In primitive societies, women have always been denied basic rights, however, the struggle to snatch what is theirs has never ceased. The movement for women’s suffrage started in France around the end of the 18th century and by the 21st century, there is no part of the world where women are barred from voting — except, of course, in Pakistan.
On August 22, women from various areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were not permitted to go out and cast their votes. Reportedly, there were dozens of polling stations for women, where not even a single vote was cast as the elders of a jirga agreed upon not letting women out of their houses, as doing so could damage their ghairat (dignity) and was totally against Pashtun culture.
What is even more shocking is that a few political parties even supported the decision of the jirga.
It is totally beyond my comprehension to decide which of the two forces is against the basic rights of women. Islam gives equal rights to women in such matters and so does democracy. So, where does the problem lie?
Does it lie in the wrong interpretation of religion? Or in the misuse of laws? Or in culture?
If it is the latter, why does our culture feel threatened if women vote?
By any parameters of reason and logic, it cannot be determined that voting is of any harm to our culture or a blemish on the dignity of the family. If the objection is on moral grounds, we are fully aware that there are many other things happening openly in our society whose immorality is well established. Brothels to secret bars, and all sorts of liberty with things that are strictly against moral codes for almost all societies, are not issues for men. When men harass women at home and at the workplace, it never becomes a matter of honour. Also, when the same men stay back at home and let their women go out to earn for the family and be exploited in many ways, there is no issue of cultural codes. But when it comes to the basic rights of voting or education or even having an opinion of their own, their ghairat is seriously damaged?
When it comes to essays and debates, it’s very easy to chant that women are an equal and important part of society; they should be given respect and freedom and so on. However, this is easier said than done. Unfortunately, when the time comes, the same culture which we take pride in, the same families which we serve all our lives, the same elders we make every effort to please and comfort, stand in the way of women.
Let’s not be hypocrites. When we compare our country with the rest of the world in matters related to economy, technology and other facilities, we should also compare it in terms of basic human rights.
When others enjoy women’s suffrage, it should not turn into ‘women’s suffer-age’ in our country.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2013.
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