Khawaja Asif’s Attack on Shireen Mazari Symptom of Larger Problem

Khawaja AsifI don’t usually agree with Shireen Mazari on political matters, but I have always admired her as a strong woman. She has always handled herself and managed to keep up with the boys in our political arena which is not known for its politeness. This is why it was all the more shocking to me when none other than Shireen Mazari herself was reduced to tears on the floor of the National Assembly after suffering a humiliating treatment by Khawaja Asif. After being held to account in the media for treating a woman in such a manner, the Defence Minister finally issued an apology. However, he did not apologise to Shireen Mazari, he apologised to the National Assembly.  Many people are commenting on Khawaja Asif’s terrible behaviour, but I believe he is not the only one to blame. Was his attack really a surprise? Not because Mazari deserved it. Never. It was not a surprise because it is only another symptom of the epidemic of woman hating in this country.

How much do we have to hate women to burn them alive? This was not an accident. Women are set on fire in this country like trash. It happens more often than we are willing to admit. When women are not set on fire, they are raped. Even school girls are not safe from rapists. Rapes are even recorded and shared for entertainment. Incidents of violence against women are soaring in the land of the pure. Even those who are supposed to protect us are involved. Is it any surprise? Our clerics teach that treating women like dogs is the will of Allah.

Khawaja Asif’s attack on Shireen Mazari is inexcusable. He is a government minister who behaved worse than an illiterate street urchin. It is no surprise to me, though. I am old enough now that it is what I expect from most men. Khawaja Asif’s apology tells everything you need to know. He did not apologise to the victim of his attack, because one does not apologise to a woman. He didn’t even say that his behaviour was wrong. He said it was ‘improper for a political worker’. Until we accept that such behaviour is not only improper for politicians, but for any man, how can we as women expect to be treated as fully human, much less full citizens?

Media Malika-e-Jazbaatis

Knowing that Sana Bucha is one of my favourite TV anchors, my mother sent me a link to Maheen Ghani’s interview with Sana Bucha for Newsline Magazine. As a young woman who aspires to have an impact on the world, I see her as something of a role model. Yes, I read the fashion and entertainment news also, but what inspires me about Sana is that she reports on serious topics and does not allow herself to be limited by gender stereotypes. I was excited to read the interview, but while I was reading it, my heart sank. Not because of what Sana said, but because of what Maheen asked.

Sana did a great job of explaining that professional and successful women are not some Western creation, either, but come from all parts of society. She also explained that just because talk shows were mostly hosted by men, she did not accept that it was out of her reach to be a successful host herself only because she is a woman.

I have never really thought ‘I’m not a man, therefore, I can’t do something.’ Actually, in our society, there are many fields more dominated by women than men. There is a perception, for example, that modelling is a women’s profession, not a man’s.

As I said, the interview was inspiring me. But then the question came that made my heart sink.

Q: You have covered some extremely emotional stories like the one on the Sialkot lynching. Being a woman anchor, was it difficult for you to hold your emotions in check or did you manage to keep your cool?

Being a woman anchor…? Why would it be any more difficult for a woman anchor to hold back her emotions or manage to keep her cool than a man anchor? In the midst of an inspiring interview about how women can break down the barriers of sexism, up comes an age old sexist stereotype that women are “emotional” and can’t keep their cool in difficult situations. It’s not just women, however, who sometimes let their emotions get the better of them. Actually, looking at high profile journalists, is it really the women who lose their cool?

Since Twitter has gained popularity, many high profile journalists have joined and use the social media site daily. These guys have filled their Twitter feeds with petty gossips, insults, and emotional rants. Following some of our more prominent men TV anchors on Twitter is like having a never ending live feed of a Star Plus drama. Seriously, some moustaches will never be full enough to fully hide the phappay kutnis underneath.

Meanwhile, woman journalists on Twitter like Sana Bucha and Ayesha Tammy Haq have Twitter feeds that are informative. Where some of the men are re-Tweeting trolls and other juvenile insults, the women are debating and educating. Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be about?

And it’s not just Twitter, either. Watch a few episodes of some of the talk shows hosted by men and see how often they turn into emotional shouting matches. Maybe we should be asking why these men cannot control themselves and behave in a professional way.

Thankfully, after the question about whether Sana could control her emotions, the interview got back to important questions about journalism and the struggles of a woman in a field dominated by men. Women have a lot to contribute to whatever career we choose, but we still have a lot of stereotypes to overcome while we do it. Thankfully, young women like myself have role models like Sana Bucha who refuse to be intimidated by these stereotypes.

