The Plight of Women


An acceptance of cruelty


Recently, two separate but equally grotesque incidents took place whereby two young girls were executed for non-issues. The first took place in Karachi, where a boy hacked his 16-year-old sister to death for allegedly talking to a man on her cell phone.

The brother proceeded to put her body on a pavement outside his house, and let her bleed to death as neighbours looked in horror while he sat a few feet away, playing with his mobile phone. His arrest was a result of footage of the latter part of the attack. The father forgave his son citing ‘honour’ as a justification.

In Abbottabad, another 16-year-old girl was murdered. This time the so called ‘charge’ was that she helped her friend elope. The girl was sentenced to death by a 15 member Jirga (council of tribal elders). She was subsequently taken from her house, drugged, killed by strangulation and put in a van that was doused in petrol and set on fire. The members were soon arrested and presented in front of an anti- terrorism court.

These are just two examples of such incidents; many more are commonplace and are either not reported or ignored. While it is necessary to bring the animals that sanction and commit these incidents to justice, there has to be a broader, more intense effort to curtail this age old problem of killing for ‘honour’ rather than just condemnations on twitter by party leaders.

The incidents highlighted above can partly be attributed to the problem of lack of education that further feeds the already backward thought process. Another reason is the preference for the jirga system, especially in rural areas, whereby the law enforcement apparatus and due judicial process are both avoided completely giving way to the medieval form of justice that is being practiced.

Exemplary punishment is all fine and good but what about the change in narrative? It will take more than just the odd awareness drive here and there to change the mindset. That is a long term fight that will have to positively condition an entire generation. It will require time and continuous effort to implement, but unfortunately there doesn’t even seem to be a framework or plan in place to work with.

Instead, we have elements within the Government that not only share similar backward thinking; they promote it, thrive on it and religiously (habitually) try to curtail any efforts aimed at even remotely addressing the problem at hand.

The Women Protection Bill was passed in the Punjab Assembly in March of this year. Since its inception, it has been met with the relentless misplaced rage of religious parties. Their arguments against the law highlight a laundry list of insecurities veiled under the cover of the ‘elimination of the Islamic family system’.

The chief of JUI-F, Maulana Fazl-Ur-Rehman, particularly perturbed over the passing of the law, announced an alliance of otherwise politically opposed parties. JI chief, Siraj-Ul-Haq, a slightly more digestible version of the JUI-F chief, also joined. Notable mention: Hafiz Saeed from JUD. The usual suspects!

The bill, although passed, was met with a hurdle whereby the government had to intervene and ‘accommodate’ the concerns voiced by the religious alliance. Since then, the implementation stage has been delayed and the JUI-F has come up with their version of the bill. I did not bother to have a look.

This sort of insecure reaction towards women protection is not exclusive to just religious parties. KPK drafted a similar bill and immediately sent it to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), thus guaranteeing it was entombed before even having a chance to breath. In that respect, PTI seems not that different from the religious zealots.

Prior to this, Marvi Memon tabled a bill in the National Assembly in January. The bill was aimed to address the issue of child marriages. It didn’t even see the light of day as the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) immediately shot it down. It was termed ‘blasphemous’ and ‘anti-Islamic’. Similar uproar was witnessed in the National Assembly.

The CII was formulated in 1962 under Ayub Khan as a constitutional body that would provide Islamic guidance when it came to lawmaking. Its ruling on bills however never was, nor is mandatory; rather just an opinion that should not decide the fate of any bill. Unfortunately this has not been the case.

The CII is a redundant organisation. Under the 73’ constitution it was supposed to submit an annual report up till 1996 after which it would no longer be necessary. But the council keeps on going, priding itself on speaking exclusively on issues relating to women.

The council’s position on admittance of DNA as primary evidence, child marriages and number of marriages is testament to the fact that their interpretation of religion is outdated to say the least. The latest asinine suggestion by the chairman of the CII, Maulana Shirani, turns its attention towards the economy.

He suggested that the use of paper money be abolished and we go back to the use of gold and silver coins as legal tender. Such statements from Maulana Shirani do not warrant any attention or loss of sleep over. But the fact that the CII, besides having no authority on the matter, can completely crush or at least delay the passing of a necessary law is bothersome.

Nawaz Sharif was showing a hint of liberalism, something many believe to be the by-product of his daughter’s increasing inclusion into party affairs, especially the PR side. While accompanying her father on an official visit to America she was able to woo Mrs. Obama for a $70 Million grant for women’s education. She also made possible the screening of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary on honour killings at the PM house. Sharif has moved to less choppier waters since.

The unfortunate reality is that such small spurts of liberalism and secularism are short lived. They fall victim to the backward mindset that prevails quite potently not only amongst the uneducated, but holders of public office and educated urban households as well. Politics, it seems, almost always gets preference over social issues, especially ones relating to women.

There is also a discernible brand of journalists who absurdly believe that documentaries such as ‘A Girl in the River’ promote a ‘negative image’ of Pakistan and that Malala Yousafzai is a Jewish agent, a fake who was never shot, and an elaborate plan hatched by India to – yes you guessed it – ‘destabilise Pakistan’.

We might be a young country, a young country in a mature world. It’s the 21st century. The world is much smaller and getting even smaller due to the advancements in communication technology. Documentaries that create awareness about important issues do not portray a ‘negative image’ of Pakistan. Little girls shot by extremists who move on to win the Nobel peace prize are not the enemy.

Educated people who make uneducated decisions are the enemy. Stopping important legislation that protects the rights of those who cannot protect themselves gives Pakistan that ‘negative image’. Killing innocent women on a whim is what forces people to deduce that we are a country of misogynistic bigots. There is still time to make a change, but the more we ignore the more this evil thrives.