Inspiring women: Asma against viewing rights through the prism of religion

Stresses comprehensive women-specific laws, implementation.

Waqas Naeem March 15, 2014
Stresses comprehensive women-specific laws, implementation.


The major challenge facing Pakistani women at the moment is dealing with an extremist mindset that is spreading across geographical borders, according to eminent lawyer and rights defender Asma Jahangir.

Jahangir, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was speaking at a new seminar series launched by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Friday.

The series titled “Inspiring Change: Women of Substance” will attempt to rediscover the life and work of brave and accomplished Pakistani women, said Dr Maleeha Aslam, Head of SDPI’s Gender and Human Security division, who was in conversation with Jahangir during the session.

In a candid talk on personal and professional aspects of her life, Jahangir said the major challenge for women is a growing “talibanisation of the mind that ranges from childhood to every institutional level.”

She qualified that this mindset is not limited to Pakistan or a geographical boundary. At the same time, she said, human rights, which are about helping vulnerable groups and supporting fundamental liberties, have gained importance.

“Human rights are far more important than anything else because they are the only binding force left between citizens and the state.” She said there has been a shift in the social contract in Pakistan so that religion or ethnicity was no longer a binding force. “It is only this now: if the state will protect my rights, then I will be a part of the state,” she said.

The dimensions of human rights are also increasing; it is impossible to describe every right through the prism of religion, Jahangir said. “They now encompass rights for people with disabilities and talk of rights for the LGBT community, which will hopefully add to human dignity.”

In a system that promotes corrupt individuals and discourages talented ones, Jahangir said there was no other option left but to fix the “dysfunctional state.” The Pakistani public is out of options, she added, referring to political candidates.

The Council of Islamic Ideology, she said, is a testament that elected representatives who appoint people to such constitutional bodies do not take religion seriously. “The council might be a joke, but the frustration of a rape survivor who burnt herself alive was legitimate and valid. The incident should remind Pakistanis about the country’s flawed criminal justice system and force action.”

Pro-women laws have brought some noticeable changes in Pakistan, she said. “Changes that can be quantified by the reduction in numbers of women arrested under the Hudood Ordinance and of women seeking bail.”

She believes some aspects of women-specific laws were not well thought out and Pakistanis have developed a tendency for “over-legislation.” Consideration should be given to the laws’ implementation the same way a framework for the application of the anti-workplace harassment law was developed.

On a personal note, Jahangir talked about growing up independent, about her sister Gul Rukh who taught her everything she knows about law and about the fearlessness that has come with turning 60. “I want a dignified life,” she said. “If I have to live by the rules of bigots, I’d rather die.”

Despite systemic harassment and the poor state of women, society now recognises women should be empowered. There are more opportunities than ever before, for example, for a woman to become a judge in Pakistan, she added.

“(But) we shouldn’t forget there are women out there who suffer,” she said. “We should not get arrogant and we should realise that we owe to women who are suffering.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2014.


Pfft | 7 years ago | Reply

@nadaan danaa: Women "have" a separate line to wait in the queue for several reasons, one is they usually have kids at home, car or with them. The banks want it over with to avoid the crowd. Yes I have worked in a bank! All around the world they let families go in first too, with separate line, so is that also discrimination? IK toh you are an idiot for quoting such stupid reason, I wish you hadn't I might have ignored your comment, the people who have however recommended your comment, are bigger idiots. Please crawl back to your cave.

nadaan danaa | 7 years ago | Reply @Uzair: oh really, you still believe in scientific research and theories done hundreds of years ago. But when it comes to religion, you suffer constipation. People like you empower women, snatch their clothes and put them on billboards and ads. Islam empower women and give them their rightful respect. Tell me this thing. When women like Asma Jehangir demand equality with men, do they wait in men's queue at the time of paying utility bills? NO. So, I say all this feminism is a big huge tar ball of b.s.
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