Year of the Woman

Women demand end to domestic violenceWhile foreign issues continue to dominate the headlines, progress is being seen on the home front. Cases such as Mukhtar Mai and her mistreatment by some in the media have put the plight of women in the spot light, and the government has responded positively by taking up the important issues of women’s rights. It may be too much to term this as ‘Year of the Woman’, but the many gains in women’s rights brought by this government should not go ignored or forgotten.

It was March 2010 that saw President Zardari signing the historic Protection Against Harrassment of Women at Workplace Bill ensuring equal rights for men and women in accordance with the Constitution. At the time, many doubted whether this was simply a political move or if the government would continue to make women’s rights a priority.

This week, parliament has passed multiple bills to protect the rights of women. On Tuesday, Senate passed another pro-women bill, Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Bill 2011, to provide financial and legal assistance to distressed women languishing in jails of the country. Passage of the bill drew praise from Concerned Citizens of Pakistan (CCP) who urged the president to speedily sign the bill so that it can become part of the law books before year’s end.

Passage of this bill came soon after the Senate unanimously passed two other pro-woman bills, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill and Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill.

The Senate on Monday unanimously passed two private member bills which prohibit forced marriage, marriage with Quran, restricting women to get their rightful share in inheritance and giving women in exchange for settlement of disputes and severe punishment to criminals hurting women caused by corrosive substances.

These bills include punishments of over 10 years imprisonment and fines up to Rs1 million which serves as a stern warning against such acts.

But it is not only these important acts of the parliament that have shown signs of progress for women. Earlier this year we saw the appointment of the first woman Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar who despite being initially mocked for her fashion sense – ridicule that was never suffered by her well-dressed male predecessor – has proven to be a shrewd negotiator and a strong voice for Pakistan.

More recently, MNA Sherry Rehman was appointed as the new Ambassador to the United States, the world’s greatest power. Though Sherry Rehman is not the first woman Ambassador to the US, she is known to be a strong advocate of women and minority rights and her appointment has brought more attention to these important issues.

Obviously, the issue of women’s rights is one that needs continued attention and the progress that has been made this year has not been enough. But it has been progress, and in Pakistan, we must take care not to ignore progress where we can find it. Today, our mother, sisters and daughters have greater respect and protection than they did since even one week ago. As we continue with this progress, we prove wrong our detractors and those who claim that Islam is anti-woman. Actually, by protecting the rights of women we are updating our laws and our society to make them better conform to the requirements of Islam and the example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who respect for the rights and dignity of all women.

Schizophrenia On Women’s Rights

Schizophrenia on women's rights

Two diametrically opposed articles on the status of women’s rights in this country appear in today’s news. They should both be read together, hopefully resulting in an open and honest discussion of one of the great . For all the Ghairat Brigade’s moaning and wailing about issues of foreign policy, where are they when our national honor is truly being assaulted? I am talking, of course, about the way that we treat women’s rights.

Ayesha Ijaz Khan says that Asma Jahangir’s election is historic not only because she is a woman but because she is an independent woman who was elected on her own merit. There can be no accusations of sympathy votes or other influences, only a woman being elected based on her record of leadership.

Notwithstanding the strategic support of other influential and conscientious members of the bar, Asma’s own hard work, courage and independent-mindedness over the years and through the darkest periods of Pakistan’s history cannot be overlooked. Whether one looks domestically or to the Philippines, India or Bangladesh, women have won elections on the back of sympathy votes after male members of their family have been martyred. Asma has done it all on her own.

As such, Asma’s role as president SCBA may very well be greater than that of any other woman politician. Women have played an increasing yet limited role in Pakistan’s politics since Musharraf’s introduction of the reserved seats. Though not a bad way to boost female participation in politics, women who have availed of these seats are either beholden to familial politics or more obliged to toe the party lines for lack of their own constituencies. Asma’s independence, however, cannot be curtailed by either of these considerations, so the SCBA under her watch will surely be a potent force.

And indeed Ayesha is correct. Asma’s election does make this point, and it certainly is a good omen for the future of women in politics. But most women are not politicians, they are not lawyers, and they do not have the resources or the support to be independent and self-confident like Asma Jahangir and Ayesha Ijaz Khan.

So before we start praising ourselves too much for Asma’s fortune, let us keep in the front our minds that the fate of too many women in this country is described more accurately by Yasser Latif Hamdani’s column in Daily Times today.

To start with, in many parts of this country women are treated worse than cattle. Not only are women discriminated against by custom and tradition but also by the inheritance law and the law of evidence. Imagine our embarrassment as lawyers when we advise foreign clients to use male witnesses on contracts because thanks to General Zia our law does not think women are credible in financial matters.

For a society obsessed with shame and honour we also believe in honour killing. One of our judges, who rose to be the president of this country thanks to one of the major political parties, had ruled that women had no say in deciding who to marry. Relying on misinterpretation of the Holy Quran by lazy clerics, the men in Pakistan have a free hand in abusing their wives, both sexually and physically.

