Saturday, March 8, 2008

Are Women In Pakistan Better Off Today?

As the world celebrates International Women's Day today, it is natural to ask if Pakistani women have made substantial real progress in the last 5 years under President Musharraf. The answer to this question depends on who you ask and how you judge women's progress. In terms of the women's political representation in the nation's parliament, there has clearly never been a better time. The discriminatory laws such as the Hudood ordnance have been repealed. There are other indicators such as women's presence in the traditional male professions such as law, medicine, business, the police and the military. We have seen women inducted and grow in numbers in each of these male-dominated areas. Women's ranks have also grown in the nation's mass media and they are much freer than ever to express themselves in the choice of appearance, speech, dress, arts, entertainment etc. There have even been performances of The Vagina Monologues in Pakistan. Localized with Urdu and Punjabi words, The Vagina Monologues was first staged in Islamabad in 2003 for an audience of 160, mostly women, followed by performances for mixed audiences in Karachi and Lahore. Organized with AMAL, an NGO working on gender rights in Pakistan, the actresses added information about local incidents of violence against women and honor killings.

Along with the signs of women's progress in Pakistan, there have also been high-profile incidents of violence against women, such as the rape of Mukhtaran Mai that forced an honest discussion and debate on the status of women in rural Pakistan. Most of the women represented in Pakistani parliament are from the same privileged, feudal class that is largely responsible for discrimination against women in Pakistan. The women in parliament have not been particularly vocal in raising the women's issues in parliament and they have not offered any serious legislation other than the Women's Protection Bill that was offered and passed because of President Musharraf's personal intervention. The word "feudal princess" often used to describe late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto applies well to the majority the women members of parliament in Pakistan. There is a continuing large literacy gap of as much as 45 percent between men and women and the opportunities for rural women's education remain elusive.

In summary, the Musharraf era has seen measurable progress in improving the situation for women. However, a lot more needs to be done. What is really needed is a fundamental change in social attitudes toward women, particularly in rural Pakistan. A massive effort is required to make both men and women aware of the need and the benefits of women's empowerment for a better future of Pakistan. Healthy, educated and empowered women can help bring up better children to build Pakistan as a modern society that cares for its people.


Masadi said...

Some would argue convincingly that the oppression of women in advanced capitalistic societies is greater than that in classical patriarchal (agricultural) societies. Not only have the roles of women based on sexuality and motherhood been retained in advanced capitalism, marriage has been weakened and sexuality cheapened (thereby logically reducing the status of women in such societies) and equal opportunity has not been created in the job sphere to compensate for that (Hochschild 1983).

Further, women’s oppressors are hidden (unlike patriarchal societies) leading to self blame and invisibility of targets of resistance (Marcuse 1964:32). Also, added to this mix of ultra oppression is the fact of objectification of women (Kilbourne 1999, Marcuse 1964), something unique to capitalist modes of production. The physical veil has been replaced by an implicit personality veil where women are valued based upon sexuality and motherhood only, making everything else about them effectively invisible.

Hochschild, Arlie. 1983 (2003). The Managed Heart. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kilbourne, Jean. 1999. Deadly Persuasion. New York: The Free Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. 1964. One-Dimensional Man. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Marcuse writes "Hatred and Frustration are deprived of their specific target, and the technological veil conceals the reproduction of inequality and enslavement...the slaves of developed industrial civilization are sublimated slaves but they are slaves, for slavery is determined. This is the pure form of servitude: to exist as an instrument, as a thing" (page320)

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some interesting revelations about Gandhi's attitude toward women, as published in the Guardian newspaper:

During Gandhi's time as a dissident in South Africa, he discovered a male youth had been harassing two of his female followers. Gandhi responded by personally cutting the girls' hair off, to ensure the "sinner's eye" was "sterilised". Gandhi boasted of the incident in his writings, pushing the message to all Indians that women should carry responsibility for sexual attacks upon them. Such a legacy still lingers. In the summer of 2009, colleges in north India reacted to a spate of sexual harassment cases by banning women from wearing jeans, as western-style dress was too "provocative" for the males on campus.

Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped lost their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community honour. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done, and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of "shame". Gandhi also waged a war against contraceptives, labelling Indian women who used them as whores.

Like all men who wage a doomed war with their own sexual desires, Gandhi's behaviour around females would eventually become very, very odd. He took to sleeping with naked young women, including his own great-niece, in order to "test" his commitment to celibacy. The habit caused shock and outrage among his supporters. God knows how his wife felt.

Gandhi cemented, for another generation, the attitude that women were simply creatures that could bring either pride or shame to the men who owned them. Again, the legacy lingers. India today, according to the World Economic Forum, finds itself towards the very bottom of the gender equality index. Indian social campaigners battle heroically against such patriarchy. They battle dowry deaths. They battle the honour killings of teenage lovers. They battle Aids. They battle female foeticide and the abandonment of new-born girls.

yogadhamma said...

