Treating women with respect

Published: March 13, 2013
The writer is a third year student at Mount Holyoke College in the US. She is also the opinions and editorials editor for Mount Holyoke News

The writer is a third year student at Mount Holyoke College in the US. She is also the opinions and editorials editor for Mount Holyoke News

I come from a family with no male head of household. After my father’s passing in 2005, it has been my mother, my sisters and me. I have been privileged enough to make my own choices about how to live my life, but I have to admit that living in Pakistan in a family with no men has not been easy. Official documents require me to state who my father or husband is. No matter how carefully I dress, I always run the risk of being groped by some man in a busy marketplace. I cannot walk through a street without feeling lecherous eyes boring into my body, making me feel unclothed even though my dupatta is carefully wrapped around me. People will always assume that my mother has to (or should) ask a male relative for his permission before making important decisions for her daughters. I will be regarded with pity when people find out I do not have a brother to protect me. The pity will increase when they are informed that my mother has two other ‘burdens’ apart from me.

By most standards, I do not represent the average Pakistani woman. I have been more sheltered than most women my age. However, the sexism I have encountered in the 19 years of my life that I spent in Pakistan has been unparalleled even in my sheltered experience, and I am reminded of it every time I am home for the summer. Yes, things could be worse. I could be born in a place where women fare even worse than they do in Pakistan, but this is not an exercise in comparison. A cousin once told my mother that he would have helped her find a scholarship to finance my college education had I been a son, but alas, I was merely a daughter. This gentleman, who was educated at a reputable foreign university, subscribed to the commonly held social belief that investing in daughters’ education is a waste of financial resources. I encounter these views almost everywhere I go in Pakistan.

Conversations with other South Asian women at college have not only served to reinforce my perceptions of misogyny within Pakistani society, but also the fact that it isn’t just limited to us. The problem is pervasive, and it is regional. The infamous Delhi rape case was an extreme example, but there are alarming similarities in the way women are treated in their everyday lives across the board. We talk about changing social mindsets, but when patriarchal structures and oppression are so embedded in our social fabric, where does one start? According to the Aurat Foundation, 4,585 cases of violence against women were reported in the Pakistani media within the first six months of 2012. That’s hardly the complete picture. How many cases go unreported? How many women suffer silently on a daily basis? The high rate of honour killings in Pakistan should be indicative of that much. In India, a debate rages on about whether recognising the existence of marital rape will jeopardise the institution of marriage. In Pakistan, we pretend that marital rape doesn’t even exist.

Before arguing that women are increasingly playing a larger role in the Pakistani government and economic life, we must ask ourselves if the complacency is truly warranted. Granted, women hold some prominent positions in the government. Our foreign minister, ambassador to the US, and speaker of the National Assembly are all women. However, they represent a tiny sliver of the population and we still face a long, hard battle in fighting for equality and the simple acknowledgement that women are also human beings. Much has been said and written in praise of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act passed November 2011 by the National Assembly, after the persistence of many female members finally paid off and the bill was pushed through. The Act had previously been shelved on two occasions. Women joined hands across party lines in order to ensure it would not fail to pass a third time. The resistance faced by those trying to advance a bill, which sought to protect (at least in theory) half of Pakistan’s population, showed how many of our politicians and policymakers cared not in the least for the women of their country. Over a year later, has the Act managed to make its mark in terms of implementation? Some would argue that it’s quite premature to expect anything to take effect immediately. True as that may be, it is equally important that this Bill isn’t merely remembered as a ‘landmark’ event in the history of Pakistan, but seen as a step in the right direction that should lead to more women feeling safe in their own country.

