On the road to recovery: ‘Steps, even small ones, to empower women matter’

Speakers say power is shifting from the traditional patriarchy.

Hifza Jillani October 31, 2013
"A transformation is taking place - the power is shifting from the traditional patriarchy," Writer Javed Jabbar.


If you look close enough, you will see signs pointing to the growth of women in Pakistan, said writer Javed Jabbar, while claiming that there was a 40 per cent increase in female voter turnout in the elections this year.

Around 350 women, from different religious backgrounds, class and ethnicity, contested for the elections, he said, stressing that a change was taking place in the country. He was speaking at a workshop, titled Gender, Power and International Development: A global view on challenges for Women’s Rights, organised by the Area Study Centre for Europe of University of Karachi on Thursday.

“I have seen small-town girls from middle class backgrounds go abroad for education and come back and earn a living,” he said. “A transformation is taking place - the power is shifting from the traditional patriarchy.”

Jabbar also reprimanded the media for not showing the whole picture. “Even if the reporters or correspondents want to paint a happy picture, the editor usually chooses the saddest part. It is unfortunate that we never highlight the good that is happening around us.”

He recommended that the existing knowledge must be challenged, saying “We need to live peacefully, but with determination, keep challenging the existing structures for women rights.”

Women in the house

Looking at the gender dynamics of power from a global perspective, Tabinda Sarosh of Shirkat Gah- Women’s Resource Centre, said, “Power always implies control. Empowerment means that the power relations need to be changed.”

Mentioning the World Economic Forum’s survey on condition of gender equality, Sarosh quoted that Pakistan ranked second last at 135 out of 136 countries.

“Exports of agriculture were the main industry after globalisation,” she said. “As women are the custodians of agriculture in the country, especially of cloth industry, globalisation directly affected the female workers.”

Justice Retd Nasira Iqbal was of the opinion that a strategy needs to be devised to make globalisation beneficial for women. “Around 80 to 70 per cent of working women in Pakistan go through domestic violence. We still have to look into laws, such as the law of evidence, Hudood Ordinance and right to citizenship (where a foreign husband is allowed the right to citizenship),” she said, adding that Quranic texts were often taken out of context when it came to women.

Shagufta Alizai, a gender specialist associated with the First Women Bank Ltd, touched upon the historic framework to international women rights’ development. “Not many people know that Pakistan participated in the conferences at international level. The Islamabad Declaration was made right after Nusrat Bhutto’s participation in Mexico conference and it was never made public,” she remarked. “Pakistan has taken two steps forward but it has also gone three steps backwards.”

Narrating a story that her professor had told her, she said, “In a community, people kept putting up light bulbs but someone else kept smashing them. It turned out that it was the women. When asked why, they said, “Putting up light bulbs for you might be development, but for us it is invasion of your privacy.’”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2013.


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