Women: Pakistan’s second-class citizens

Published: July 31, 2013
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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

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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Reader Comments (25)

  • Sukh Madiq
    Jul 31, 2013 - 12:37AM

    “Land of the Pure” … Doesn’t sound like a good place to oppress half the population. Excellent points made here.

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  • Mariam
    Jul 31, 2013 - 2:13AM

    Thanks for a wonderful and thoughtful piece. You raise some very valid points.

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  • Tas
    Jul 31, 2013 - 2:25AM

    First of all it is very comforting to read these comments from more and more women who want to defend their rights.The damage is not only caused by religious charities but even more by all those silent and scared elite which have shut their mouths and would almost never counter these illiterate clerics who have almost totally occupied the space in Pakistan. Any religious charlatan in Pakstan can speak as much trash as he wants by using religious references and yet there would be very few people who will take the liberty or have the courage to contradict him.
    In any case, keep on fighting if you don’t want to die. There is no other solution and the fight will be really long.

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  • Nadir
    Jul 31, 2013 - 2:54AM

    Surely you mean third class citizens? Arnt civilians second class citizens?

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  • S
    Jul 31, 2013 - 4:44AM

    Niqab is not our culture? really? Islam has been in sub continent for more than 1000 years and women have been taking niqab, it was not brought here from Pakistani working in the region. But yes a chador covering head properly is also our culture.

    Every society has limits, within those limits one is free to do whatever. For example, in Britain topless women is considered public indecency (men are not which is a different discussion), hence women can do whatever they want as long as they do not breach those limits.

    We also have limits but much more stricter then those in britain, one is free to do whatever they want but within those limits. Our limits are defined by Islam (and our culture is defined by Islam as well). And these limits apply to BOTH men and women. We usually apply our limits to women only.

    having said that, I do agree that women in Pakistan should be treated with respect. Violence, discrimination against women must and must stop (as enforced in our religion as well).

    And again they should not be second class citizen, but does taking niqab or hijab make you second class? Or equally does having a beard make you second class? Women can contribute to society in niqab or hijab as well, just as men can do with beards.

    The problem is alot of Pakistani women DO NOT just want women rights (which is possible and fair), they actually want a western lifestyle and for the very reason a lot of them prefer to be with westerners (those living abroad) rather than Pakistanis.

    My point being, our culture is defined by religion (whether you like it or not). Our society must give women its due rights and must restrict men from too much unIslamic freedom they enjoy. Make the right and fair demands and it will get somewhere and men will stand with you, if you want us to be like westerners then there will be just chaos.

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  • SH
    Jul 31, 2013 - 5:02AM

    A good summary of recent events. Even the Madre-Millat didn’t wear the niqab or do purdah, and was a working woman. A person who while being the mother of the nation, is not some who it’s “children” aspire to be. The laws regarding women in this country and everything happening is probably making her turn in her grave.
    Also S, seems to have missed the author’s point, she says dong the hijab etc. should not be forced, it should be a ‘choice’. You should be respected regardless. We are not Saudi Arabia yet, don’t turn us into one. Also most women do not seek to just emulate westerner’s style or prefer to be with westerners just to emulate them, they do it because western men do not, to put it bluntly, rape you with their eyes like people here do, and because they like to walk down the street without fear. And having been in company of both, western men to be honest do not treat you like a second class citizen or criticize everything you say or do behind your back.

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  • RAW is WAR
    Jul 31, 2013 - 5:24AM

    how many more articles like this? And still people keep telling Islam is tolerant and treats women well.

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  • Truthbetold
    Jul 31, 2013 - 6:58AM

    “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. “

    Not true. Arab culture has been followed by Muslims in the Indian subcontinent for over 800 years. Moreover, there is no escaping the fact that all aspects of daily life, including women’s attire, are codified in Islamic scriptures. You can’t eat a good pomegranate fruit while avoiding the seeds.

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  • Noman
    Jul 31, 2013 - 8:21AM

    @RAW is WAR: Your comments as ignorant as ever. Here we are talking about culture not islam. Are you sponsored by the Indian/Hindu propaganda brigade?

