Pakistan Women’s Day: It’s about time we start respecting Shireen Mazari and Asma Jahangir

Published: February 12, 2015

It is high time that we start respecting our women and let go of the double standards we have towards the two genders.

February 12, 2015, commemorates National Women’s Day in Pakistan, for our mothers, doctors, engineers, leaders, homemakers and women belonging to every strata, class and religion in society. But while we celebrate our women, it is very unfortunate that many of them have to face immense challenges in their daily routine; from public name-calling to humiliation and character assassination, our women go through all.

Whenever they come out and participate effectively in political or public spheres, many elements express their venom against such women and regard them to be of bad character and lacking morals. An example of this is the recent dharnas by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). While we saw offensive pictures, profane language and loathsome commentary used for the women who were participating in dharnas, very few highlighted their political will to garner for change. To say that these women were only present so that they could get a glimpse of Imran Khan’s “ravishing” looks is a grotesque idea. This reflects a diseased mindset where women are considered to be lowly creatures with no integrity whatsoever.

Similarly, Altaf Hussain, the party leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), recently crossed all lines of civility and ethics when he referred to the PTI women as prostitutes. If political participation is akin to prostitution, then he must know that he happens to be in the same profession, and while he points a finger at these brave women, his own four fingers point back at him. It’s good that he apologised but one must definitely exercise utmost restraint before exhorting to such shameless speeches.

This is not something new or surprising; character assassination of a woman who believes in breaking societal barriers in the way of her progress as an equal citizen of the country is the first and most convenient tool for cowards, the shameless and the incompetent. We have seen multiple times – in our political history, on live television shows and even on social media – that women are often derogated for the way they look, speak or move, while paying no attention to what these women are saying, and many a times a woman’s status is devalued by associating juicy scandals about her past, irrespective of whether they are true or not.

Why is a male politician or public figure not subjected to the same vile behaviour?

This nation is proud of producing the first female prime minister of the Muslim world, but even she had to face derogatory terms in jalsas by political dwarfs who were nowhere near her calibre or political wisdom. It is very acceptable for us to have memes of women like Firdous Ashiq Awan and Shireen Mazari for the way they look but a man would rarely be treated like this.

This is reflective of the moral depravity we, as a society, live in.

Is this what our religion, social norms and values teach us?

Respect for women is such a noble ideal in our religion that it cannot be derogated, no matter what. But sadly, mud-slinging becomes the first tool for many to deter a woman from doing or saying anything the misogynists and male chauvinists do not like. Such men need to understand that as you sow, so shall you reap; if today you feel comfortable in disgracing another woman, be prepared for another man doing the same to your female relatives tomorrow.

There are such double standards with regards to the culturally-accepted conduct of both men and women in the public life. We all laugh together when Zulfiqar Mirza calls Rehman Malik a hajaam (barber), but will we ever allow a woman to express her views that fully and glorify her as well? Not that this is something worth glorifying but explains the point that how much of a disparity there is in terms of what a woman can or cannot express in public.

Even as bloggers, journalists or lawyers, women cannot talk frankly on topics considered to be social taboos and have to carefully choose their words. It is expected of a woman to act with grace in public, but what about the man? Shouldn’t he be reprimanded for his uncouth and disdainful behaviour?

And these instances are not just limited to particular professions.

If we see a man smoking in public, no one gives him a second glance. But if a woman does the same, she is ostracised for it and considered amoral. Whenever someone has to post a picture of Asma Jahangir or Sherry Rahman on social media, to degrade them, they would conveniently choose the ones in which they are smoking and it sends a clear message to the general public: that no matter what these women have achieved in life, they are undisciplined – because they smoke.

Even when it comes to divorce, women face the same taboo. The recent example of Imran and Reham Khan comes to mind, where while both of them were divorced and had kids, it was only Reham who was given slack for it. Just imagine how our society responds to a woman who takes a divorce to marry a man of her choice and to a man who takes a second wife even without permission of the first one. In the first scenario, the woman is the “culprit” and a characterless entity and in the second, the innocent man must have gotten trapped by the cunning woman.

So both ways, it’s the woman’s fault.

When will this hypocrisy end?

When will we evolve and see others as people and not as men and women?

Why is it okay for every random man to dictate how a woman should be or behave? Who gave them the right to do this?

It is high time that we start respecting our women and let go of the double standards we have towards the two genders. We really cannot afford to ostracise half the population of the country for exercising their fundamental rights. Before becoming the moral police for others, let’s learn to correct our own imperfections first.

Happy National Women’s Day!

Ayesha Siddique Khan

Ayesha Siddique Khan

A barrister at law from Lincoln's Inn London and has LLM in International Protection of Human Rights Law from University of London.

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

  • deep

    Yes you had to spoil your entire article by writing this: Respect for women is such a noble ideal in our religion that it cannot be derogated, no matter what.

