Islam, Women and Feminism(29 Nov 2013 NewAgeIslam.Com)
Violence against women includes sexual abuse, rape, forced prostitution, honour killings, deprivation of inheritance and property rights, access to education, employment and health



By Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq

November 29, 2013

Although it may come as a surprise to some, women are not obsessed with men. We do have a life, which does not involve talking about the other sex

The new advertisement ‘Reunion’ by Google is simply superb. However, I dare say, it will never pass the Bechdel Test, if it were to be judged on that! The cinemas in Sweden have introduced a category ‘A’ rating for movies that pass the test for absence of gender bias. The Bechdel Test, which is described as “the standard by which feminist critics judge television, movies, books and other media” with reference to gender equality, requires the active presence of women on screen, which means “it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something, other than a man”. When I was young, all we got was ‘U’, ‘PG’, ‘15’, ‘18’ and ‘18R’, and one’s goal in life then was to reach the magical age of 18!

Another test, the Finkbeiner, aims at guiding journalists to avoid gender bias when writing about women scientists. According to the checklist, a piece must not mention: “the fact that she is a woman, her husband’s job, her childcare arrangements, how she nurtures her underlings, how she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field, how she is such a role model for other women, how she is the ‘first woman to...’”

As the world battles with the Bechdel and the Finkbeiner, some in our country are trying very hard to stagnate women, particularly young, newly married girls. On a popular night-time show, a debate centered on how marriages were being destroyed due to girls wanting to visit their parents. It was lamented that a Dehli High Court judge had observed that one of the biggest causes of divorce is the girl remaining in unnecessary touch with her mother! The programme advocated that girls should accept ‘Kharab’ (bad) husbands and try to reform them! Evidently, no one thought it fit to rely on judgments passed by our courts, including the Federal Shariat Court, which upholds the principles of gender equality, and states that the Quran places women on a much higher pedestal, that she is not considered an agent of the devil or treated as chattel, that she has individual property rights and similar rights as a man in matters of marriage and divorce.

The United Nations has launched a 16-day activism campaign aimed at eliminating violence against women; meanwhile we are urged by some, to teach our daughters to conform to the sordid norms that derive their basis from a culture of ‘doli to chitta’ and have nothing to do with our religion or values. I, for one, am astounded that, instead of teaching our children to respect themselves, never to lose their self-esteem and to have the courage to walk out of a bad and abusive relationship, we are supposed to pretend that our daughters just do not exist? Only sons do? Have I taught my daughters to be generous, tolerant, compassionate and to respect others? Yes, I have. Will I teach them to suffer in an abusive relationship and embark on a reformation crusade, which increases their suffering and destroys the one chance they have at living their lives? No, I will not.

Violence against women is a global issue and takes many forms. Not only does it manifest itself in the most apparent form — physical abuse — but the term includes sexual abuse, rape, trafficking/forced prostitution, honour killings, acid-throwing, harassment, emotional and psychological abuse, verbal and economic abuse. Deprivation of inheritance and property rights, access to equal education, employment and health opportunities are also a form of abuse. We talk about eliminating violence against women; many television channels can be seen jumping on this bandwagon yet, when push comes to shove, some of them censor the words of those who are invited to talk shows — those who actually know what they are talking about — under the pretext of ‘policy guidelines’ and for the risk of ‘offending the viewers’. It defies comprehension how something can be eliminated when the mere thought of discussing the issue openly turns spines to jelly.

The Swedes may have advanced to Bechdel Test standards and category ‘A’ films to promote gender equality and public perception of women. For me, this test, if applied in our society, is the nemesis of all we hope to achieve. Do our girls really need to talk to ‘girls’ to show our absence of gender bias? On the contrary, what our girls and women seriously lack is the confidence to talk to men. Shrouded in protection, and often subjected to segregation, they just do not know how to deal with men — both in their personal and professional lives. Although it may come as a surprise to some, women are not obsessed with men. We do have a life, which does not involve talking about the other sex, a life that is full of challenges and ambition, a life that ranges from our daily mundane tasks to being able to soar high in the open skies, to be financially independent or, at the very least, being able to actually ‘live’ it. Though we may want it all — a family and a career — we have the ability to make compromises and sacrifices; we are blessed with an inner strength that is only our prerogative, all it needs, is to be tapped.

Pakistan is not that suffocating a country in spite of what a few opportunists may be promoting. We have our problems, like all countries do, regardless of whether they are developed or developing nations. Pakistani women have constitutional rights, among others, to equality, non-discrimination, life, liberty, dignity, education, trade, profession, property, free speech and expression. We have women’s national cricket, hockey and football teams. Our girls are entering the Olympics, we have world-class females in the performing arts, we have women in our armed forces and the police, we have women lawyers, judges and activists, we have millions of women working based at home and in the field as entrepreneurs, in banking, education, health, in the civil services, we have women parliamentarians, ministers, we even had a woman prime minister and speaker of the national assembly. Yes, we have women who are strong and resilient ranging from the uneducated rural woman who gets up every morning to take care of her home and livestock, and goes to harvest in the fields, and we have the educated, urban woman who multitasks every single day, the likes of which no man would possibly be able to manage. We do not need any one’s sympathy. However, we do need to raise our voices, to be able to make our choices, to live our lives without people telling us to sacrifice ourselves and our daughters to man-made discriminatory and bogus standards.

The ad by Google shows a confident young girl. She is loving, compassionate and self-reliant. She spends time with her elderly grandfather, understands his needs and has ability to help him. She is resourceful and confident, able to track and find people in another country and have the nerve to talk to men whom she has never seen. Like I said, the ad will probably never pass the Bechdel Test, as there is no other woman in it, only this girl and three men. However, her ability to handle the three men and to converse with them is far more important than any Bechdel standard. So, while the media ponders on how to promote elimination of violence against women and, at the same time, some try to silence our voices and censor our words, it is essentially our decision. Do we jump onto the bandwagon or straighten our spines?

Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq is an advocate of the High Court