A list of things other than cookies

21% of underage girls in Pakistan are married off without consent

Aisha Sarwari September 19, 2018
Women urged to be considered under public policy. PHOTO: AFP

Most of this month, Pakistan, its legislators, media pundits, policymakers and intellectuals are in feisty debates surrounding cookies, helicopter per km rates and the banning of cheese imports into Pakistan. This is a great strategy that works in favour of anyone who wants to distract from pressing issues such as the fact that women are holding up this nation with great peril and cost to themselves. They are unsafe in their bedrooms, in their kitchens, in their offices, in the fields, when they travel and when they dare to speak up and let out a peep of protest.

Legal framework to solidify women empowerment stressed

Here are some recommendations that could double as a caution: Unless women of Pakistan are not elevated in status and in body integrity, nothing in terms of public policy and sovereignty will work out for the country.

I dare to caution because 21% of underage girls in Pakistan are married off without consent. I dare because our glorious Gender Inequality Index Rank is 130 and the Global Gender Gap Index Rank is 143. Put simply, we are among the first countries to prioritise, protect and fuel male toxicity and oppression. Put another way for those who don’t like women whining, we are among the first globally to crown men that violate women. So if there were a medal for that, Pakistan would be its first honorary recipient.

I also dare to make these recommendations to the current government because the number of women selected to make up the cabinet, both federal and provincial, can be counted on the fingers of a chimpanzee’s left hand.

I put forth some legal suggestions because the law is part of the violation of women’s status as equal citizens: Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence and the Citizenship Act.

Here are some preachy two cents, which if I were a man, could be worth a million dollars.

Give all women cell phones. Give them internet on the cell phones. Then leave them alone to browse, learn and find solidarity networks to escape from violence. About 93% of women face violence here. Women teledensity numbers in Pakistan are among the worst. The UN’s ITU report a few years back shows the gap between male and female Pakistani cellular phone users, is highest globally at 17%.

Punish violence against women such as acid burnings, honour killings (an average of 1,000 a year according to Human Rights Watch) and rape. Almost all men get away with murder, abuse, harassment and rape in Pakistan. As seen from the recent hashtag campaign #JusticeForKhadija, no matter how many times a woman is stabbed in daylight, with witnesses and video evidence, chances are the accused will walk away. Until there is no justice for violators, women will continue to be soft targets. Unless the judicial system dominated by men is not gender sensitised women will suffer.

Engage men in public policies to change laws against violence against women. Since it is men who perpetrate discrimination in workplaces, government and in the fields, they must be part of the dialogue. Conversely, women telling men what to do and how to do it, does result in much noise and awareness, but hardly translates into impactful legislation and implementation. Men block them. Other men, those with kind mothers, those who do not harbour hate for women, should be asked by this government to pass on their power, their mic and their security to women.

Respect expertise. In Pakistan, people who hold irrigation ministries, go ahead and run sports or even religious affairs portfolios. I urge the government to put in charge of women, those who have not held, say, waste-management portfolios. Employ leaders instead who certifiably understand the pain of human rights violations.

‘Child marriage denies youth to fulfil potential’

Let there be a revolution of women’s rights over their own bodies. Move away from the 10th-century model where women were regulated for having women bodies. Let them love, marry and have children as they please. Don’t punish them for changing their minds. Holding women’s bodies sacred is immoral because, if men were regulated this way, it would drive them mad. The only difference is that women are not permitted to be angry. When I say command over bodies, it includes the brain. Let women nourish their thoughts and cognitive concepts as ambassadors of this country. Not as relics. The GDP will go up, honour killings will go down and motherhood, which this society values, will be in its healthiest form.

Lastly, abolish and eliminate parallel legal systems and informal dispute-resolution mechanisms that discriminate against women. Think of jirgas or panchayats as the place where women and young girls go to be killed. Hardly is there a decision from these male-only self-appointed jurists that allow a woman to walk away without being gang-raped, ripped off dignity or killed.

Once we do some or all of this we can go back to the national debate about cookies, helicopter rides and cheese import bans.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2018.

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husain | 5 years ago | Reply Women should hold adult literacy classes for other women. They have to help themselves. As for productive internet access the best way is through PCs not cell phones. They would be limiting themselves if their first device was a cell phone. Used PCs are available in the market starting at Rs. 4000 yet few take advantage of it.
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