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.