When Prophet Muhammad (SAW) delivered the gift of Islam, he brought a revolution in women’s rights. Women were to be respected in Islam. Women were to have rights. This was not only to be found in the teachings of Qur’an, but in the lessons of the Sunnah also. Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) first wife Khadija was a successful and influential business woman of her own making. She was also a close confidant of the Prophet who did not keep her locked away. The first Muslims included women who engaged in community affairs. They spoke out. They had a voice. In one famous incident, Hazrat Umar (RA) was announcing a change to the rule of mahr when a woman in the crowd loudly quoted an Ayat that contradicted his proposal. Hazrat Umar (RA) is said to have smiled and said, “The women of Medina know Qur’an better than Umar!” As Khalifa he even appointed a woman to oversee the market of Medina. History is filled with such incidents, supporting the words of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), “Allah enjoins you to treat women well” and “the rights of women are sacred”. Are we living up to the example of the Prophet today?
In the 2010 film, ‘Bhutto’, we were reminded that when Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister in 1997, the Army resented having to salute a woman. Fourteen years later, Hina Rabbani Khar was appointed Foreign Minister, she was dismissed as less than serious as pundits preferred to focus on her wardrobe instead of her portfolio. The latest target of the ‘old boys club’ is the new Defence Secretary, Nargis Sethi. Is it just coincidence, or are men so scared of powerful women that they have to try to discredit them from the start?
But while powerful women might be dismissed and disrespected, it is the powerless who suffer the most. A new report of Aurat Foundation released yesterday found violence against women on the rise.
As many as 3,153 incidents of violence against women were reported in the Punjab during July 2011 and December 2011.
It states that incidents of kidnappings were the most reported crime (860), with Sargodha on the top of the list with 90 reported abductions. As many as 19 women were subjected to various forms of violence on daily basis with five being kidnapped everyday.
The statistics represent a two per cent rise in violent crime against women compared to the first six months of 2011. It also indicated that the incidence of violence in the rural areas was greater than in the urban areas.
More than 170 women were killed in the name of ‘honour’ from July to December, most of them under 25 years old.
In most of the almost 500 rape and attempted-rape cases that alleged offenders were related to the victims in one way or the other. The rape cases were reported from Lahore, Kasur, Sialkot, Pakpattan and Multan districts.
The highest number of incidents of violence was reported from Lahore (248), followed by Rawalpindi (239).
And let us not forget the case of Mukhtar Mai, the woman who was brutally gang raped on the order of a panchayat – the same system of ‘justice’ that Imran Khan promises to expand in Pakistan. She not only suffered the pain of the attack only to suffer the further injustice of seeing her attackers set free by the court, and then the added humiliation of a disgusting media attack.
Sadly, Mukhtar Mai’s case was not an isolated incident. Just this week, Peshawar High Court directed PC KP to take departmental action against a group of 29 officers involved in the kidnapping and rape of Uzma Ayub.
This is not to say that there is no hope. Last month Omar Derawal termed 2011 as ‘Year of the Woman’ due to the number of important laws that the government passed guaranteeing the rights and security of women. But laws are only as strong as the society that possesses them. Laws are important, but not as important as our own attitudes and behaviours. It is here that we are failing. Simply put, we are failing to live up to the commandments of Allah and the example of the Prophet (SAW).