is awareness and focus to deal with these issues ranging from female foeticide to early marriage and motherhood, widespread anemia and so on..

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  • TAS
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:35PM

    Please read “To be a woman in Saudi Arabia”, you will feel better instantly.

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  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:44PM

    @wonderer: “A true Muslim will tell you, “So what if it cannot apply to society? It applies to me because Allah said so.””

    Certainly whoever practices what @Genius outlined is great. But @JAck’s concern is legitimate. The current status of women is due to current socio-political-religious environment. Changes in individual men’s attitude by practicing what @Genius suggested, may improve lives of the women in their lives but cannot change the legal framework which itself as Tazeem explained is deeply unfair. That framework needs to be improved and @Genius’ post does not take the discussion further in that direction by talking about system of governance that has not been witnessed in a 1000 years and is not present in any of the 52 Muslim majority countries today. Upon reading his post, it is unclear what should be done TODAY by the state to improve women’s equality.

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  • Yusuf
    Nov 27, 2012 - 10:13PM

    Crap, Woman in Pakistan cannot sign as witness on Transfer Deed form. Just to show simple opression or anomaly in registrations. Surely can be corrected.

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  • Parvez
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:26PM

    @Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd):
    No I’m no torch bearer for Women’s Lib, but I am no male chauvinist either but one who likes to listen to both sides of an argument and then express my views.
    Its a form of mental calisthenics and time well spent. Nice to hear from you.

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  • sars
    Nov 28, 2012 - 2:29PM

    Since most families refuse to give many rights to its female members , the state continues to propagate more of the same.
    The average woman has almost no input into her own education, marriage , how many kids she will have and most economic decisions.
    She works all her life for almost no pay, or pension and has no guarantee that her kids will take care of her.

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  • Nobody
    Dec 15, 2012 - 1:22PM

    @Nasser:
    Women got the right to vote in the US in 1920 with the passing of the 19th amendment. I don’t know why some people are under the mistaken impression it was 50 years ago.

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  • Prof Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq
    Jan 24, 2013 - 12:33PM

    I think that the plight of the women in Pakistan is ingrained in the social system and regional taboos and sensitivities. It is easy to blame a state for all such weaknesses of our centuries old system and bias. State is in chaos and cannot deliver much in terms of reforms and change. Laws are made to be violated and ridiculed.
    Women enjoy certain privileges in our enlightened section so the scoiety, which they cannot think in the western society. They own all what husband posseses, they gain respect from their children and manage the hosehold as the best managers.
    We have to educate the sciety and change the society as a whole. We have to educate our girls and teach them about thei responsibilities, rights and law. We must not break the fabrics of the society all of a sudden but to reform it gradually and evolve a system which ensures the respect of the women.

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