Tagged with " Gender"

Dear Facebook, some of us are more than our biology

Note: This is a rant.

What in the name of internet gods is wrong with FaceBook?

Just because I am a woman of child bearing age who has not disclosed her relationship status, all the suggested likes on my timeline are about dating websites, new moms groups, fertility clinics, potty training, beauty clinics offering to make me smooth and dewy by lasers of all kinds, yoga websites, clothing companies, fashion designers, weight loss website or weight loss website pretending to be women’s health website. I mean seriously?

According to Facebook, people like me have got to be looking for romantic hook ups with other people through dating websites. If they are not looking for their online soul mate, they must either be procreating or trying to procreate through the help of the aforementioned clinics, or trying to potty train their spawn. If you are done with all that, then you must spend a fortune to try and look like teenager with no lines around the forehead and no body hair. You are also suggested to like designers you cannot afford (seriously what percentage of world population can afford Prada or Michael Kors!). If you are done with all that, then it is suggested that you must join yoga or a zumba or an aerobic class because unless you are made to feel horrible about your physique and body type, your internet experience is incomplete.

For the record, I just want to state that I don’t do online dating or speed dating. I am not a mom, young or old. I am currently not potty training anyone and if I ever get down to doing it, I most definitely will do it without plastering it on Faceook. I would also like to state that women are people too and just like their male counterparts, they have body hair. The world will not come to an end if a few women like me refuse to spend $2000 to make their legs smooth and shiny.

Get your act together Facebook, some of us are more than our biology and the identity that is thrust upon us by the society. Some of us take pride in being human beings without predisposed characteristics. It’s about time you realize that women are people too.

 

PS: I live in Canada so this is my personal experience, women living in different parts of the world may have a different facebook targeted marketing experience.

Jan 22, 2013 - published work, women    5 Comments

Making informed decisions

The current session of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly has been in session for almost a month; one would think that a lot must have gotten done in the assembly in terms of legislation and discussing matters that affect a large number of people residing in the province. And while a lot did get done, many matters that affected the women of the province were either brushed aside or were not addressed properly.

One case in point is the Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012. The Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012 was presented on the directives of the Peshawar High Court to promulgate a law. Under the custom of ghag, any man can publicly declare a woman to be his and that makes her unmarriageable for other men, restricting her right to choose a life partner. The new law makes the act a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.

According to the law, the violators can be punished or imprisoned for up to seven years. Though the original text of the legislation called for punishment of seven to 14 years, the punishment was reduced to the maximum of seven years. This is a clear and present problem in the province and constitutional petitions have been filed to stop the practice and criminalise the offence.

The assembly also reneged on another piece of legislation affecting girls. Ministers, who publicly lent support to the cause of elimination of child marriage, opposed the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill when it was introduced. Though it was moved by a member from the treasury benches, MPA Munawar Sulatana, it faced resistance not only from the opposition members but also from the treasury benches.

The bill aimed to increase the legal age of marriage for a girl from 16 to 18 and the punishment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. Unfortunately, the bill was opposed, citing the reasons as flimsy, since ‘the approval of this bill will create a new debate and more issues in the province’ to the factually incorrect ones such as ‘there is no age limit for marriages in other Islamic countries’ to the evergreen excuse of rejecting anything progressive by calling it a “western agenda”.

There are certain activities that only adults are privileged to participate in. In most countries, the age for obtaining a driving license is 18 — a time when a person is supposed to have finished high school and attains adulthood. Similarly, the right to choose an elected representative is also reserved for people over the age of 18 because anyone under that age is considered to be too young to fully comprehend the responsibility that comes with voting. If people are supposed to wait till they turn 18 for something as simple as driving and voting, then how come they are allowed to get married at younger ages when they are unable to make informed decisions either about choosing their life partner, starting or raising a family or financially supporting it? The medical complications that underage girls face after early marriages and pregnancies are an altogether different spectrum of the story.

It is about time our lawmakers stopped making the same old excuses of the imposition of  ‘western agenda’ and started making laws that affect the well-being of a very large group of young persons who will soon be their voters. This will not only help in increasing female literacy and improving family planning efforts, but there will be long lasting health and well-being benefits for that section of the population.


First published in The Express Tribune.

The misogynist narrative on Hum TV



The gender-based discourses on Pakistani television may not be very dynamic but the way they are discussed leaves one to ponder if those who are at the helm of the affairs have any idea about the impact of their careless deliberations on the subject.