Change has to start with us. We can begin by treating the women in our lives with respect and equality, by considering women to be autonomous beings, and by speaking out when we witness any kind of violence and discrimination against women, especially if it is in our power to do so. It can be as small as calling someone out for making misogynistic remarks, for cracking rape jokes, or for claiming that women deserve to be harassed if they dress a certain way, amongst other things. It can be as challenging as speaking up when we see examples of inequality within our own families and having difficult conversations about why women should not be treated as subordinates. But we must start somewhere, because that’s the most important thing.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Ejaaz
    Mar 13, 2013 - 10:20PM

    Beautifully written. Your mother must be so proud of you. I hope you never make the mistake and come back to Pakistan. We are a very very different place than Mount Holyoke. We might as well be on a different planet. Make a good life and live it well.


  • Tera
    Mar 13, 2013 - 10:46PM


    If you can, please watch this documentary from South Africa on you tube.

    It’s called the “Men from Atlantis”.

    The story is about a group of men making a sacrifice for the mistreatment of women in their city of Atlantis in south Africa.


  • M. Jamaluddin Thaheem
    Mar 13, 2013 - 11:07PM

    A well-presented and thought-provoking discourse over the treatment of around half of our population. No matter how much I’d like to disagree with Ejaaz, he said the right thing: never come back to Pakistan, make a good life there and live it! I wish you all the best for whatever endeavors you undertake in life.


  • BachelOrBoy
    Mar 13, 2013 - 11:16PM

    Well piece of articulation, still would like to share a few things has assumed at my own. Once there on aaj Tv a programme was comming on Women libration and the problems they are facing these days. interviewer was gaddering at shopping malls and on similar femina crowded places, an educated lady contributed so nicely by saying Women are themselves responsible for their toils n trumuas, because they prevail harsh behaniour to eachother and do not teach their kids to respect female folks. She infact said so true, because as its obvious enough that women are capable of managing without power, whatever society we are living in is 75% designed by Women themselves...
    Those were times when treating disrespectly to women has been concieved as an illegtimate sort of crime though outside or inside of Home, people were cherish and simpler.Now, what has happened over night..??? That is for sure technological letrioucities and atricities we are carrying in the form of print-electronic media, Are
    nt we those who try to similerize our choth designs alike HumTv Or Starplus shown ladies??


  • Parvez
    Mar 14, 2013 - 12:01AM

    Nicely said.
    Just wish to point out something I read a second ago on this ET site where it said out of the 4 WEF ( World Economic Forum) Young Global Leaders chosen from Pakistan 3 were women i.e 75 %.


  • B
    Mar 14, 2013 - 2:38AM

    Great article!
    So true, especially the last paragraph :)


  • Zulfiqar Ali
    Mar 14, 2013 - 2:52AM

    Very well articulated.Recommend

  • Uzair
    Mar 14, 2013 - 3:28AM

    As long as we subscribe to the tribal belief systems, in particular the one imported from the Arab lands, women shall be considered (a) inferior to men, (b) property of men, (c) cause of men’s lewd behavior, and (d) incapable of deciding anything for themselves, be it career, when to marry, whom to marry, when to have kids, etc.

    As a male I find the attitude of considering a woman who steps outside her house fair game for harassment utterly disgusting and would dearly like to bash decency into the heads of my fellow Pakistani men. The way I see it, concept of purdah has the opposite effect than the stated one of decency. Saying that women must cover their faces implies THEY have to hide, that THEY are the ones responsible for leading men astray, and quite simply, that they are no more than sex objects. I call this the lowest denominator thinking, wherein people are taught that we (men and women) are no worse than animals and merely talking to or looking at a woman is akin to adultery. OF COURSE such a mindset will lead to an utterly depraved society.

    It’s time we let go of our archaic “traditions” and started women as human beings!


  • shahid
    Mar 14, 2013 - 6:11AM

    Yes, indeed. This write up is a very powerful presentation of the difficulties that women face in our society.


  • Appalled
    Mar 14, 2013 - 6:27AM

    thats a lot of words coming from one kitchen.


  • Shireen Khan
    Mar 14, 2013 - 8:27AM

    A well written piece! On the foundational level we women have to become aware of & out do with negative self talk! This is the root level cause for women tolerating misbehaviour at home & outside. I stand for Inner Strength!!!!