Mr Riaz, I used to think that at last we have found one sane voice in Pakistan, but to my dismay I have to say that you too choose to be biased, blind and bigoted. On every account you want to prove that Indian society is a backward, archaic society, whilst Pakistanis are forward looking and progressive. Yes, I don’t mind in accepting the fact that in India there are loads of issues and problems but the fight is on and the struggle is not yet over. At least we are headed in the right direction and moving on, albeit slowly. We are on a journey and the destination is not far. Unfortunately, your attitude is neither benefitting you nor your country. Kindly wake up and awaken your folks too. You are doing disservice to your own people. You must change the self-destructive direction your society is headed towards. You can gauge the immensity of the problem from the fact that many a decent people of Pakistani origin whom I met in the US, now introduce themselves as “Indians”. Indeed, a non-bigoted, unbiased, fair-minded Pakistani is no different than an Indian.

Riaz Haq said...

Anjali" "but to my dismay I have to say that you too choose to be biased, blind and bigoted."

Aren't you the same person who offered the following comment on my post "Pakistani Myths About India's Resurgence?

"To India’s great fortune, today People are waking up to the fact that the origin of the caste system was very sophisticated and well thought off."

Anjali, Here are the realities of the caste discrimination in India:

Over 250 million people are victims of caste-based discrimination and segregation in India. They live miserable lives, shunned by much of society because of their ranks as untouchables or Dalits at the bottom of a rigid caste system in Hindu India. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in slave-like conditions, and routinely abused, even killed, at the hands of the police and of higher-caste groups that enjoy the state's protection, according to Human Rights Watch.

In support of its assertions of Dalit abuse in India, the Human Rights Watch has documented the following abuses:

* Over 100,000 cases of rape, murder, arson, and other atrocities against Dalits are reported in India each year. Given that Dalits are both reluctant and unable (for lack of police cooperation) to report crimes against themselves, the actual number of abuses is presumably much higher.

* India's own agencies have reported that these cases are typically related to attempts by Dalits to defy the social order, or demand minimum wages and their basic human rights. Many of the atrocities are committed by the police. Even perpetrators of large-scale massacres have escaped prosecution.

* An estimated forty million people in India, among them fifteen million children, are bonded laborers, working in slave-like conditions in order to pay off a debt. A majority of them are Dalits.

* According to government statistics, an estimated one million Dalits are manual scavengers who clear feces from public and private latrines and dispose of dead animals; unofficial estimates are much higher.

* The sexual slavery of Dalit girls and women continues to receive religious sanction. Under the devadasi system, thousands of Dalit girls in India's southern states are ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or to a temple. Once dedicated, they are unable to marry, forced to become prostitutes for upper-caste community members, and eventually auctioned into an urban brothel.

I am not surprised that you think I am bigoted because I point out such immoral, inhumane, and reprehensible practices based on caste and gender.

Riaz Haq said...

While Fareed Zakaria, Nick Kristoff and other talking heads are still stuck on the old stereotypes of Muslim women, the status of women in Muslim societies is rapidly changing, and there is a silent social revolution taking place with rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder in Pakistan.

"More of them(women) than ever are finding employment, doing everything from pumping gasoline and serving burgers at McDonald’s to running major corporations", says a report in the latest edition of Businessweek magazine.

Beyond company or government employment, there are a number of NGOs focused on encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship among Pakistani women by offering skills training and microfinancing. Kashf Foundation led by a woman CEO and BRAC are among such NGOs. They all report that the success and repayment rate among female borrowers is significantly higher than among male borrowers.

In rural Sindh, the PPP-led government is empowering women by granting over 212,864 acres of government-owned agriculture land to landless peasants in the province. Over half of the farm land being given is prime nehri (land irrigated by canals) farm land, and the rest being barani or rain-dependent. About 70 percent of the 5,800 beneficiaries of this gift are women. Other provincial governments, especially the Punjab government have also announced land allotment for women, for which initial surveys are underway, according to ActionAid Pakistan.

Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan's workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AFP report on Pakistan Army's first female paratroopers:

Pakistan’s first group of female paratroopers completed their training on Sunday, the military announced, hailing it as a “landmark achievement” for the deeply conservative Muslim country.
Captain Kiran Ashraf was declared the best paratrooper of the batch of 24, the military said in a statement, while Captain Sadia, referred to by one name, became the first woman officer to jump from a MI-17 helicopter.
Women have limited opportunities in Pakistan’s highly traditional, patriarchal society. The United Nations says only 40 percent of adult women are literate, and are frequently the victims of violence and abuse.
But in 2006, seven women broke into one of Pakistan’s most exclusive male clubs to graduate as fighter pilots - perhaps the most prestigious job in the powerful military and for six decades closed to the fairer sex.
After three weeks’ basic airborne training, which included exit, flight and landing techniques, the new paratroopers completed their first jump on Sunday and were given their “wings” by the commander of Special Services Group, Major General Abid Rafique, the military said.

Riaz Haq said...