Take the case in point of a television serial ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ airing on Hum TV these days. Only last week, the male protagonist of the story picked a fight with his girlfriend about her clothing and a direct quote from the play said, “if you had seen her clothes, you would have known that she was a walking invitation for harassment”. In times like these, where there is global protest about women’s clothing and how it has no relevance to the sexual violence they face, here is a drama where a protagonist — who is extremely popular among women — is telling women that yes, their clothing invites men to harass them. In case anyone is wondering, the woman was wearing a sleeveless top with a shawl draped around her shoulders.

This was not the lone case of misogyny in that particular play. The protagonist also had issues with the mobility of his female family members. He wanted to impose a curfew for his sister and wanted his mother to seek the permission and approval of his father before she could leave the city on a work assignment. He said repeatedly that “he is a man and can go wherever he wants and whenever he wants and women cannot do the same”. While it may be a reality in our society, reinforcing such ideas in the guise of propriety and religiosity is shoddy and has consequences for the audience. What disappointed this scribe even more is the fact that both the writer and the producer were women and that the producer has a personal history of struggling for her rights.

Our television plays seem to glorify the role of women who are situated within the four walls of their homes, sacrifice their happiness for their families and do not complain if their husbands beat them or take second wives or are just really horrible to them. Those who are financially independent, situated outside their homes and interact with men who they are not related to are the bad ones. This does not only judge all women who choose to interact with others in the public sphere, but also presents a distorted version of reality to women who stay at home, that all those who do step out in the public sphere do so after compromising their morality.

Ours is a society that is used to either lecture or indoctrination. It is a society where powerful forces indulge in monologues and there is hardly any room for dialogue. We do not open up conversation on gender; we tell people what is appropriate through Islamic programmes, television dramas and literature and expect them to follow what is told.

It is about time we challenge the television narrative that focuses on taming female sexuality and identity, and glorifies the sacrificial women whose ideal sphere of activity is the private space and is critical of those who venture out in the public space and implies that they do it at the cost of compromising their morality and roles assigned by religion. In any case, the concept of a stay-at-home woman is a very urban middle class one and if half the population had stayed at home, the economy would have collapsed a long time back.

First published in Express Tribune
Jan 7, 2013 - published work, women    19 Comments

The importance of sisterhood



Last week, I wrote an op-ed for Express Tribune on what needs to be done in the aftermath of Delhi gang rape. I wanted to write a lot more but was constrained by space I am allotted in the newspaper.  The piece did not receive many comments either on the Tribune’s website or my personal blog where I cross post my work, but I got a lot of emails. Some from regular readers who liked my ideas, one from an Indian grandfather who wanted a safer Delhi for his two young granddaughters. Some emails from women in Pakistan saying that things are worse in Pakistan and that at least Indians are protesting and have taken to streets and had this incident happened in Lahore, we would not have even known about it. A few emails came from sisters from across the border appreciating the support and concern from their neighbours. I want to thank you all for reading it and feel humbled by your responses. 
While people generally appreciated what I wrote, I got a few emails and tweets (all from Indian men) saying that I should focus on women rights violations in Pakistan and leave India to Indians. One even pointed out that I have never written about the plight of Hindu girls like Rinkle Kumari and chose to write about Jyoti Singh Pandey. Another likened me to Ajmal Kasab and said some choice words about Pakistanis butting in their noses where they are not needed.
Indians with narrow nationalism are not the only one who question what I write. I get asked by Baloch dissidents why do I not write about them, I get asked by the pan Islamic zealots why do I not write about atrocities in Gaza and American aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I do respect anyone fighting for liberty and dignity, I am not a professional bleeding heart and would not write about everything that is the hot topic of the day. I don’t touch Baloch issues because I feel I am not equipped enough to write about them and there are far better writers who take on that cause in a much more effective manner. I don’t write about struggles in Bahrain and Palestine because they are far removed from my reality and writing about them just for the sake of writing about them is kind of pointless. Honestly, I feel flattered when people tell me or expect me to write on issues that matter to them – as if me writing about them would make a difference – but it is impossible for anyone (unless that person is Ansar Abbasi) to write about everything under the sun so I refrain from doing that. 

