Women: Pakistan’s second-class citizens

Pakistani women may be irresistible beauties, but they have contributions to offer to society.

Sabina Khan July 30, 2013
The writer has a master’s degree in conflict-resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and blogs at http://coffeeshopdiplomat.wordpress.com

Women in Karak have been prohibited from leaving their homes without a mahram due to the reason that they spread vulgarity and distract men during the holy month. Perhaps, a better way of ensuring that these weak-willed men stay chaste would be for the primitives to blindfold themselves and stay in their homes. Evidently, women do not suffer from any such inclinations when they head out to the store to purchase groceries; it is only the men who become overwhelmed by uncontrollable urges. It makes perfect sense that they should also be the ones to take precautions.

The Constitution of Pakistan ensures equal rights for all, but women are still treated as second class citizens and their space is severely restricted in the rural areas each day. Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head for trying to pursue an education, rape victims are treated as adulterers and girls dancing in the rain in their own home are murdered because their video brought dishonour to their step-brother. Why is the honour of men so fragile and so easily undermined? Many women, who have had acid thrown on their faces, somehow find the will to carry on.

Over the years, we have allowed our values to be subverted by Middle Eastern culture, which is brought over from Pakistanis working in the region. While driving through Skardu last year, I saw several signs stating “dear sisters, hijab is our culture. Be considerate so that you are respected”. Hijab has never been a part of our culture; women who observe purdah have traditionally worn a chador. If women choose not to wear the hijab, niqab, burqa or chador, then that is their choice and should be respected.

The flawed logic of comparing women with diamonds does not make sense either. No, women are not just pretty things that need to be hidden away and protected. They are human beings who deserve an equal chance just like men to live a self-sufficient life. Society needs to understand that women are not asking to be raped if they step out of the house to go to university or work. Patriarchal societies condone oppression of women for childish reasons, such as the unwillingness to accept a proposal rejection and the possibility of living side by side with a successful independent wife instead of ruling over a subservient child-bearer.

In the long term, education is, of course, key to reversing the damage caused by religious charities in Pakistan funded by certain overseas countries. However, that remains an out of reach dream at the moment since Pakistan’s legislation is determined by a set of officials who themselves have fake degrees.

Despite numerous challenges, women have recently made strides in Pakistan. The first female jirga in Swat is a recent step in the right direction. Women have joined the Pakistan Army, Air Force and also climbed Mount Everest. Although the Burqa Avenger’s costume has received a mixed reaction, there is even a new female superhero on the scene to save girls’ education. However, this is just the beginning; ultimately, Pakistanis need to decide if they are going to be governed by the Constitution of Pakistan, which grants equal rights to everyone or by the will of illiterate clerics and whatever fantasy laws they whip up. If the government remains silent and no action is taken to correct this dysfunction, then there is a risk that ignorance will spread to less affected urban areas. Nothing is static. We’re either advancing as a nation or slowly devolving into intolerant subcultures. Having lived in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, my vision of a modern Pakistan does not include a man followed at four paces by his wives draped in black with nothing but a slit for their eyes. Pakistani women may be irresistible beauties, but they have contributions to offer to society, many are well-educated and it would be a loss for the nation to hide them away like second-rate citizens.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2013.

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Irum | 10 years ago | Reply

To me the problem seems to be a religion made in the image of a conservative, ancient Arab society, which has no relation to the modern world. If the whole problem of religion wasn't there would anyone even dare to defend such outdated conventions in this age like shutting women in their homes? Given that Islam seems like an intolerably patriarchal device, what benefit is there for women to follow it when there are so many better moral/social codes to follow in today's world that actually treat women like human beings instead of chattel?

Nida Asad | 10 years ago | Reply

Well since I am not an islamic scholar, let's keep religion aside! However, I would like to state that I am of an opinion that Islam promotes hijab not niqab. I would like to narrate an instance here from my college days.

While waiting for my car after a session, I overheard two boys standing at close proximity confessing to their group of friends that they would never marry a woman who covers her face. While their female friends expressed their shock on this affirmative statement, the boys supported their thoughts by giving a very logical argument, " How can I marry a girl who had no identity in society? Who has been faceless all her life ? How can I ensure her chastity behind her veil when no one ever knew her? "

Needless to mention that Indo-Paki culture is probably the most confused one during recent era, as one needs to have abundance of knowledge and understanding to handle religious matters. Sadly, Islam is in hands of ignorant.

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