  • Hanif Shah
    Mar 14, 2013 - 10:45AM

    Hi All,
    I sometimes feel that our women or I shall say mothers are the root of this problem. It is them who actually bring up a boy and a girl, it is then when she lays the foundation of discrimination or lack of it. I have been brought up by a mother who is a leader of the house and a very proud one. It is not only her who is proud of that fact but all her three sons. I may not be 100% correct but we do respect women like any other ideal person would do and that is primarily because of our mother. Yes the society further shapes a person but I feel mothers shape a society because they raise generations and while doing that if they are not discriminating then I feel the future will automatically be rectified.


  • Manoj Joshi (India)
    Mar 14, 2013 - 11:51AM

    The laws have to be made more stringent and police reforms are essential and need to be implemented. Moving on to a wider connotation from rape to the issue of crimes committed against women in India wherein rape is just a single kind of crime. There are cases of molestation in public places and at work places as well as within the house, harassment for dowry, eve teasing, human trafficking etc. The most unfortunate side of the story is that rapes that are generally brought to public notice are those that take place in a secluded spot say an old dilapidated building, a bus or vehicle, or in a hotel however there are cases that go unreported wherein a girl or lady is subjected to a forced sexual intercourse by the other male members of her family be it her family or that of her spouse. In addition sexual exploitation of women at the work place goes on unabated and in many instances women allow a leeway in order to get a good increment or promotion in their job or are financially too weak to resist to such advances. The problem is rather serious but has perhaps never got the desired attention from the government. There is therefore a need to enact stringent laws to check crimes against women.


  • Mar 14, 2013 - 4:40PM

    A cousin once told my mother that he would have helped her find a scholarship to finance my college education had I been a son, but alas, I was merely a daughter. This gentleman, who was educated at a reputable foreign university, subscribed to the commonly held social belief that investing in daughters’ education is a waste of financial resources. I encounter these views almost everywhere I go in Pakistan.

    I think that the writer’s cousin was much aware of the situation of Pakistani girls studying abroad.


  • Stranger
    Mar 14, 2013 - 5:48PM

    Well written peice no doubt . You have merely stated the problem .What are your ideas about the solution. Unfortunately I too agree about the women’s dress issue.
    If a woman walks around in mini skirts ( even in Western countries) , she should be ready to hear remarks. If not tomorrow you will say a woman can walk with next to nothing ( or nothing ) and no one should say anything .


  • Braki
    Mar 14, 2013 - 6:02PM

    Excellent article! I have a radical recommendation “Emancipation of Men and Population Control”


  • Ram
    Mar 14, 2013 - 7:37PM

    Ms. Jatoi,
    India is only marginally better. Don’t let the superficial discussions on new laws or the temperate pronouncements of male trolls on these pages fool you! Liberalism and moderation is a very thin veneer, just a pretense at seeming more “western” (which is different from being “modern”, IMO). The fundamental problem is not just rape – which is a symptom and manifestation of an deep, underlying problem in our region. One of the ‘virus” of that problem is the misogyny that you talked about. It is in the social code – can we call it anthropological or even, pathological – shared by by both men and women of the region. You could perhaps call it the social DNA. Please read the posts by Mr. Rizwan Ali and Stranger here to see what I mean – they are two good examples. I think the solution the problem is hard, long work starting the at the elementary school level. We might have laws but no enforcement. Perhaps we can improve that by increasing – phenomenally – the number of women in law enforcement and public life. All that said, keep writing. We need more of that to educate and moderate/civilize our myopic minds and barbaric other organs ;-) Thank you.


  • depp
    Mar 14, 2013 - 9:02PM

    @sanaa jatoi
    excellent article! :)
    good answer! :)


  • Nobody
    Mar 15, 2013 - 2:48PM

    @Rizwan Ali:
    And what situation is that, pray tell?


  • Dhanus Menon
    Mar 16, 2013 - 1:08PM

    Pakistanis most of them say they do not want anything to do with India, but in almost everything they do they compare themselves to India.


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