The lesser gender


There are too many faces of oppression, and women are always the victims


A girl is born.

Holy shit!

Wrong gender. Celebration can turn into wails depending upon the background of the family the birth takes place in. She’s not the one to carry the name of the family ‘forward’. Forward to where, if one may ask? To their glorified illiterate mentality, probably. Discrimination on different levels is so inbred that they get virtually ignored and taken as discrimination. Take the example of toys. Pretty baby dolls, kitchen sets, washing machines for girls… role playing. From an early stage relegating her to a role of subservience. The distribution of rights is patently unequal.

In different cultures of the world, religiously speaking, woman has been seen as weak, physically as well as spiritually and inferior on many accounts. Societies based upon vested interests twist scriptures and discriminate against women on many levels for self-serving motives. Likewise in our society we see cultural norms, rules and practices weigh heavily against women.

A woman once married is supposed to toe the line to the wishes of her husband and his family at the cost of her personal development and wishes. In more marital relationships than not it is the woman who must make sacrifices whether it relates to her career or her personal desires. This approach makes it difficult for those not subscribing to this thought process to go against the norm, so to speak.

The society creates two standards: one for men and the other for women. This reflects in other areas like access to education and health.

“Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation efforts had their greatest impact on Pakistan’s criminal justice system. The potential for misuse of power by the police and jail authorities had existed since colonial times, and successive periods of martial law had further increased the powers of law enforcement agencies and eroded safeguards against abuses. Nawaz Sharif’s continuing Islamisation efforts have not only reinforced the legitimacy of Zia’s discriminatory Islamic laws, they have also in effect bestowed greater discretion and authority on judges to give legal weight, by invoking Islamic precedents and references at random, to biased assumptions about women in a variety of civil and criminal cases”. (Human Rights Watch, 2000. Crime or Custom: Violence Against Woman In Pakistan, Karachi, Oxford University Press, pp 23-25)

Woe befalls upon women who never get married, get divorced or are widowed. Its ‘unnatural’ for women to make a deliberate choice not to get married. It is something many a time even a girl’s parents cannot understand. Since it flies in the face of social norms. The stigma of divorce in more cases than not remains restricted to a female. In order to avoid the stigma, she is advised and taught from a young age to remain married no matter what wrongs befall her and no matter how unhappy she may be in that marriage. Women, even educated working women, many a time accept emotional and physical abuse to avoid the ‘ultimate shame’ of being divorced. The same stigma is not interestingly attached to a male getting divorced. Even with children from first marriage, he can bag a virgin. Let a divorcee however seek a second husband. Her fate will not be the same as her ex-husband’s — ten to one. That too unless very lucky.

Let a woman become a widow. Though she does not suffer the stigma a divorcee does, there will be so many around her, friends, family, colleagues, willing to offer unsolicited advice and interfering in her personal life as of right they would not have dared to do in her husband’s life.

In any case, whether a divorcee or a widow, the mask comes off many a face. The attitude is: hitting on a woman placed in either situation is legit. At the most, there will be a no. Nevertheless, it will not be for lack of trying. A friend, widowed in her early middle age recounts her experience in one line, “For such men, any woman will do. Bas nabz chalni chahiye.”

A single woman is somehow viewed as being available. Another friend, also recently widowed, a no-nonsense woman, was nonetheless advised by a male acquaintance, “You need a friend. A real one. Not a platonic one. Stop worshipping a tomb.” I wonder if these men will give the same advice to their wife to follow should they die? Or their daughters if widowed, unmarried or divorced? Is this not harassment? Is this kosher?

It’s not just the laws I am talking about here as stated by the International Crisis Group. “The government has a constitutional obligation and international commitments, including under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to combat gender inequality and remove such barriers to women’s empowerment. Repealing discriminatory legislation and enforcing laws that protect women, including by ensuring that they have access to a gender-responsive police and courts, are essential to ending the impunity that promotes violence against women.” (April 8, 2015)

The societal approach must change. Women need to teach their little male offspring the need to show respect to their wives, their sisters and women in general. Unfortunately, more often than not, one observes the women in a family being judgmental and harsh towards a girl coming in the family through a marriage contract.

If a female is abused by a male within or outside of the family, the word for it is mum. A silence on the issue will be maintained because of societal and family pressures involved.

Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognised as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, made a brilliant statement, “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”

We need to cross both bars set up by Steinem.