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  • taurus
    Jul 31, 2013 - 8:43AM

    @S: Niqab Islamic? Cloathes have become a religion? Go for umrah or haj and see if you can get away with a niqab!!!!! Logic my friend, not emotion.

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  • Ali
    Jul 31, 2013 - 9:23AM

    Good article except when the author appreciates the female jirga. While jirga represents the fact that women, backed by aid agencies, have started to mobilize, but this also results in a parallel justice system. Jirgas — irrespective of what gender they represents — are illegal.
    The answer to women empowerment are not jirgas, but understanding the mere fact that all citizens are equal and they should be treated that way.

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  • Shahida kazi
    Jul 31, 2013 - 9:55AM

    So what new thing is said in this article?I think it is time we stop spouting clichés and do something practical.Besides I am sure readers of ET have no need to be told these things.Go to areas where women are really oppressed and try to convince their menfolk.

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  • Mirza
    Jul 31, 2013 - 9:59AM

    In a society where a mother is the most imp person in one’s life, yet she remains dependent upon her husband all her life. After the death of her husband she becomes a minute share holder in her own home. After husband she cannot even go to Hajj without the company and blessings of her son(s). I have heard with my own ears sons telling their widow mother to go sit in a corner quietly as she only owns 1/8th of the home and totally dependent upon them!

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  • Ashti
    Jul 31, 2013 - 10:45AM

    @RAW is WAR
    The article does not say anywhere that Islam is not tolerant, or that Islam has made these laws for women not leaving their home; in fact, Islam encourages women to build a career if they want to. Rather, it is the “Patriarchal societies” and “illiterate clerics and whatever fantasy laws they whip up” that support oppression of women in Pakistan.

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  • Anisah
    Jul 31, 2013 - 1:18PM

    So long as you people spit on Islam (the men by only enforcing the rules on the women, and the women by claiming that only Allah can judge them and therefore they don’t have to follow the rules), your society will remain like this.

    Both the men and women of Pakistan need to grow up and realise that by pointing the finger at the opposite gender (which men do by blaming women for their desires and women do by blaming men for their conditions) you people will go nowhere and do nothing except make your lives a living Jahannam.

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  • Manoj Joshi India
    Jul 31, 2013 - 2:28PM

    @RAW is WAR: Times have changed hence one needs to change his or her perceptions.

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  • Parvez
    Jul 31, 2013 - 3:09PM

    You have again written an excellent article, but I have to say the comment by @Nadir was brilliant…………one line that says so much.
    The easy perception is that this is religiously motivated and it is projected as such. In fact this is politicaly motivated and religion is being used to achieve the end result.

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  • Legend
    Jul 31, 2013 - 3:30PM

    Move along people, nothing new to see here. Just some badly recycled ideas.

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  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Jul 31, 2013 - 5:58PM

    “Women in Karak have been prohibited from leaving their homes without a mahram”
    Yesterday my 9 year old niece came by herself upstairs to pick up her grandma. Her parents were waiting at a distance from the house. She told me that Mamma I am so excited that I came by myself. She was beaming with self confidence. It occurred to me at that time is the custom of mahram depriving Muslim women of this kind of self confidence. Think about the harm mahram is doing to the self confidence of the our sisters and mothers.

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  • chanakya_the_cynic
    Jul 31, 2013 - 6:34PM

    “The Constitution of Pakistan ensures equal rights for all…” What about Ahmadis and non-Muslims? Oh wait, I forgot. Ahmadis are non-Muslims.

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  • Tahir
    Jul 31, 2013 - 6:37PM

    Well spoken sister.
    The treatment of women and girls in Pakistan is shameful.
    Men in Pakistan should ask themselves if they are men in control of their bodies or slaves to shaitaan in their minds. Lack of civility, respect and demeanor is prolific in male pakistan society, unfortunately it propagates in all sectors.

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  • mamdhata
    Aug 1, 2013 - 12:21AM

    Women promote vulgarity – that is a new one if I ever heard one. Well men, what happened to self-control or that is entirely new concept. Are you that soft that one can mold you any way they like.

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  • Nida Asad
    Aug 2, 2013 - 7:44PM

    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? ”

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  • Nida Asad
    Aug 2, 2013 - 8:00PM

    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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  • Irum
    Aug 4, 2013 - 5:32PM

    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?

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