One recently became the country’s first female fighter jet pilot. The other is CEO of a group of schools. Yet another left an engineering degree to become captain of the national cricket team.
Though terrorism has plagued Pakistan, women are bravely making inroads in different fields, defying all odds to represent the modern face of their country.
News and images of honour killings and acid attacks on women in the country often make headlines around the world, but the progress made by Pakistan’s women is hardly shown.
Women in Pakistan are building impressive careers, launching successful, independent ventures of their own and training young girls to follow in their footsteps.
With impressive resumes and university pedigrees that rival most male executives, these women are making waves.
“Most women in Pakistan are extremely progressive in their presence in every field whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, fashion, performing arts or business but all we need is to portray them positively,” said Ambreen K, who is pioneer member of the Pakistan Change Initiative (PCI) — a Dubai-based group working to highlight positive image of Pakistan. Ambreen said the PCI strives to present the positive side of the country through various events.
“We recently held an event in Dubai to showcase modern face of Pakistani women and their contribution to the society and it was a big hit,” she said.
Though traditional gender roles still exist for many women in Pakistan, some are making impressive gains.
They are part of a growing cadre of women who are determined to move forward despite threats from hardliners.
Women make up slightly more than half of Pakistan’s population of 180 million. Though only 17 per cent of them are considered “economically active”, given the chance they have proved their mettle in every field.
The women in Pakistan have never been so proud as when First Lt Ayesha Farooq became the first female fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force in 2013.
She had joined the Air Force at the age of 17 after battling to convince her mother to let her realise her dreams.
Cultural practices used to prevent many women from working outside their homes in Pakistan. Today, that is changing. More women are now leading a number of successful businesses in various industries while creating previously unheard of opportunities for other women.
One such woman is Fatima, an educationist and model in Lahore.
Fatima is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Beaconhouse School System, a network of private schools founded by her mother-in-law. Another example is Sana Mir, captain of Pakistan’s women’s cricket team, who has become a great inspiration for girls to join sports. Mir was enrolled in an engineering degree at a national university, but left to pursue her passion for cricket.
Pilates instructor Zainab Abbas was determined to be different when she opened her fitness studio, Route2Pilates, in Lahore after receiving training in Bangkok, Thailand. She carries out rehabilitation workouts for people with joint problems as well as specialised workouts for pregnant women.
Zahra Afridi chose to be an interior designer and runs her own interior design company. Her most recent project was the Classic Rock Coffee café in Islamabad. She is also an avid kick-boxer and regularly trains to stay fit.

Riaz Haq said...

How a teen #Saudi girl singer found her voice and her freedom in #Pakistan. #Music … #womenslives

She moved from her home in Saudi Arabia to Pakistan six years ago to study computer engineering. For Yaqub, it meant freedom from Saudi Arabia’s stricter Islamic laws.

And it’s in Lahore where she started singing — in public — at her university.

At just age 19, Yaqub was discovered by music producer and mentor Xulfi — imagine Simon Cowell, except nicer. She started as a backing vocalist for Xulfi’s television music series, "Nescafé Basement."

Then she started recording her own music.

“I knew that I could sing, but I never thought I’d be taking it forward as a career because I’ve come from a very conservative place. It’s been frowned upon, being in showbiz,” Yaqub explains.

Working on one of the country’s most popular TV shows got her exposure.

And doing a cover from her favorite band helped her move from backup singer to headliner.

Her stunning version of Coldplay’s hit, “The Scientist,” has been streamed tens of thousands of times.

“I really, really admire Coldplay. It’s one of my most favorite bands," says Yaqub. "They really inspire me because, if you listen to their very first album, it’s original. It’s all them. You can feel that there is nothing in there that’s composed to please people so much, and that’s the reason I like it so much.”

But Yaqub says she is done with covers. She’s writing her own music. Her new EP is called "Échapper" — the French word for "escape."

She says the inspiration came from her desire to escape when her family put pressure on her to move back to Saudi Arabia after she finished her degree in computer engineering.

She was desperate to stay in Pakistan.

“I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pursue my music in Saudi Arabia, and I wouldn’t be able to live as freely as and independently as I do in Pakistan. So that was the inspiration behind the EP — because I just wanted to escape that prison-like feeling.”

She was able to convince her parents to let her stay in Pakistan and pursue music.

She spends her days working for a Pakistani music streaming site. The rest of her time is spent writing and recording music in her cozy apartment above a pizza place.

But split between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Yaqub says that she feels like she has two lives.

“I know that in Pakistan I’m just myself. I’m just who I want to be. But I know that in Saudi Arabia, I’m what my parents expect me to be, what my parent’s friends expect me to be or my relatives want me to be. So in that sense, Pakistan is a place where I can be myself,” she explains.

She is quick to add that her parents are supportive. And that her dad approves and encourages her.

"I’ve asked [my dad] a million times, 'Do you want me to stop? If you tell me to stop I’m going to stop.' And he says, 'No I don’t want you to stop, I just want you to be happy and do what you want to do,'" Yaqub says.

And, at least for now, Pakistan is where she’s happy.