To be a woman in Pakistan

State does not distinguish between genders in citizenship responsibilities, but fails to deliver on equal rights.


Tazeen Javed November 26, 2012

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.

COMMENTS (28)

Prof Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq | 8 years ago | Reply

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.

Nobody | 8 years ago | Reply

@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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