Women, who despite all these handicaps make it in professional and public lives, become fair game, often by other women. Consider the case of Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan abusing Kashmala Tariq shamelessly on TV, while the TV anchor egged her on.

One is reminded of the events after the rigged elections of 1965 when Gohar Ayub Khan carried out a procession allegedly with a female dog to signify none other than Ms Fatima Jinnah, who is widely considered a founding mother of Pakistan. While it said nothing about Fatima Jinnah, it indicates what the Pakistani male thinks and feels about women. A woman to the geniuses of Pakistan can be either mother or a loose woman and at the end of the day even the mother becomes a loose woman.

This mentality reached its zenith when a proud president in uniform declared that women in Pakistan get raped to get Canadian citizenship.

This is not news. I’ve pointed out the hypocrisy of the self-appointed Ghairat Brigade when they took to the streets to protest the treatment of Dr Aafia, but refuse to lend any help to the plight of our daughters here at home. We have known about this double-mindset on women’s rights for some time.

The election of Asma to president of SCBA is indeed historic, and her level-headed thinking will hopefully inject some reason into what have become unnecessarily contentious debates. But let us also use this occasion to recall that no all women in this country have the same rights and privileges as Asma Jahangir. But that will never change until we decide to make it change.

Yasser Latif Hamdani says that just as America’s NPR fired a reporter for making derogatory comments about Muslims, so our own media should show the same respect for our own daughters and refuse to continue paying a handsome salary to Syed Talat Hussain after his vicious anti-woman rant in Daily Express.

It will be informative to see if DawnNews, Talat Hussain’s new employer, will show more respect to this type of bigoted, anti-woman talk or if they will show more respect to women. Sadly, I think I can predict the outcome.

We must break this cycle of hypocrisy and schizophrenia on women’s rights. Sexist bigots will continue to spout their nonsense in the media, and vicious bullies will continue to beat their wives and daughters (and much worse) until we as a society take a stand and say THIS STOPS NOW.

Sana Saleem: Distorted priorities?

Sana SaleemHow many of us remember the three-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped and thrown in a sewer, or the 13-year-old boy from Korangi who was gang-raped on Eid-ul-Fitr last year, or the five-year-old girl who was raped, strangled and later recovered from a garbage dump at a ground in Gizri?

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Annual Report 2009:

“968 children, 285 boys and 683 girls were sexually abused. Around 1,404 women murdered, including 647 in the name of ‘honour’. Around 928 women were raped and some 563 committed suicide.”

Another survey, conducted by Sahil, an NGO which raises awareness regarding child sexual abuse and exploitation, paints a haunting image:

“Out of a total of 1,216 cases reported in six months, 331 boys, whereas 885 girls had been sexually abused, and the percentage of the female cases was 72 per cent as compared to 28 per cent of male cases.”

Rape is grossly under-reported in Pakistan. The culture of silence and shame has been one of the biggest hurdles victims face. It is then a pity that the few, who choose to overlook cultural barriers and gather the courage to come forth, are forced to go through the ordeal for years before justice is served. In most instances, alleged rapists are acquitted due to loopholes in our judicial system, while sometimes the victims are pressurised to withdraw their case. The role of police in such cases has been extremely notorious. For instance, take the case of a 10-year-old boy from Lahore; despite medico-legal reports proving rape had occurred, the police was reluctant to file an FIR against the accused pedophile.

In Khipro, a student of class X was given sedatives and gang-raped but her ordeal wasn’t over. The heinous crime was filmed via a mobile phone camera and the video posted on various websites. In the aftermath of the incident, parents of more than 100,000 students have stopped their daughters from attending schools and colleges.

Even more shocking are reports of an alleged gang of blackmailers comprising boys and girls, from ‘respectable’ families, who have sexually assaulted girls, recorded videos of the victims and used it to blackmail the victim’s parent or posted it on the Internet.

What kind of people would commit such an atrocious crime, film it and upload the videos on the Internet is beyond me. Unfortunately, this is not new phenomenon, such incidences have been reported before. In March 2009, a teenage boy was gang-raped in police custody and the footage distributed over the Internet. Child porn continues to be accessed throughout Pakistan and now,  rape videos have also joined the league yet we see no outrage by these ‘upholders of morals and justice.’ The lack of coverage and public outrage at such incidents is extremely disturbing and worrisome. But then our priorities have been distorted for quite sometime. It is a pity that we live in a country where hundreds will march on the streets, calling for an all out ban on social media platforms because of an isolated incident, while horrifying stories of abuse do not merit our anger. If alarming figures from the HRCP reports and the increasing incidences of rape and abuse of women and children does not bring us back to our senses, I don’t know what will.

Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.