International Women’s Day: Let us Press for Progress by not depriving women of their basic rights
The theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Press for Progress’. This year the theme focuses on creating gender parity. As per human rights NGO Amnesty International’s report, life for women in Pakistan is still difficult. Though Pakistani society comprises various ethnic groups, when it comes to gender inequality almost all groups, classes and sects follow the same principle. Right from birth, a girl is taught that man is superior and has to live with this delusion all her life. Men are taught that they are superior while the structure of society has been developed in such a way that it gives more power to men. It is still difficult therefore for women to be recognized in our society.
The problems women face in everyday life are not even considered problems. It seems a passive statement, but is actually a bitter reality. One can see women being harassed in all possible ways, their harassment not even considered a social problem. The irony is that if a woman raises her voice against this, instead of getting heard and bringing the accused into a court of law, quite often it is accepted that men are justified in crimes against them. Talking about menstrual problems is still considered taboo in Pakistan; a woman cannot report harassment be it physically or emotionally; not to mention rape and other sexual offences, as it brings a bad name to the so called ‘pride’ of the family. A woman is considered vulgar if she wears jeans or cuts her hair short; she is considered a culprit of inciting males if she is not wearing a hijab; she is supposed to accept mental and physical torture after marriage. The daughters in rural areas and in middle class sections are still considered a burden.
The concept of honor revolves around women and is focused solely on the delusion of protecting them from men in society. This protection in the name of honor is focused on imposing curbs on women’s basic instincts and their opportunities to grow as an independent person in society. In fact, this delusional ‘protection’ is all about depriving them of the basic and fundamental rights of living with dignity. The protection that is also referred to as ‘honor’ is only limited to the actions of women and in every other domain this ‘honor’ disappears. Men can hold conversations and appear on talk shows on how many hoors will be presented in heaven or how many wives one can keep.
The conservatives have cleverly associated women with religious interpretations and it seems that these are focused only on curtailing women’s rights. There is not a matter of concern for their religious doctrine. When the country tops the pornography searches around the globe or when people kill each other in the name of sects and ethnicities, not to mention the daily corrupt practices which have destroyed the moral values and economy of the country – these are not a concern for these conservatives, nor are the honor killings and raping of minor girls and children a point of concern for them. While traditionally we criticize the role of mullahs in marginalizing women, we often forget the hypocritical role of intellectuals, writers and journalists in this regard. This mindset of marginalizing women and not accepting their separate entity is a result of the doctrine of ‘honor’ and the fictional characters shown in literature and TV dramas.
Since the era of General Zia we have produced a breed of intellectuals, writers and journalists who are self-professed religious moralists and have nothing to do with literature or any other kind of literary work. Gone are the days when we used to have writers like Saadat Hasan Manto, IsmatChughtai and Razia Butt, after Zia’s Islamization even the writers, journalists and intellectuals have taken the very easy path of selling the conservative doctrine through their work. It not only makes their work acceptable and popular among the masses, as generally it is not against their beliefs nor does it raise questions in their mind, it also gives these writers and journalists ratings and other monetary benefits.
So walking this path is easy where even in fiction you bring religious and divine interpretation for the sake of ratings. Writers like Umera Ahmad, Nimra Ahmed and others are examples where they have created a perception that an ideal woman is one who always abides by tradition and bears emotional and physical torture from the men, but never complains, nor is she allowed to dream of an independent life. Then in journalism there are people like Orya Maqbool Jan who are busy propagating that women should be imprisoned in the name of honor and that gender equality and acknowledging women is a Western agenda and a conspiracy to destroy our social fabric. A society that is still obsessed with these medieval traditions and believes in male chauvinism needs no enemy from the outside. It is self-sufficient to destroy itself by denying half of the population, which consist of women, from participating in economic activities.
The gender imparity and attitude of thinking women as an object of pleasure only leads to the unhealthy lives of millions of girls in society and produces unhealthy and unstable mothers, wives and members of society in large numbers. Even the conservative Saudi monarchs and Iran, who are both responsible for extremism in our society, have realized the realities of the modern world and have relaxed the rules and regulations regarding women.But here in Pakistan we are still happy to exploit women and treat them only as objects of pleasure.
Though women are breaking the norm and challenging this rotten ideology and belief system, the ultimate goal of gender equality is far from becoming reality. Women like Malala Yousafzai and SharmeenObaid-Chinoy are creating a ray of hope for the millions of women in the country to come forward and get their rights of existence and equality, but at the same time we need to work on the structural reforms in our society by denouncing the ideology of thinking of women as slaves. It is not easy as in our society; this is directly related to religious beliefs and the conservatives easily make all efforts of gender equality unsuccessful by exploiting the masses in the name of religion.But one has to find a way to address the issue.
Scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, who have progressive views, can be brought to the mainstream to counter the exploitation of women in the name of religion and social values. The intellectuals and writers who endorse violence against women should be pointed out by the literary community and journalists with progressive views. After all we are all born equal, and just like men, women too have desires and dreams to fulfil. A society that does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender is destined to grow both economically and intellectually.
Let us all work for the development of a better society and world where there is no gender imparity and women are not denied any rights enjoyed by men. For this we need to change our concept of delusional honor associated with women and denounce the mentality of feeling superior to women. Let us Press for Progress by creating gender parity and not marginalizing and exploiting women in our society and in the world around.