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Pakistan: Protecting women?

Saturday 7 May 2016, by siawi3


March 06, 2016

Hassan Javid

What has the Council of Islamic Ideology ever done to improve the lives of the people of Pakistan? Is it possible to point towards a single, tangible achievement that could be used to justify the existence of this body, or is it the case that even the most superficial scrutiny of its record would expose nothing more than a long and undoubtedly unhealthy fixation with women articulated through increasingly absurd and frankly dangerous pronouncements borne out of unbridled misogyny, and geared towards reinforcing an already deeply entrenched patriarchal system in Pakistan?

The same question could be asked of Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and his colleagues in the JUI-F. What have they ever done to help anyone?

Given their long stints in government, their ministerial portfolios, their legislators, and their influence, what have they actually accomplished other than supporting militant extremists, opportunistically cutting deals with dictators and democrats alike to pursue their own interests, and repeatedly using all of their influence and clout to stymie even the smallest, most incremental moves towards the protection and empowerment of women in Pakistan?

Perhaps the most ironic thing about the opposition directed towards Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for depicting a ‘negative’ image of Pakistan in her documentaries is the utterly and totally unwarranted assumption that, prior to the production of these films, the world saw Pakistan as being some kind of utopia. The simple fact of the matter is that there is a lot that is wrong with Pakistan, and the difficulties of living in this country are only exacerbated if you happen to be a woman. Events in the past week alone should be sufficient to demonstrate the truth of this claim. For example, a young man was arrested in Sahiwal after killing his two sisters for ‘honour’. The same young man had killed his mother for the same reason four years earlier, but had escaped any punishment for doing so after being pardoned by his father. In Rahim Yar Khan, two young girls aged 9 and 11 were saved at the last minute from being married to much older men after panchayat rulings aimed at resolving familial disputes. In Lahore, a petitioner has asked the High Court to direct the relevant authorities to remove all billboards with women on them since these, and only these, were responsible for causing ‘serious moral turpitude among the youth’. The petition is being entertained by a judiciary that, as the HRCP pointed out on Friday, remains completely male-dominated; of the 137 judges of the Supreme Court and the Provincial High Courts, only seven are women.

Beyond the news items buried beneath the endless coverage of pointless cricket matches and the even more pointless political machinations of Pakistan’s ‘leaders’, the statistics speak for themselves; virtually every single indicator shows that women are worse off than men in this Pakistan. They are less educated, more malnourished, less well-off, more unhealthy, and subjected to far more violence and assault than their male counterparts. The cumulative effect of this can be seen in how, contrary to the trend in the developed parts of the world, Pakistan (like its South Asian neighbours) has one of the most skewed sex ratios on the planet with an estimated 106 men for every 100 women.

It is in this context that we must consider the hysterical reaction that religious right has had to the passage of bills against domestic violence in Punjab and KPK. At a time when an estimated four out of five women in Pakistan are subjected to some form of domestic abuse in their lifetimes, the Council of Islamic Ideology, the JUI-F, and the rest of the usual suspects have decried the new laws as being un-Islamic and unconstitutional pieces of legislation that undermine the rights of men and will consequently bring about the total collapse of society. For the purveyors of bigotry and ignorance behind these deranged rants, the fact that women are killed for ‘honour’, bartered as commodities to resolve disputes, and dying avoidable deaths due to inequitable access to healthcare and nutrition, is of no consequence.

By their twisted logic, all of this is part of our ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’, and that holding violent and abusive men to account for their transgressions is less important (and, indeed, not important at all) as long as the systematic oppression and regulation of women can continue unabated.

When confronted with the irrefutable fact that crimes against women in Pakistan are rampant, and that gender-based discrimination is widespread, it takes a particularly diseased mind to see all of this as being evidence of a desirable moral order. What makes it even worse, if that were possible, is that the position adopted by the religious right is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the regulation of female mobility and sexuality is couched in terms of male fallibility, with the assumption being that men are weak and capricious enough to be transformed into unstoppable engines of lust at the sight of a bare ankle. Yet, without batting an eye, the proponents of this theory quake with indignant rage at the merest suggestion that these same men would be able to reign in their baser instincts when given the right to perpetrate violence against the women in their homes.

What this is all indicative of, perhaps, is that claims made by the religious right about Islam or morality or, perversely enough, the ‘protection of women’ are nothing more than weak rationalisations for the continued exercise of power over women, and that the ferocity with which challenges to this patriarchal order are received belies deep-seated masculine insecurities. As is often the case in life and politics, those most vociferously arguing against changing the status quo are little more than small, pathetic men who can only feel good about themselves by kicking yet more dirt in the faces of those less fortunate than themselves.

The most ironic thing about the opposition directed towards Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for depicting a ‘negative’ image of Pakistan in her documentaries is the utterly and totally unwarranted assumption that, prior to the production of these films, the world saw Pakistan as being some kind of utopia.