The myth of women’s empowerment in Pakistan

16 Feb 2017

A few days back, Provincial Minister for Works and Services, Imdad Pitafi, addressed a Functional League’s member rather inappropriately, during a Sindh Assembly’s session. Needless to say, the usage of such inapt language by a selected representative for a woman is a reprehensible act. However, this valiant woman, Nusrat Sahar, protested vehemently against it – threatening to commit suicide. Upon PPP’s higher authorities’ insistence, Imadad Pitafi apologised and the entire issue was brushed under the carpet. Pakistan witnesses processions and protests everyday regarding women’s rights. It is always disseminated through these protests that women and men do not have equal rights in this country. They are harassed, abused domestically and nationally. In order to counter this, Punjab Government passed a women protection act in February 2016 according to which anybody accused of abusing (physically emotionally, sexually, and financially) or harassing a woman would be sent to Jail.

In order to understand the current state of women in Pakistan, we need to first take into account the history of women’s struggles internationally. At this point in time, the USA is the biggest and strongest democracy in the world. Women had to launch suffrage campaigns to attain voting rights even in the West. The campaign started from Berlin in 1904. UK gave its women voting rights in 1917, the USA in 1920, Pakistan in 1947 and Saudi Arabia in 2015. Dating back to the beginning of human existence, women have always been subservient to men because they are considered physically weaker than men. With the advancements in science and technology, physical power has been replaced by mental faculty as a requisite for superiority. Resultantly, women are now working side by side with men. Nevertheless, despite all the progress, there are still some countries that are experiencing cultural lag; and refuse to let go of the old, obsolete ideas regarding stereotypes attached with women. Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of them.

The silver lining is that women now seem to have moved ahead of men in a number of professions. Men who are still clinging on to the old, conventional mindset tend not to acknowledge the new reality and let their frustration out by beating the women up. Most of the underdeveloped countries that harboured repressive women rights in the past are now on their way to giving them their due part. However, the progress has been a little slow in countries like ours but this progress is inevitable, nonetheless.

If we look objectively at what is currently happening in Pakistan, we’ll realise that even though a number of institutions have been set up to reaffirm women rights, they are on a tangent to their intended objectives. Moreover, “quota” for women only adds insult to the injury. In my opinion, quota systems equate to women’s repression. When a certain government puts quota system in place for a certain group, it clearly implies that, that certain group is downtrodden, women in this case. Hence, women tend to give up and not put in the required amount of effort to come at par with the men because they know that they will eventually end up getting the seat on account of the quota system. That makes them complacent. What needs to be changed is the mindset of the society so that women get to progress ahead in their respective fields without having to rely on quota systems. This calls for social change that can only be brought by educational reforms.  These reforms need to be complimented with legal changes and media campaigns. Some people argue that women are oppressed even in the west. They are, indeed but not as much as our women are and that is exactly what we need to focus on, at the moment.

On the other hand, the so called protectors of women rights in Pakistan have opened up their own, brand new women centres and institutions instead of improving the already present. This is an epitome of redundancy. These new institutions eat up country’s resources that Pakistan is not capable of enduring, at present. Whereas, the aim should be to efficiently utilise the limited national resources. For example, we ought to encourage co-education. Punjab’s first Violence against Women Centre is being built in Multan. Doesn’t establishment of such a facility is an acknowledgment of the fact that the existing government organisations lack gender equality? What is next? Separate police centres, hospitals, universities, public transport or perhaps a separate country for each sex altogether? The mindset of creating new departments without rectifying problems within the existing ones is one of the biggest and chronic problems of governance in Pakistan. The ruling junta needs to realise that there is a difference between improving the infra-structure and social engineering. The problem does not lie within lack of manpower or departments but with the attitude and mindset of the personnel within the existing ones. Again, instead of establishing new organisations, it is the need of the hour that we divert our resources to improving; bringing in house changes in the  institutions of Education, Media,  Police, Justice system and the Parliament.

Published in “Pakistan Today” on 16 Feb 2017

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