As for the Indians who believe I should first write about the Rinkle Kumaris of Pakistan, I do feel very strongly about the minority rights and have written about them repeatedly, but Jyoti’s plight moved me like Rinkle’s couldn’t. Probably because as an urban resident of a big city who has used public transport and faced threats like harassment, insecurity, robbery day in, day out  on the streets of Karachi, I empathize more with Jyoti than with Rinkle and feel strongly about it. It may not be correct and perhaps Rinkle deserves the same attention but as a writer, I feel more confident when I write about things I strongly believe in or empathize with. Perhaps it is my inability to transcend the personal but that is who I am and that is how I write. 

I also want to point out the importance of sisterhood to those who are willing to understand that women draw strength from each other and if one of them stands up to reclaim their space or seek their rights, others also stand up either in support or to claim their respective rights. I may not benefit directly from the rights movement in India right now, but if the rape laws get amended in India, I would be cheering up for my sisters there and will try to campaign for similar change here in Pakistan.

As far as significance of sisterhood is concerned, let me share a recent example. A fortnight ago, my elder sister and I were flying to Karachi. The plane was packed and the flight attendants were busy serving the passengers. My sister pointed out that a man sitting in the lane in front of us is trying to get fresh with one of the flight attendants. I too started following their conversation. Initially it sounded like a bit of harmless chit chat, then he started asking inappropriate questions and the flight attendant became uncomfortable. She moved away quickly but then every time that girl would pass our section, he would stop her and ask her for something. When she went back to the galley, he followed her and said something to her after which her facial expressions changed and we gathered that it must have been something very improper. Let me also point out that she was very young and probably joined the airline recently and was not sure how to approach the matter. I was quite incensed and wanted to take up the matter but my sister said that we should not intervene and let the flight attendant handle it. Though I was not too happy with it, I said okay.
A couple of minutes later the man who was harassing the flight attendant started chatting with his family member on the other side of the aisle with their bodies hanging out making it almost impossible for the flight attendant to move without touching them or addressing them to move. My sister who asked me to practice restrain lost it at the temerity of those two Lotharios, and asked them if they can stay seated properly so that the others can move freely. The main aggressor turned to my sister and asked her to stay out of it at which I too lost my cool and told him in no uncertain term what kind of a creep he is preying on a young girl who cannot tell him off because of her professional duties and just because she is serving him tea and coffee does not make her his personal chattel and how any woman who works in public space is not there for his unwanted advances. When he said that I am insulting him, I said, even more loudly, that yes, I am publicly humiliating him so that other women should also see how one should deal with a cretin like him and everyone on the plane should know what a miserable excuse of a human being he was. At this point, his mother who was traveling with him but was sitting separately went up to him and asked him to be quiet. A senior citizen suggested that he should be handed over to the airport security. Most encouraging was the fact that no one including the man’s family stopped us from standing up for the flight attendant.  
A few minutes later the senior flight attendant who was at the other end of the plane came up and asked him if he was harassing the junior flight attendant and told him off that he may have bought a ticket but that does not give him license to misbehave with the staff.
When the flight landed in Karachi, it took a little bit longer than usual for the doors to open and for the passengers to disembark. We found out that the senior flight attendant had called the ground security staff who detained the harasser from getting off the plane. The senior flight attendant at the gate who was seeing the passengers off thanked me for standing up for the junior flight attendant. My sister and I don’t know what happened to that guy after we left the aircraft but what I do know is that incident helped a lot of women.
All the flight attendants got to know that passengers barring one view them as individuals with right to dignity at work. The junior flight attendant drew strength from the incident and I am sure that if anything inappropriate will happen to her in future, she is now better equipped to deal with it. Other women who witnessed the incident learned that keeping quiet is NOT the answer and when you raise your voice, things change. My sister who has lead a very sheltered life stood up for someone else. Not only she felt great about that afterwards and had a sense of accomplishment, she understands me better and respects my need for this crusade. That man and others who witnessed the incident will think twice before doing something like that because they know that someone might retaliate and tell them off. All in all, one stood up and other sisters drew strength, lessons and understanding from it all. 
Sisterhood is important and I dedicate this post to all who understand it and stand for it. Misogyny is best fought in company of the sisters who are fighting it out on their own turfs no matter what part of the world they live in. 
PS: This is a rather long personal rant, apologies if you did not know what you were getting into before you started reading it.  

PPS: Express Tribune Blogs took this one after it was published here with a couple of additions. It can be viewed here.

