An inspiring group of teachers promoting gender equality and creating harmony in Pakistan
By: Mrs Awais Mughal
I have always been inspired by Allama Iqbal’s poem Aurat (Woman) where the poet beautifully praises the God given gifts women possess, saying:
Wajood Zan se hai Tasveere Kainat mein rang- issi ke saaz se hai zindagi ka souz-e-Daun –
The picture that this world present gets its tints and scents from woman – she is the lyre that gives pathos and warmth to human heart
It was appalling to watch the news about the incident of honour killing of Farzana on Tuesday 27 May 2014. I believe this event epitomizes one of the most unbearable phenomenons that still exist in the 21st century; a three month pregnant woman was stoned to death by her family just outside the courtyard of Lahore Court Pakistan. This incident took place near a place that bestowed people with justice and protection. It was so heartbreaking and depressing that when her family members were stoning her, people were just standing there watching this brutal act as it were a circus show. It was reported that the police was missing from the scene. Was it intentional or negligence? It remained a mystery. Not a single kind hearted person took the courage to intervene to stop this inhumane act; sadly they let “tasveere kainat” to be painted with the colour red. It reminded me a reference from the Bible, John 8:7 where a woman was caught conducting adultery and an angry mob was eager to execute her, Jesus stopped them with a simple challenge, “anyone who has no sin in their life should step forward and throw the first stone”. Similarly it is written in Al-Shura 42:40 that “The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends his reward is upon Allah.” If Allah is so kind and forgiving why His followers are unable to practice His teaching?
The culture of domestic violence among South Asian women has existed for centuries under the pretence of protecting women’s honour. These acts speak volumes against the our traditions which claim to respect women. Another question that often upsets me is that how have we let the social practices such as honour killing, women abuse and domestic violence are above the law? Whose responsibility is to stop these barbaric actions? Is it a responsibility of religious leaders, political leaders, community leaders, head of the family, jirgas, NGOs, human right activists or woman herself?
I believe it is all of the above as change needs to happen simultaneously, from all angles to engulf the roots of this crime. Growing up as a teenager I also found it hard to understand why elderly women in the family/s taught young women to accept abuse and violence as a sign of decency and cultured value for a woman. Silence of women on these issues has had allowed men to have complete rights to twist or amend the laws according to his convenience.
Over the years media has gained some power and supports women to raise their voice against social injustices and condemn such acts by organizing discussion sessions on TV. No doubt condemnation is one of the ways to raise voice against injustices. However it is a common surveillance that political, religious and media all have become active immediately after such incidents. The news becomes sizzling subject for many talk shows and then gradually this issue disappears from the scene without any follow ups on whether the justice was made or not? Some women rights groups every so often bring this issue back into the scene through media or by organizing protests against such incidences but we have never witnessed a concrete promise in abolition of such acts by any male political and religious leaders.
One of the female political leaders expressed with a grave concern that to pass a law unanimously (especially by male colleagues) to abolish domestic violence against women is a hard nut to crack still. Conceivably reluctance by male members to support this law indicates a sign of fear that will directly challenge their power and male dominance. Unfortunately most of the sufferers are unaware of the existing provisions of support centres. According to a survey “A Primary Data Research Study (Dec 2012) on Domestic Violence by Aurat Foundation shows that shockingly 45% of respondents were aware of some sort of law on domestic violence, whilst only 42% were aware of Edhi centers.
In remote areas most of these incidents are dealt either by religious leaders or jirga; the irony of such a system is that these institutions close all other opportunities for female(s) to challenge their power and authority or to raise their voices against the unjust verdict. This sort of situation further makes her vulnerable in sharing equal status in the society. This is the evidence that these power worshippers have organised controlling mechanism to empower their authority and not to be influenced or shared especially with women. Various studies and researches revealed that the abuse of women within the home is based on structural inequality in the family unity which can be explained in one word or system – “patriarchy”.
We cannot presume that all women in Pakistan are living in the Stone Age; 23.5% of female population has at least secondary education. This substandard situation of women in a patriarchal society calls women to acquire comprehensive knowledge of religious and secular education to combat against all sorts of violence, abuses and injustices. It is very encouraging that over the years female literacy rate has improved and we can witness women working in all walks of life but still the majority of women have failed to earn eminence as equal human beings. Eleanor Roosevelt quotes that “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power- you just take it”.
It is important to note that the victims of domestic violence are not only poor and uneducated women; “A primary Data Research” by Aurat Foundation (p 28) revealed that educated and professional women are likewise victims of cultural traditions. Educated men and women are likely to be involved in domestic disputes as less educated ones, and educated men were as much likely to be perpetrators of verbal and/or physical as those less educated.
The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) does not specifically cover domestic violence but several of its sections can be interpreted to cover instances of such violence for instance sec. 319to 338 (causing hurt) sec. 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intend to outrage her modesty) and sec. 354-A (use of criminal force to strip woman of her clothes). Specific laws relating to sexual violence exist in the form of the Hudood laws, enacted in 1979. Inopportunely these very laws instead of combating violence against women worsen the situation, many times the laws of ‘Qisas and Diyat (Islamic Shariah Laws) indirectly protect the perpetrator instead of victim.
Possibly it calls women to review her own role through self-reflection for instance, how can she make active and positive contribution to combat these injustices? What are the issues that have widened the gaps and disunity between women in certain domestic roles? We also need to reflect together on the evidences in the news and media that draws our attention towards domestic violence carried out with the support of women in the same household for example mother-in-laws or sister-in-laws relationship with their daughter-in-laws. Justice for woman can only be fetched or sought when woman will mutually start looking at this issue without any bias that divides women in different categories of in-laws, preference between male and female children and other family relations that provokes competition and antagonism.
There are also small positive actions we can take to bring this issue in the forefront; Inspiring Pakistani Youth website provides a platform for people to express their viewpoint. I hope more people especially women will make a contribution through this website to raise awareness and share information about the legal support centers set up for women’s support and to understand their legal rights.