Women, their rights, and nothing less

March 8 is celebrated as the International Women’s Day worldwide. This day holds special significance as it highlights the plight of women all over the world. Women may have come a long way from when they initially started the women’s movement in the early 1900s but even today their plight is far from over. Though many developed nations have accorded equal status to women as that of men, most of the developing countries lag far behind in this arena. Pakistan is a glaring example of how women are still struggling to get accepted as human beings and not just mere chattel. “The true republic – men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less,” was the motto of renowned women’s rights activist Susan B Anthony’s weekly journal, The Revolution, in the 19th century. These words still hold true for many societies in the 21st century, particularly Pakistani society.

Pakistan got its independence in 1947. Sixty-three years down the line and our women are still not free from misogynist chains. It is no secret that ours is a patriarchal society. Customs worse than those practiced in the Stone Age are still a norm in Pakistan. Karo kari (honour killings), vinni and swara (exchange of women, especially young girls, to settle feuds), Quran marriages, female foeticide, gang rapes, child marriage, female slavery are but the tip of an iceberg of the barbaric traditions prevalent in our country. The laws in this ‘land of the pure’ do not give sufficient protection to women. Such is the sorry state of affairs that the police refuse to lodge FIRs in cases of domestic violence; a rape victim suffers silently just so that she is not outlawed by society; a divorcee is looked down upon and treated as ‘fair game’ by all and sundry of the male species; a widow’s remarriage is a taboo subject, among other things. Women’s rights activists have been advocating and lobbying to eliminate social practices that perpetuate violence against women and have brought them up as issues of national debate. They have succeeded in getting some sections of Ziaul Haq’s anti-women laws in the Hudood Ordinances repealed but there is a long way to go before Zia’s legacy can be reversed. The so-called guardians of Islam have been at the forefront of subjugating women’s rights. They refuse to allow girls to study or work. These mullahs have themselves forgotten the true message of Islam, which was to liberate women and give them inheritance rights and equality.

Women in Pakistan have long fought for the inclusion of their rights in all facets of society. Years of struggle by the Pakistani women have borne some fruit in the shape of high representation of women in parliament, Women’s Protection Act, Protection Against Harassment at Workplace Act and other laws protecting the rights of women. But these are just preliminary measures. We need to hit at the root of the problem and demolish the structures that give rise to gender discrimination. In addition to spreading education and creating awareness, the government should introduce practical and effective laws to abolish the base on which discrimination thrives. It is heartening to see more and more Pakistani women getting education and working. This will go a long way in changing the patriarchal mindset. On this day, the appropriate would be: “Women of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains!”

(my editorial in Daily Times)


Tazeen said…
very good mehmi, high fives :)
mehmal said…
thanks Tez!!! *high five*

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