Why don’t men give women the rights guaranteed to them by religion?
Pakistani women are playing an active role in society and have attained success in fields that were considered to be ‘no go zones’ a few years ago. Although they are taking strides towards prosperity and financial independence, further efforts need to be made in order for them to gain their share of honour and dignity.
Could you have imagined, a decade ago, that Pakistan would have scores of female fighter pilots in its Air Force?
Could you have imagined a year that Pakistan’s soil would be emboldened with the memory of a female martyr, Flying Officer Marium Mukhtiar?
Many of you are nodding your heads and patting yourselves on the back.
We have pinned up female success stories, from Malala Yousafzai, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy to Benazir Bhutto, on our green and white flag and are applauding ourselves for achieving gender equality. Pakistan loves its women now. Pakistan is progressive. Pakistan is great.
Hold the applause for a few minutes while you read this article. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but somebody needs to set the narrative straight.
The fact is that the truth about women in Pakistan is highly eschewed.
There are two opposing certainties that we need to deal with and assimilate in our consciousness without contradiction and confusion.
- Women in Pakistan have achieved great success.
This is the part where you can breathe easy. This is the narrative that has inspired many articles and confetti showers. I will spare you the individual stories. We all know them like the back of our hands.
(Malala, Sharmeen, Benazir)
- Women in Pakistan are oppressed, tortured, raped and killed.
This the part where you hang your head silently in acknowledgement while the first narrative gnaws at you.
The truth is that Pakistan has seen many individual female success stories from women who have beaten the odds, persevered through horrendous circumstances and broken through the stereotypes that held them captive. However, women as a collective, still have a very dark and sordid place in Pakistan.
Women in the urban sector of the country are living a better life as compared to the ones living in the rural side. Life for the latter is very tough. They start their day well before sunrise and continue working till late in the evening – their work is considered their duty; moreover, they are also excluded from domestic decision-making processes.
It’s typical of us to make huge claims about being good, practicing Muslims, but when it comes to being fair to women we tend to turn a blind eye, or use self-created interpretations of Islamic laws, to deprive women of their rights.
Islam is the religion that formally granted women a status they had not enjoyed before. It preaches moral, spiritual and economic equality. There are many Quranic verses, hadith and countless quotes from prominent Islamic scholars pertaining to women’s rights regarding education, marriage and divorce.
Share of property for women
Distribution of inheritance is an example where the people of Pakistan violate Quranic verses with impunity and use all possible arguments and methods to deprive a woman of her share in the property.
One of the most common arguments expressed by the brothers is that they bear all the costs of their sister’s wedding with her share of the inheritance. According to Islam, Allah (swt) grants brothers twice the share of each sister, not just for their own use but because it is required of them to look after their sisters too; and not doing so is in violation of the edicts of the Quran.
In rural areas, certain customs are followed to avoid giving women their share in the property. The worst of these practices are followed in the province of Sindh, where feudal lords marry off their women to the Holy Quran, so they property is kept within the family.
Women who are married off to the Holy Quran are moved to a secluded room where they are expected to cut ties with the outer world. This form of oppression has been in practice for decades and has not been abolished.
There have been instances where men have killed their daughters and sisters over property shares.
Does that sound like gender equality to you?
Many misconceptions about dowry also exist in our society. The preferred practice suggested by Islam is that the groom gives the mutually pre-decided haq mehar (dower from the groom) to the family of the bride for wedding preparation. This practice is followed in Muslim countries of the Gulf region but not in Pakistan. In Pakistan, unfortunately, the groom and his family are more interested in the dowry. Haq mehar, which is a gift for the bride is considered by many as the bride’s security settlement against divorce.
A relative of mine underwent acute panic when her father-in-law asked his son to pay her haq mehar on the second day of marriage. The poor girl, because of her lack of awareness, thought that her husband was paying her the haq mehar because he wanted a divorce.
Allah (swt) and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) have not encouraged vast spending when it comes to the wedding, but many of us go beyond our means to fulfil the terrible customs prevalent in society to make sure their ‘status’ is not adversely affected.
Preference for a male offspring
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in numerous hadith, declared the birth of a girl a great blessing for the parents but many couples show ingratitude upon a girl’s birth, without realising that the Prophet (pbuh) promises jannah (heaven) for the parents who succeed in raising their daughters well.
Before Islam, girls were killed right after birth, and now, in the modern era, mothers abort the foetus under pressure once the sex of the child is determined.
In today’s scenario, we have many cases where daughters have proven to be better help to aging parents as compared to the sons. In search of greener pastures, often enough, men forget their duties towards their parents and their well-being.
Another problem in Pakistan is unplanned pregnancies. Couples who already have three or four children opt for abortions upon the conception of other children because they feel they can’t afford to feed an additional mouth. The lack of sex-education and, in most cases, contraceptives is the main reason behind such abortions. Not only are abortions harmful to the health of the woman in question, they can also prove to be fatal. If a woman becomes pregnant, it is the responsibility of the husband to facilitate her and allow her to give birth to the child. If a child cannot be afforded, the use of contraceptives is essential.
Polygamy in Islam
The right to four marriages is again an idea gravely misunderstood in our society. This right has been given to men under the condition that his is able to provide an identical lifestyle to each of his wives. Many a times, men use this extract as a threat to their wives without realising that under Islam she is not supposed to be in any form of detriment were he to actually marry a second, third or fourth wife. While we run to accept the first half of the commandment, we deliberately ignore the part that talks about dealing equally with each wife.
A few weeks ago, I was shocked to read in the newspapers that a father had killed two of his daughters because they opposed his second marriage, after the death of their mother. A similar incident happened in Karachi, where a father killed his 11-months-old daughter due to a brawl with his wife because he couldn’t find soap in the bathroom.
Islam was revealed to abolish the barbaric customs prevalent in the society but unfortunately, even today we have leaders like Israrullah Zehri, representative of Balochistan in the Senate of Pakistan, who defends the killing and burying of women alive.
During his speech in the upper house of the parliament, he defended his clan’s crime by saying,
“These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them.”
In addition to this, the Hudood Ordinance has clauses that are against Islamic principles and is responsible for depriving women of their rights in certain situations. We have examples in Islamic history where perpetrators of crimes against women received immediate punishment upon the women’s complaint, but our society is not interested in simplifying laws to give speedy justice to women and to reduce their suffering.
In rural areas, a common problem is that the nikkah (marriages) and divorces are not registered. Many husbands divorce their wives verbally and women are sent to jail for marrying other men after the divorce, as the jealous ex-husband files a complaint to the police claiming that he had never really divorced her in the first place.
In most cases, due to the unavailability of evidence, the woman and the second husband serve the punishment. The misuse of the law in such cases has made it an instrument of oppression in the hands of vengeful former husbands and other members of the society.
The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006 provided some relief to women, but a long struggle still awaits us in giving women their due rights to get timely justice. Many laws are passed against the customs of vani and swara, in which the girl suffers. However, no concrete steps have been taken to completely abolish the barbaric customs.
People, for their own vested interests, hide or distort Islam and promote a negative image of the religion. They confuse the followers who lack religious knowledge and also allow the global community to malign Muslims.
Islam is the religion that was unveiled to eradicate the laws of illiteracy practiced against women for 1,400 years, but sadly medieval customs have prevented this from happening. Despite the Holy Quran asking Muslims to embrace Islam completely, many men only comply with edicts that meet their standards of suitability.
I hope the media, a powerful tool in our society, and religious scholars, belonging to all sects, start playing an effective role in creating awareness regarding women’s rights. Let’s hope we can all make an effort to ensure that women – all of them, not just a select few – get the justice they deserve.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.