    I could tell you many ways every religion including your beloved one has treated women as less than equal – so do not invoke religion when talking about gender parity or respect for women.Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    yes, your religion treats women as lesser mortals. isn’t their testimony worth half that of a man’s? the problem is with your religion, however much you say it has been misinterpreted.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Good blog. I like it. Even though some may find fault with your mention of religion.Recommend

  • Salman Shareef

    Sorry I can not respect the traitors like Asma Jahangir.I have no respect for the person who speaks against my Armed Forces and my beloved country.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The Pakistani male suffers from more than one complex and to compensate this ( he over-compensates ) he resorts to macho bravado. The fight for women to get even a reasonable semblance of parity will be a major uphill struggle……and I keep saying this, its a struggle they will have to do almost entirely by themselves.Recommend

  • Parvez

    If we respected ALL women…the ones you mentioned would automatically get respected.Recommend

  • sana

    where are you getting your facts from? There is no problem with my religionRecommend

  • nemomil

    Is there a surfeit of Pakistanis posting anti-Hindu garbage on Indian web sites that the Express Tribune attracts these that lose no opportunity to show their hate for Islam by any convoluted means possible ? or is it just some people who have become so consumed by hate that they have lost the ability to reason (assuming they had it in the first place) ?Recommend

  • sana

    She is absolutely correct in bringing the religion …human rights is the most important aspect of IslamRecommend

  • Gopeet.

    Please no more, no more about Mohtarma. Enough enough. Stop.
    Mohtarma cleaned out the National Treasury by $1.5 billion [US]
    during her two stints at the reins of the Land of the Pure.Recommend

  • Salma

    Women have one important role to play. Box the ears and spank their boys if they misbehave with girls. Give them an earful. make them work at home. Teach them to live with dignity, that is self respect.Recommend

  • Queen

    It is high time we start respecting all women for who they are and not because of their religious or social background.Recommend

  • deep

    If a religion talks about believers and non-believers, human rights gets thrown out of the window – every religion does. And all organized religions will have strictures on women in one form or the other – so again, do not invoke religion – it is a poor inspiration – you should respect women because they are human beings – period.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    I can’t speak for all religions, but please prove where Islam constricts women’s rights. Recommend

  • Visibly

    Why is Malala not mentioned here?
    She is by the world considered a leading promoter of female education.Recommend

  • Sridhar Kaushik

    Pakistanis bring in religion into everything, even in the issue of Women’s rights. I need to remind Pakistanis that their Prophet’s first wife Khadija seemed to have full rights even before Islam ever became a popular religion in Arabia. She was a widow, ran caravans (owned some camels) and so was rich and proposed to Mohammad (who later became Islamic prophet) and married him. That shows preislamic women had full rights. There was widow remairriage, she could work, she owned a business and had free will to marry anybody she wanted.
    None of above exists in today’s Islamic world for women. A woman in KSA cannot drive a car, has to keep her face covered all the time, cannot go unescorted to public place, certainly cannot marry on her own, leave aside owning her own business.
    I know a lot of muslims here will quote Qoran but I urge them to use their brain cells now and then. After all, brain cells are also a gift from Allah that few Pakistanis seem to be using now a daysRecommend

  • siesmann

    Surely Sharifs are philanthropes for you.Recommend

  • siesmann

    proves the author’s point.For you anybody who criticizes what you don’t like is a traitor.Off course,TTP and Mumtaz Qadri are your heroes and paragons of patriotism.Recommend

  • Hoshang Ansari

    See, there you have it. Can’t even commentRecommend

  • Hoshang Ansari

    Comment was censured by hindu moderator.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Islam may not but those who loudly profess to be the guardians of Islam certainly do.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Yeah but he said “every religion including your beloved one has treated women as less than equal”. If he’s going to make profound statements like that, he needs to dish up the facts using the Quran and Hadith. Recommend

  • binged

    The Pakistani women you are talking about are the same females who give birth to suicide bombers and crazy bigots ,but never to brave honest hard working social activists who will fight for the betterment of the society?You are trying to glorify the same Pakistani woman who timidly drapes herself into a communal garb and does not fight for her freedom?You cheer for the woman who enjoys hatred being spread and in fact enjoys shows like Amir Liaquat?The hand that rocks the cradle ,is unfortunately totally controlled by the males and this has been the bane of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rmport

    A religion is made by the followers else it’s just mythology. Every religion tries to impose separate rules for women regarding their behaviour, values, morality etc. and that’s where they all go wrong.Recommend

  • sana

    yes! and thats what Islam advocates–> ‘human’ rights above all!!!Recommend

  • sana

    Yes, you are right about Hazrat khadeeja, but do you even know how it was like for women before Islam “No God but God” by reza aslan and you will have an idea ..what saudis and the other muslims countries have been doing is utterly disgusting!Recommend

  • khana

    irrespective of genders too. we should respect every humanRecommend

  • Sridhar Kaushik

    No Sana,
    Honestly I do not know how the women lived in pre-islamic Saudi Arabia and what today constitutes the “muslim world”. I tried to do some research on this but could not get anything that is authoritative. The “muslim” writers degraded the condition of women during the time but I see that as biased. I do see Islam as a great unifying factor for Saudi Arabia and the muslim world of that time but I am not sure if Islam also brought great freedom for the women.
    MInd you, I am not talking about the kind of freedom that is enjoyed by the Western women which I really do not think is real freedom. I live in US (relocating to India soon) and have been here for 20 plus years. The kind of social miseries that exist here is not talked about in the media: teenage pregnancies, single mothers, high rate of divorces etc etc.
    I am talking about the kind of freedom where a woman can make choices that would affect her life: choices like who she can marry, whether she can pursue education of her choice, whether she can be employed on her own or in a company etc etc.
    Such choices are being made daily by middle class women in India but women in India have a long way to go before they can say they are truly free. Look at the high rate of female foeticide in some states like Haryana, which is shameful!Recommend