Dec 31, 2012 - published work, women    5 Comments

Death of a woman

The gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi and her subsequent death is a horrific reminder of how women are treated in this part of the world. Though the appalling incident happened in India, it made all the women in Pakistan empathize with their sisters in the neighbouring country because it could very easily be one of them. Things are just as bad, if not worst, for the women in our society and we realize that it is not just the six men who had committed that heinous act are the criminals. The societies that perpetuate the archaic notions of misogyny and make excuses for such acts by pointing towards a woman’s mobility or clothing are responsible for it.  

That rape incident did not happen in isolation. The crimes against women are on the rise, especially in our part of the world — be it rape, domestic violence, mental, physical or sexual abuse, threats of such abuse, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty to move around, to choose a life partner or to seek education or health care. Women are generally viewed as secondary citizens, incapable of making decisions for themselves. Women who dare to exercise that right are judged and at times punished by society for doing so. A fundamental attitudinal change in the way women are viewed by society is required. They are not viewed as active, smart, thinking individuals but as vessels that carry future generations during the gestation period, objects of desire or derision and the carriers of honour of the male members of their families.

One thing that comes to the fore in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape case is the need to make ethics a part of school curricula everywhere and a part of a massive media campaign because we desperately need it. We teach useless skills in schools all over the world but what about the behavioural codes regarding women in public and private spaces? What constitutes acceptable behaviour and what is deemed inappropriate? Are they taught about the consequences of inappropriate behaviour or do they believe that they will be not be apprehended because society is permissive of their misdeeds and will let them go with the attitude that “boys will be boys?” Are they taught how to approach women, which should be a taught skill in societies as segregated as ours. Laws ensuring women’s rights and safety are necessary and should be strictly implemented but they can only work when society in general changes its attitude.

It is sickening to live in a world where a medical student is gang raped because she dared to step out in the evening and wanted to use public transport or a teenage girl, Malala Yousufzai, is shot in the head because she just wanted to go to school. They shouldn’t have to become either a victim or a hero; the Delhi girl should have remained a carefree medical student and Malala should have stayed the student whose biggest problem should have been acing her calculus exam. Instead, they have turned into symbols of courage and valour. At state level, we need legislation to be amended and better implemented to ensure the safety and participation of women in society. Collectively we need rule of law to ensure safety of all citizens, esp women. Individually, the least we can do is raise the next generation of men to respect women and accord them the same dignity that they seek as human beings.

First published in The Express Tribune

I did not want the first post of the year to be this grim and sombre but I guess we live in times when we are capable of being just that – grim, sombre and insipid. 

To be a woman in Pakistan



Out of the four Pakistanis who made it to Foreign Policy’s influential Global Thinker’s List for 2012, three are women. Congratulations to those who made the list but irrespective of what Foreign Policy’s selection criteria for the list is (a 15-year-old student’s intellectual contribution to the society cannot be measured with that of a parliamentarian who has worked on important legislations affecting millions), it must be noted that in a country like Pakistan where women are constitutionally and legally considered of lesser worth, where they are valued less in cases of Qisas and Diyat, some are at least making a name for being fearless and courageous thinkers. They are doing things that one would not associate with people who are handicapped by their very state for being women.

Every citizen has a social contract with its government. The notion of that social contract implies that the people give up some rights to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order where they are allowed to practise their religion, work freely and live in a secure environment. The state of Pakistan does not distinguish between its citizens when it comes to citizenship responsibilities. Women are expected to pay taxes when they are involved in economic activities, they vote in the elections and help select the government and are expected to observe the criminal laws enacted by one’s government.

However, the state of Pakistan does not deliver to its female citizens when it comes to equal rights. It is very unfortunate but the Pakistani constitution does not view women as equal and productive citizens of the country. The state views them as Muslim daughters, wives and mothers and values them according to their assigned roles in society — not as individual citizens with rights and aspirations of their own. Take the imposition of laws such as the Hudood Ordinance which gave control of a woman’s body and sexuality to the state and other members of her family. The fact that a woman’s role is considered a reproductive one and not a productive one in the society helps in reducing her worth and legally formalizes the gender inequality in the society. There is the Qisas and Diyat Law, or the Law of Evidence, which institutionalised a reduced value assigned to a woman’s testimony based on the assumption that a woman’s role in society is different, or perhaps less productive, compared to that of a man.

It is not just that but these legal and constitutional inequalities have also made certain types of criminal activities such as honour killings, domestic abuse and violence within families and tribes ‘compoundable’ — i.e., they are treated as crimes against the individual rather than as against the state.

