powerful loudspeakers of my neighbourhood mosque have just announced a death.
The introductory words never change: “Hazraat, Aik Zaroori Ailaan Sunyeh.”
Respectable sirs, hear now an important announcement. The “sirs” doesn’t
surprise because I have heard such announcements all my life. It’s always men
and only men who need to be informed of any significant happening. Lest “Haya”,
modesty or propriety? be violated, women cannot be addressed directly.
in Karachi on Women's Day. | Rizwan Tabassum/AFP
follows a well-established pattern. Had the deceased been a man, I certainly
would have learned his name. But this time it was a woman and haya required she
remain unnamed. Indeed, the later part of the announcement identified her as
somebody’s wife. If unmarried, it wouldn’t be different except that she would
be joined to either her father or a brother. Mothers and sisters don’t count.
where women stand in the pecking order, I suggest the reader tour any
graveyard. You will walk past hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories now
silenced. In these sombre environs, every tombstone marks the final resting
place of some individual. Their inscriptions record the passage of someone who
shall never stir again.
feet under, all males hold on to the name they used along their life’s journey.
The male’s identity has been literally etched into stone? a stone that’s
expected to stay. Sometimes, the father’s name appears as well but, of course,
never the mothers.
female? Some tombstones do carry her name but many do not. Whether the end of
the woman’s journey shall be marked or remain unmarked is not for her to
decide. That too is up to some man, or possibly men. Even if named, she is
invariably identified as somebody’s wife or as her father’s daughter.
women lament their marginalisation or resent loss of control over their bodies.
On the contrary, many accept it either stoically or gladly. But some, such as
the female militants of Lal Masjid’s Haya brigade, actually celebrate their
inferior status in the society.
Aurat March, held earlier this month, as we stood on opposite sides of the
Islamabad Press Club, I listened closely to their speeches. For them men and
women have separate, non-overlapping roles. They have willingly accepted a
status lower than men’s in all crucial aspects of life, freedom of movement,
freedom of dress, freedom of association, and freedom to seek employment.
of freedom stares you in the face all across our society but even more in
poorer sections. The majority of Pakistan’s young women cannot choose their
life partners and, instead, are “given away” by their parents. Divorce and
child custody overwhelmingly favour the man over the woman. Nor is marital rape
recognised as an offence. Inheritance laws are sharply skewed against women, as
are employment opportunities. Nevertheless, for the haya brigade and
supporters, restricting a woman’s freedom is both natural and divinely ordained?
and hence, to be welcomed.
value freedom find the haya brigade’s position unacceptable but actually it is
quite logical. Countless examples exist where individuals have voluntarily
traded their freedom for security. Notably, prisoners released from jails have
sometimes pleaded to be taken back. Or, as another example, after slavery was
declared illegal in America, many black slaves petitioned their white owners to
keep them on the plantations. So if jailors and slave owners can provide more
security than the wilderness, then why not? More to the point: whenever a woman
accepts patriarchy in exchange for lessened, freedoms she buys security for
herself and her children.
Yuval Noah Harari asks in Sapiens why patriarchy has tenaciously weathered
political upheavals, social revolutions and economic transformations. Over
thousands of years why have there been so few alpha-women like Cleopatra,
Indira Gandhi, or Golda Meir? Is the reason lesser muscle power, lack of male
aggressive genes, lesser social networking skills? After much discussion Harari
concludes: we don’t really know.
We do know something very important? modernity is corroding patriarchy. Laws of
the old world are sliding into irrelevancy. For example, the Book of
Deuteronomy instructs Christian soldiers that if they “find a beautiful woman”
among captives taken in battle then if “you desire to take her, you may”.
Notwithstanding this sanction, even staunch Jews and Christians today recoil in
horror at the idea of sexual slavery. Instead, gender equality is now the
West’s new mantra. Even CEOs and presidents dread accusations of gender
countries are also rushing to catch up. Even if some decry gender equality as a
Western imposition, nevertheless fewer and fewer women remain shuttered in
their homes. In spite of deadly opposition from Taliban-like forces, education
for girls is expanding in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the Pakistan
government has pledged to uphold religious values, it refuses passports unless
a burqa-clad woman agrees to a mugshot. Just as significantly, though generally
banned from visiting cemeteries, you can see more and more women grieving over
their loved ones.
stalwarts of patriarchy are trying to stop a battle tank with a musket. It’s
not working and so they froth and fume. But technology’s relentless push is
also willy-nilly changing them. Remember those weighty scholars who 20 years
ago gave fatwas against photographing human faces or depicting humans
pictorially? Today they scramble for TV time and gleefully pose for selfies
taken with their smartphones!
As the old
order disintegrates and traditional arguments become manifestly unreasonable,
the misogynist stocks up his arsenal with abuse and vilification. Behold the
crude assault upon the brave Marvi Sirmed by one of machoism’s prime defenders,
the playwright Khalilur Rahman Qamar. And behold the chorus against “Mera Jism
Meri Marzi”, a slogan maliciously misrepresented as women demanding permission
to sell their bodies for material and sensual gain.
the graveyard or out in the living world, Pakistan’s women are denied dignity
and equality by those who claim to know God’s will. In the struggle for justice
they have a long road ahead? longer than in most countries. But time is on the
woman’s side. It is for us men to march alongside them.
Headline: In Pakistan, women are upending centuries of patriarchy – and men
must catch up
Source: The Scroll In