It ain’t over

  • Women vow to fight on

On March 8, half of Pakistan’s population joined more than 50 percent of the people living in this world to celebrate their existence. On Women’s Day, the females heave a sigh and rejoice simply at the thought that an entire day is dedicated to them. It raises their spirits and gives them hope. However, their achievements are not a feat of a day, neither can they address the issues they face within the span of twenty four hours.

As I gather my thoughts and research to assimilate the present status of women in Pakistan, I come across few encouraging news and incidents. One is the initiative by the Punjab government to give grants to state as well as private organisations for building day care centres within their premises. This is a big step. In Pakistan, day care centres are few, both in terms of numbers and reliance and their affordability is not within the reach of many. The responsibility of raising children and caring for their well being, especially in their early years, forces many women to stay back and restrain themselves from joining the mainstream. The more breaks they take, the more they are pushed back. This becomes a key reason why few women make it to the upper tier of an organisation and remain in the lower and middle tier. Or why they throng in great numbers in fields of education and entrepreneurship, where their time is either relatively limited or flexible. A facilitation for them and their young, non-school going children at their workplace will definitely be a big help.

I also see examples of resilient women, who despite odds in their personal lives, continue to offer services in fields like nursing, which requires lengthy hours of hard work and dedication, and also of some driving an automobile, a cab or even a truck, to run their households.

But as the bar of such resilient women does seem to increase, it is at a very slow pace. There is no single reason for the predicament. Despite awareness, hue and cry and fierce resistance, the demons against which they fight still haunt women in Pakistan.

In the cities, the working class women have to struggle silently through catcalls on street and lewd remarks at work, while even the affluent females have to disguise their battered souls behind accessories

To be honest, it’s a battleground from childhood. Girls in Pakistan are still mostly kept back at home to assist in domestic duties and not attend school. It is more of actually a training and grooming stage for them to grow up as demure and serving females. Then, we have girls who are fortunate enough to go to school, but maybe not college or university. Some basic education is thought sufficient for them to move on with their lives and gain a good marriage proposal. Careers are not a consideration.

For those, who complete higher education, may have limited options to choose their career from. And then, we have plenty of those, who study, get good grades, land in a good job, and get married. For most of them, it is the end of their story and a beginning of a new life revolving around household and family.

The sorry state of girls’ education and career in Pakistan is a reflection of a still dominant patriarchal society. With culture largely responsible for the societal framework, religion is often brought in as an excuse. The same is the case when it comes to women’s rights. Inheritance, divorce, marital rights are all twisted and presented to suit the male gender.

And it is again patriarchy to blame, when women are killed in the name of honour and men who kill honour are allowed to roam free. One would again point fingers at this system, when a woman has to suffer abuse in all forms — mental, verbal and physical, for reasons ranging from saving a family’s grace to protecting her respect and status in society. And who else are we to blame for the segregation of activities and attitudes at home, like women cook and wash while men leave dishes behind on the sofa, or that it is manly for a man to swear and sinful for a woman to curse.

It seems that I have painted a rather gory picture of issues faced by women in our society, when it’s only the tip of the iceberg! I hear friends and family exclaim, it’s not that bad. True, it’s not, but only for a fraction of percentage of the populace. More than 60 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in rural areas. This means that more than half of Pakistani women live in villages and towns. For them, the world is still snoozing in the Victorian era. What if smart phones and electricity has made it there, literacy and awareness hasn’t. And when it does, a girl like Malala has to face death for going to school and a young woman like Qandeel has to embrace death for ‘dishonouring’ her family.

In the cities, the working class women have to struggle silently through catcalls on street and lewd remarks at work, while even the affluent females have to disguise their battered souls behind accessories, accepting the terms and rules of their often feudal background families.

So a few privileged, self assured and rebellious women can stand up and say “No more”. They can throng the street processions and vow to fight all odds against them. They can lend support to the weak of the weaker sex and help create awareness. That will surely bring a change, sometime in the future. For now, it ain’t over.