Every year, November 25 is observed as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is usually observed in Pakistan as well. This year, it will be followed by a 16-day-long campaign called Take Back the Tech against gender-based violence. Campaigns such as this can only work when the women are allowed a level playing field which, unfortunately, is not the case in Pakistan. The very political parties who depend on their female voters to get to assemblies have continuously thwarted attempts to pass a much needed domestic violence bill in the parliament. If a country cannot acknowledge that a woman needs to be protected in her home, its government cannot be expected to protect her.

First published in The Express Tribune

Nov 13, 2012 - rant, women    4 Comments

Do not expect others to feed you if you decide to procreate nine times


Warning: This is a rant. 

Not only English newspapers generally carry more news stories on and about women, their stories are generally more nuanced and gender sensitive in comparison with Urdu and vernacular press. This story that I am going to discuss was published in Express Tribune and it does not pass judgment on the women it discussed but I strongly believed that in this case, the story could have done it with a bit of analysis on the socio economic mores of the society.

The story narrates the tale of two women, Humera and Suraya. They both lost their husbands to the civil unrest and target killings in Karachi. It has been two years since Humera’s husband passed away but she is still not working and expects other people to financially help her run her house. It must be noted that Humera is a middle aged woman and has 9 children – some of them are adults and one of her daughters is married – yet she does not leave her home because she fears that people will question her character if she leaves her house. The woman lives in Kati Pahari, a colony of working class people in Karachi adjacent to North Nazimabad which is a middle class area and if only Humera and her adult daughter go to North Nazimabad and work as domestic servants, they can jointly earn anything between Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000 a month.

Suraya also lost her husband four years ago and but unlike Humera, she is financially independent. Not only is she working and supporting her two daughters, she is also paying off her husband’s debt and living a life of dignity.

There is a woman who had nine children – if people like her or her husband are approached for family planning, they generally deny any such services and say that children are God’s gift and they bring their own food with them. However now that she cannot feed them, she expects other people – who go out of their homes and work hard to earn money – to feed them while she just stays at home because she fears her virtue would be tarnished! Hello, you have nine – NINE – children and you still care about what other people have to say about your virtue? What is more important for you as a mother, your virtue or your children’s food? There is also a sense of entitlement that now she is a widow, other people should help her. She says that she constantly thinks about ways to feed her children but she has never thought about doing an honest day’s work to many some money. Here is a woman who is refusing to act like an adult and take responsibility. If there is any place in Pakistan where people can break taboos and do things differently, it is Karachi and if someone refuses to do that, they do not deserve any sympathy. Had that woman been living in Badin, Sadiqabad or Akora Khattak, her excuse had been valid because there are no opportunities to work for anyone in those areas but this is nothing but an empty excuse in a city like Karachi.

I read the story and then I read it again. For starters the writer squandered the opportunity to draw comparison between people who work hard and the others who prefer to live their lives as parasites and society’s reaction to both parasites and the hard working people. Suraya – the other widow – should have been written as an exemplary character who defied the odds and is living a better life because of three major factors/decisions that made her life better – one, she was educated by her parents, two, she had just two kids instead of nine, three, she chose to work and live independently instead of relying on others. As it was a feature, not a story breaking news, the writer had an opportunity to dig deeper and touch upon the malaise that is holding our society back. I know reporters are supposed to be neutral but this country is going to the dogs, our birth rate is the highest in the region and we are a water insecure country – no water after 2030 for Pakistanis – it’s about time everyone should go militant on issues of family planning and innovative ways of farming. 

I know that this is a fairly politically incorrect piece of writing and not a cohesive one at that but I had to get it off my chest. I judged a widow for being lazy; having too many children and called her a parasite, but it is about time we call a spade a spade and appreciate those who want to be productive members of the society.Women staying at home is a very urban phenomenon, its about time we learn from our rural sisters who have always worked outside their homes and contributed to the economy – even when it is not officially acknowledged.

