Let them wear bangles

Published: June 26, 2011

This deep-rooted cultural bias against women, which causes most to view women as afterthoughts, not equal citizens, is the real reason why we don’t see change in our society. PHOTO: INP

Has life for women in Pakistan improved or deteriorated over the past decade? This question is being hotly debated in the wake of a report that listed Pakistan as the ‘third-worst country in the world for women’.

Now, I am not one to say that some Pakistani women have not made great strides in the past ten years or so. When critics of reports like the one I mentioned above rattle off names of prominent women politicians, educationalists, intellectuals and social workers as proof of women’s success in Pakistan, I agree wholeheartedly that these women have effectively contributed to society, and serve as role models to women who wish to do the same.

But the fact is, these women, whose faces we all know well, have managed to make a difference despite existing social and political structures – not because of them.

And this one word, “despite,” and this condition  – whether or not women have the support of the institutions around them – is the key factor that will determine whether women in Pakistan will live a better or worse life in the years to come.

The truth is that the institutions that can play a key role in freeing women from the restrictions that cultural expectations, social norms and physical insecurity place on them, have failed to do their jobs. Here I speak of institutions like the judiciary (and no, I do not mean just the Supreme Court, in fact the lower courts play a larger role in defending a woman’s right’s than the higher judiciary), law enforcement agencies, the federal government, and the provincial government.

The problem is not one of a lack of resources, or even a realigning of priorities – the problem is that mostly, the people who head these institutions just don’t think a problem exists in the first place.

This deep-rooted cultural bias against women, which causes most to view women as afterthoughts, not equal citizens, is the real reason why we don’t see change in our society. You can show me as many female legislators as you want – but are they ever taken seriously in the National Assembly, or in the provincial assemblies where they handle insignificant portfolios? This point is neatly illustrated by a squabble that occurred in the National Assembly a few days ago. Legislator Mehreen Anwar Raja protested against politically incorrect language used by PML-N’s Khwaja Saad Rafiq: as a reference to cowardice, he said, “we are not wearing bangles.” In one fell swoop, he disassociated himself from lesser members of society – women, of course. But when Raja attempted to move a resolution against the use of such terms, some lawmakers left the assembly, resulting in a lack of quorum and a defeat of Raja’s motion.

Let this serve as an example to people who think enough is being done for women in Pakistan. You must remember that even though you see more women in the public eye these days, in the majority of cases, and in the majority Pakistani institutions, a woman’s desire to participate in everyday life is, at best, humoured.

Until we replace our ‘good-humoured tolerance’ for women’s participation in all spheres of life with a fervent belief that the world will be better off with women having an equal say in its management, I promise you – we will keep moving up that list of places that are hell for women.

Hamna Zubair

Hamna Zubair

The writer is a former staffer of The Express Tribune and currently pursuing a post-graduate degree in creative writing at The New School, New York.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Feroze Alam

    The world will not be a better place with women having an equal say in its management. To prove that statement, we only need review the performance of women in MANAGEMENT itself. This is a kind of ‘me too’ facile equality that smacks of gender bias and gender tokenism. These are more harmful to the society as a whole. A ‘good intentioned’ initiative that does more the work of boomerang than a socioeconomic or political-cultural booster.
    Please give concrete outlines as to how this equal participation of women is to be arrived at. Diatribes and calling out the imbecilities in the NA doesn’t help. Women have to ennunciate why the merit certain rights. Merely harping this is our natual right won’t justify it. Recommend

  • Billu

    True, indeed.Recommend

  • http://www.tarpley.net Moise

    Everyone trying to demonize Pakistan, one can tell they are trying too hard.Recommend

  • delh_se

    Instead of looking at the article as an attempt to demonize Pakistan ( or India ) . It is indeed important for us to root out the evil of gender bias and ill-treatment women’s are subjected to because of our social structure which is very much pro-male. Our society absolutely lacks any sympathy towards plight of a women and just when handful of them raise above the rest in the society we try to say our country is liberal and shining, when in true fact we are far far behind in that aspect. I feel disgusted when I almost daily hear about rape cases in India. While I am thankful such news are coming out media and other NGO try to take the cause of victim and get er justice. But for a woman once something as important as “shame” and “respect” is lost, what good is the justice done ? Some trauma can never be healed. Why can’t our society be more pro-active against such evil rather than being just reactive. And for all the evil done in name of honor we the silent bystanders are as much as guilt as the perpetrators. Unfortunately in our region, social, traditional and blind faith practices are so common and has so rigidly ingrained in minds of people that suggesting them anything otherwise is equal to single handily fighting against the whole world. I feel sorry for the women of both our country and I can only wish that they find more support in society for their liberation from social evils. But if not then I encourage them to pick up their own fight and take matters in their hands and revolt like the women in France did, to earn their equal right of existence in society.Recommend

  • http://www.google.com BP

    Live these women’s lives and then talk lady. You don’t have that right without.Recommend

  • http://www.6la8.com Confused

    Agreed, but it’s easier said than done. Years of inequality make it hard for women to be judged equally. Heck, even in the most developed countries signs of indifferent, masked participation of women are evident. Nice that you are bringing it up though, but the ‘nagging’ article that you linked to is one of the reason why your pleas will not be taken seriously. If you have a valid argument, calling it a ‘nag’ will only make you look even worse and stereotyped even more, regardless of the weight your reasoning carries.Recommend

  • Fatima Mohsin

    @Feroze Alam: “Women have to ennunciate why the merit certain rights. Merely harping this is our natual right won’t justify it. The world will not be a better place with women having an equal say in its management. To prove that statement, we only need review the performance of women in MANAGEMENT itself”

    Spoken like a true chauvinist. When was the last time you had to justify the freedoms you have based on your “natural rights” as a man. You think you can make these generalized and ignorant statements simply because you’re a man?

    Women make up almost half of the global population, which is fundamentally why their representation and participation in all sectors of society matters and is necessary.

    Perhaps its time you crawl out of that cave and read a book or two.Recommend