By: Hifsa Aziz
The Pakistanis are a paradoxical bunch. However, stating the obvious has become ludicrously important in a society simmering under the constant pressure of conflicting ideologies and needs. Case in point: Pakistani men’s continuous passion for, and the possessiveness towards the Pakistani women.
With a conservative mindset conflated with sexism, it comes as no surprise that women have long since been shunned from the public sphere. Even though things have begun to change since the last decade, owing largely to factors like urbanization and globalization, a significant number of women still suffer from the unchanged patriarchal system and rampant male chauvinism. This includes even those who have abandoned the four walls to join ranks with their male counterparts.
Ours is a society where women are encouraged to waste their lives and talents, locked up inside their dwellings to protect their honor – and yet honor means so little in exchange for money.
Ours is a society where women are censured for interacting with men (platonically or otherwise) before marriage (as they are strangers) and yet expected to consummate it with a total stranger as soon as possible (if not within a day) after the marriage ceremony.
Ours is a society where religion is used to hide women from view and yet this same society is an avid consumer of porn.
To solely blame religion for the attitude men have towards women in this country is equivalent to dusting the surface. The real problem lies primarily in the male sense of entitlement. The origin of this phenomenon is rooted in the biological differences between the sexes and both religion and culture are used to legitimize it. Let me be clear however, that the use and abuse of religion and/or culture does not mean that they themselves are exonerated – both endorse the secondary status of women, thereby validating the quagmire of entitlement.
And so the male need to discipline “their” women, keeping a check on them and making decisions for them under the guise of respect, as well as feeling entitled to the respect and affection of women who “don’t belong to them” arises, develops and ultimately prevails. Not only does this attitude objectify a whole community, it also maintains the privileged position that the men in our country hold. To survive, to protest, to uphold women’s rights, both men and women try to appeal to the better nature of the adherents of patriarchy by highlighting women through their relation to the men in their lives, ergo, keeping the status quo intact.
The Punjab Assembly’s comprehensive Women Protection Bill is a step forward in addressing the problem. And although there are people opposing it by terming it un-Islamic, it is vital to understand that religion is once again being used to further a sexist agenda. Add to the mix Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s timely win and you will find the same group of people narrowing down both these achievements to the time-honored term of “the western agenda” – an equivocal phrase constituting all actions perceived to be a threat to Islam. If this claim is not reviewed, these individuals will themselves become a threat to the religion they apparently wish to protect.
Pakistan’s progress lies in the emancipation of her women, in creating safe spaces for them to function within and fostering collaborative efforts between both sexes on an equal footing. It needs not only to introduce bills addressing the numerous problems faced by the women but also ensure proper implementation and timely evaluation of concerned individuals.
The writer is working with daily Capital Times Islamabad