Response to a comment


This is in response to Anon commenter who apparently is a regular reader but chose to not disclose his/her name. I wonder why? 
I have absolutely no idea if this particular woman chose to have 9 children but she chose not to work and is asking for alms to support them, that, in my opinion is criminal behavior for a mother. 
You second point is that Pakistani wives do not have the luxury of choice to say no to their husband whether they want to have sex or multiple number of children and that I have unlearned/erased everything I know about gender inequality, traditions and male dominance. 
I would like to point out that accidents and tragedies provide everyone with fascinating opportunity of choice – of either becoming a victim or becoming a person who fight and defy odds. The woman may not have had a choice when her husband was alive but she had the choice of either becoming a victim (Hai Allah mein bechari bewa meray itnay bachay meri madad karo) or a fighter (Screw traditions, I am gonna get out of the home and try and carve a better life for my kids). Unfortunately she chose to play the victim card and for that, I will judge her. 
Your third point was that it is easier to leave two kids at home instead of 9. I find it kinda baseless, I mean this woman is middle aged and has married off one daughter. I am sure at least three of her children would be adults who can either work or look after the younger ones. The argument that she cannot leave them at home does not hold true here. 
In addition, I would like to point out that this is not about just a case but how we tend to side with the person who plays the victim instead of the one who fights things out. If anything we need to support those who decide to take charge because we can do with more doers and less parasites.
I would also like to say that media generally portrays the stories of victimhood which perpetuates the stereotype of bechari aurat and from what I have learned about gender, social structures, feminism, we do not need that, we need stories (I have written about Nazirapreviously) that break the shackles and glass ceilings.



Too young to wed

United Nations (UN) agencies are generally criticized for not doing enough but they should be commended for coming up with quality research from time to time, which can and should serve as harsh reminders to governments across the world that they need to get their acts together. The UN Population Fund recently released a report titled “Too Young to Wed” on child marriage, which should alarm all governments in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The two regions have the highest and second-highest percentage of women, respectively, who are married off before they turn 18 years of age.

International conventions declare that child marriage is a violation of human rights because it denies children the right to decide when and who to marry. A country like Pakistan, which is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), needs to align its local laws regarding child marriage, as both conventions categorically state that appropriate measures will be taken to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children, such as child marriage.

The evils of child marriage are many. For starters, it cruelly snatches the childhood away and thrusts a child into adulthood well before her time. It directly threatens the health and well being of young girls as complications from pregnancy and childbirth are cited as the main cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. As the numbers of girls who are married as children grows, the numbers of children bearing children will increase and deaths among young girls will rise, further deteriorating the child and maternal mortality rates.

In the case of Pakistan, religion is also cited as a reason for child marriages as it is considered advisable to marry girls off soon after they reach puberty. This, however, is just an excuse. Medical science tells us that puberty only marks the beginning of a gradual transition into adulthood. Religion also asks its followers to educate their children and to follow the path of moderation and if any attention is paid to these other two recommendations, child marriage would become a distant dream.
Girls’ vulnerability to child marriage increases during humanitarian crises when family and social structures are disrupted and many parents marry off their daughters to bring the family some income or to offer the girl some sort of protection. Humanitarian workers noticed a surge in child marriages during the internally displaced persons crisis brought on by the floods of 2010 and 2011.

The child marriage issue is central to many development goals. By dealing with just the child marriage issue, governments can work towards closing the gap in the Millennium Development Goals of eradication of extreme poverty, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health and better ways to combat HIV/AIDS.

Our own government needs to start a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this issue. First, all provincial governments need to be fully committed to criminalising child marriage and streamlining local laws according to the CEDAW and the CRC. They not only need to invest in female child education but also must invest in campaigns to encourage the maximum number of parents to enroll their children in schools. Contraceptives should be easily and readily available and most importantly, decent employment opportunities should be made available for both parents. A family that can feed and educate its children is less likely to marry them off.

First published in The Express Tribune

Sep 17, 2012 - published work, religion, women    6 Comments

A woman’s clothing is her own business



Barring random news items and a few opinion pieces, the Hijab debate has never really been part of the national narrative of Pakistan. Those who wanted to wear hijab/niqab/burqa wore it and those who preferred the traditional shalwar kameez duppatta chose that without any problem. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran or Turkey, there never was governmental coercion or pressure on women to go for particular type clothing or to ban a particular type of clothing in state institutions. A woman’s clothing was her own business as it should be anywhere in the world. However, things are changing and with the celebration of World Hijab Day which had tacit approval of the government and the patronage of the first lady Nusrat Pervaiz Ashraf who presided over the Hijab Conference organized by Jamaat-i-Islami, things are moving in the direction where state is turning partisan.

The first lady of Pakistan, during the aforementioned conference supported Muslim women to wear a hijab, saying that women could do what they wanted as long as they respect the “limits set by Islam”.

