Gender equality for women: A dream that never comes true in Pakistan
APRIL 05 SWAT, PAKISTAN: Today women are not as much suppressed as they used to be in the past. But they are not as much independent and free as they should be. They are fettered. But they fetters are invisible. Some people name it family honor. Some call it tradition. Many tag it culture. This fetter/chain has too many names and shapes. And behind this shackle there is a diehard mindset that breeds on ignorance and intolerance. To make women emancipated, this mindset has to be subdued. To subdue it, the first step is creating awareness followed by forming regulations, laws and implementations. The United Nations and its member states observe “Women’s International Day” not only to create awareness but also to remind governments around the world to keep its words they have made with the international community in terms of protecting women’s rights. All over the world, this day represents an opportunity to celebrate the gains of women while calling for greater equality. Make It Happen is the 2015 theme. And the major breakthrough will happen when we see “Made It Happen”. To reach this goal, it will surely take really much longer and lots of energies. Nevertheless, one day it will happen. Every year International Women’s Day is observed on March 08. For the first time it was held in 1911. Though March has already gone and we are in April. But the theme is as concerned today as it was centuries ago.
Therefore, The Oslo Times attempted to have a look at what is the status of women’s rights in Pakistan, particularly the Valley of Swat—in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This scenic valley was once an abode of peace and a tourist resort for locals as well as foreigners. Swat was considered to be the Switzerland of Pakistan but unfortunately a few years back this region was gradually infested by the Taliban—who unleashed the floodgates of terror and suppression. A military operation was launched to purge the region of the militants. The valley has been declared militancy-free, but what is the status of the women’s rights?
Salma Bibi is dandling her baby while her pale and poverty-stricken face speaks a hundred tales of the throes of her life . TOT/ file photo
Salma Bibi, a 19-year-old “woman” was married at the age of nine to a widower, who was fourth time of her age. When she started unloading her chest, tears welled out of her eyes. She said the ordeals she had gone through are unspeakable. “My father burrowed some money from my husband. When he found himself unable to pay him back along with the interests, he settled the matter with him I was forced to marry the creditor”.
“I didn’t even know what a married life means. I used to play with the children in the street in the remote mountainous area of the valley with other children. One day I realized that the nightmares from which I have passed through most of the times, especially in the dead of the cool nights, transformed me from being a girl to a mother. “I deliver an amputee, who died at the third day of the delivery, but caused me severe back pain, a pain for life,” she said.
Salma said that after the birth of her fifth child, who turns to be the last.
A cesarean section, or c-section, is the delivery of a baby through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus.
She said her last child was born through C-section and doctors told her that it was her last time to be able to give birth to a child. A C-section (a cesarean section) is the delivery of a child through a surgical incision in the uterus and abdomen of the mother. She said her husband pushed her to born a male child. Her voice turned faint as if it will stop when she said that I cannot that sultry afternoon when he left the home and didn’t come back. “Yes his dead body was brought home,” she said. “He was killed on the spot,” she said. Justice prevailed neither in my case nor in the unidentified driver who killed my husband. To satiate the pangs of hunger and to keep feeding my children, I do menial jobs—scouring utensils and washing clothes for well-off families, and at times begging. “Hunger is the ruthless cruel and a greatest pain particularly when you run out of all roads and find yourself unable to get something for eating,” she bewailed. This is not the case of one Salma—who is living in Swat—rather this is something universal. In another but similar case, Nashia Begum, was sold in upper parts of the Swat valley. The man who sold her was none other than her own father. The buyer married her. But this marriage was also short-lived as they could live together only for two years. During this span of time, she gave birth to two female babies. But her husband died. She landed in a double whammy when her in-laws told her to leave their house. When she reached her father’s house, he also turned his face away.
Lal Gulono is another case. She eloped with her lover-hubby. As elopement is considered to be serious cultural and social taboo and a matter of family honor in Pashtun society, the two cannot even thought of returning to their native village.
Aisha Bibi, a middle aged plain looking woman who is a staff member at the health department in Swat also faces extreme gender prejudice particularly when it comes to duty times. “I conducted a small survey regarding what girls staffers feel during working hours. It ignited a serious issue. I raised the matter with several NGOs, but none of them dare to stand up for others. None is ready to embrace death for the purpose of creating awareness and standing up for justice and rights to condemn harassment openly,” she lamented. “I want to take up the cudgels. I want to raise the issue in media. I want to tell the World what is happening with female staffers at the hands of male members. However if I raise my voice I will have to leave my job,” she said.
Gul Bano, a miner who works in mines in the mountainous region of Swat said that during her lifelong experiences she concluded that many women in the area are given priority when it comes to job opportunities in mining industry. “And it is not because a section of society wants the women empowered, but the men pay them less and make them work for over 10 hours, “I used to work for more than 13 hours for just Rs.6, 000 annually while most of the male workers would just carry out minimal jobs of supervision. No sexual harassment occurs on the surface however, deep down many male ogle us when we work” she explained.
Musarrat Khan a social worker while commenting on the issue in such words: “How we can help families escape this inequality trap? There are several measures that can be taken at the state and household levels.” She added there is a dire need for better provision of public safety nets particularly support during old age, as well as improving labor market conditions for women. “And it should be at the state level,” she stressed. Musarrat added that a key factor that helped in fighting gender discrimination is the expansion of job opportunities for women in labor market.
Once women’s earning capacities improve, not only is the economic imperative that drives parents to invest in boys will be removed but women also will have more freedom in decision-making.
THE TAKEDOWN OF HUMAN RIGTHS ACTIVISTS ON WOMEN’S PLIGHT
The trend of the time doesn’t go in favor of women’s rights success in Pakistan. When other nations of the World are encouraging their women to land on Mars, male breadwinners in Pakistan are suppressing their fundamental rights particularly the right to “education”. And the result is millions of women are illiterate. Violence against women is steadily on the rise as more and more cases of violence are being reported. On top of that, in many conservative parts of the country, cases are even not let to be reported because the perpetrators are many times those called blood relatives. This suppression is called a matter of ‘family honor.’ Study reveals there has been a persistent hike in rape cases, honor killing and human trafficking, swapping women in settling family disputes, blood vendettas, and forced child marriages are still rife in the society we live in. It’s not something new rather it has been there since time immemorial. Women, unfortunately, have always been treated as an object, a subhuman, or a tool of beauty to satiate the desires and lusts of men. When it comes to emancipating women from the grips of centuries-old traditions and customs, male dominance and economic bondage, perhaps the reverse is happening in Pakistan. Laws that protect batterers are on the rise and Pakistan is painting itself as one of the most conservative nations by listening to its clergy that says a rape victim will to have to bring in four witnesses to the court instead of banking upon forensic reports.
Similarly, Gulalai Ismail, a social worker who runs an NGO “Aware Girls” for women’s empowerment while commenting on the issue said that the term gender equality is in fashion these days in Pakistan, though it has not yet been recognized as an issue.
The Oslo Times