Social systems that govern both individual and communal relationships are human constructs, not forces of nature like gravity or electromagnetism. They do not predate the existence of humans. Simply put, social systems are not static and they need to evolve or be discarded as societies evolve. Patriarchy, the ruling social system for several millennia, is now under threat in many parts of the world. In Pakistan, however, it is still enforced through disenfranchisement and violence, and has held sway because it pits genders against one another and benefits one over the other to such an extent that any changes to it are seen as impossible and unnecessary. This is still a country in which brothers can murder their sisters in cold blood in the name of honour and not feel any guilt as happened in a tragic incident on April 28 in Karachi. A resident of Orangi Town stabbed his sister multiple times after beating her severely. According to the brother, he had caught his sister talking to a boy at the doorstep of their house, which had enraged him.
While there seems to be a slow shift towards the development of a more egalitarian society in Pakistan in which women are treated more as equals and less as property, the incident in Karachi tells us that we still have a long hard road ahead before patriarchy loosens its holds on our society. Another incident highlighting the hold of patriarchy was witnessed in a college in Peshawar where a room-full of young men, while watching Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar-winning documentary on honour killing, cheered when the murderer confesses his crime and links it to honour. This face of Pakistan shows us that the honour of patriarchs is in crushing those who, through the expression of free will, subvert their authority. They are engaged in protecting their supremacy, a battle that has been waged for years and one that will continue whilst honour and self-interest continue to mean the same thing.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2016.
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