The first lady’s speech encourages women to follow the ‘limits’ set by Islam, but no one can agree on what it entails; one school of thought believes that there should be no hindrance to anyone’s education – including women – while the other believes that women should only be allowed access to education if there are segregated educational institutions for them, right up to the higher education. Another school of thought believes that women need no access to higher education as their true calling lies in maintaining a household and raising children. If the speech of the first lady is carefully viewed, she perhaps supports the third version of ‘limits set by Islam’. In her speech, the first lady urged women to strengthen the ‘family unit’, which she said was central to Islamic teachings. As if this was not all, she also regretted that “Pakistani women were starting to forget how important family and hijab were.”

For starters, there is no direct relationship between a woman’s hijab and her care giving responsibilities towards her family. Secondly, Pakistani women have not forgotten how important family is for them. If anything, family interferes with their performance at work because of the overwhelming demands of their families on their time. Thirdly, positioning hijab with better motherhood and more fulfilled family life puts the women who do not wear hijab but are just as, if not more, concerned about their families, in an uncomfortable situation in a homogenous society like ours.  If such views gain official state patronage, it can and will act against the women who do not abide by this particular view.

The first lady ended her speech by calling Fatima Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto “role models” for Pakistani women. However, she failed to point out that neither Benazir Bhutto, nor Fatima Jinnah followed those particular limits she so favoured in her speech. Both Ms. Bhutto and Ms. Jinnah were highly educated women who studied with men; they did not limit themselves to raising children or their families and had highly visible political careers. Ms Jinnah was so dedicated to her political career that she did not even marry and have a family of her own and Ms Bhutto was back in her office a fortnight after giving birth to her second child. Last but not the least, neither wore a hijab but favoured the traditional Pakistani dupatta. 

There are many issues that plague Pakistani women that can do with the attention of the first lady; it would be advisable if she focuses on them instead of the hijab/duppata debate. 
First published in The Express Tribune

PS: The comments that are posted on the Express Tribune website are priceless, there are at least two which basically say that hijab is NOT a choice. Pretty interesting, eh?
Sep 4, 2012 - religion, women    19 Comments

Women in the mosques and khutbas



We had a few relatives over during this Eid and post lunch discussion veered towards eid khutbas that my relatives attended. Someone I know was singing praises of a certain maulana sahib who delivered an awesome khutba during the Eid namaz. As a rule, I have not seen people getting this excited over a khutba so I asked my cousin what it was all about. I was quite taken aback when I heard what the topic was. 

Considering we have had that awful incident where Shiaswere taken off the bus and brutally killed just a week before the Eid, I thought the khutba must have denounced that heinous act and had something about Muslim unity and how shedding the blood of another brother would earn the killers a spot in hell. Turned out that the khutba was about women’s place in the society, how important a woman’s piety is to the fabric of society, how important it is for future generations that they are raised by stay at home moms and how important purdah is to avoid fitna and fasad (chaos) in this society. He also said that women should be kept busy (by keeping them pregnant or lactating) so that they would not stray. There was a lot more to it but I don’t want to repeat it here. I want this blog to be a misogyny free space.

Not only was I flabbergasted that my vilayat educated cousin was mesmerized by the profundity of an obviously misogynist khutba which doubted women’s ability to either earn or make any independent decisions or remain faithful to their husbands but I was also lost in the peculiarity of it all.

For starters, a khutba like this on Eid!!! It was Eid, not a bloody women’s day when men feel threatened! Secondly, it was unnecessary because I have not seen any women leaving their husbands and children and running  away with hot lovers who look like Abercrombie and Fitch models and last but most important point to be pondered  was why the maulvi was giving a khutba about women when he had none in his audience? Women are not allowed to attend prayers in the mosques and their absence makes it impossible for them question any such pearls of wisdom which basically deny their right to movement, education, employment and family planning.  Looks like misogyny is so rampant that women are not even worth preaching directly, they are given sermons indirectly through their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers about the virtues of a pious Muslim woman. There is no public space for women to speak out in any case, looks like it will soon shrink into nothing. 

PS: Everyone who is sending me threatening messages, leaving abusive comments here (I moderate them so they will never be published here, this blog is PG 13) and on twitter saying that there are some mosques in Pakistan where women are “allowed” to attend prayers, I just want to say that yes, there are exceptions to the rule but that does not mean that we stop questioning the questionable norms because of those few exceptions.

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