On Behalf Of Women
By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari
March 16, 2014
Allama Iqbal believed in Islamic modernism and in his interpretation, polygamy was both outdated in the context were it existed and also against the concept that faith needs to evolve in order to be eternal
Fayyazul Hassan Chohan from the party of our hopes, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), went on television on March 13, 2014 and when asked to comment on polygamy, answered by telling a ludicrous joke about a man and his two wives. In the story, these women bickered and fought, but they were first threatened and eventually controlled by their husband. Not only was it not funny, it was tragically painful for any woman who cares about her rights and her voice in society. The obsession of our people with the concept of one man and multiple women competing for his attention goes back to a concept brought to civilisation with the advent of agriculture, where one bought the fidelity of a woman or various women in exchange for security. Security from what, one might ask? Security from a patriarchal society where women are commoditised degraded, put on national TV in the form of jokes. It all comes full circle.
While commenting on the women’s cricket team, Shahid Afridi, the man responsible for raising the Pakistani flag high in many victories, found it important to emphasise that women have a talent in their hands that is well suited to cooking. It is a small mercy that this man is not in charge of anything that pertains to the economics of this country and that his opinions are not binding. However, it is still a glaring form of insanity that a person with his level of influence should put women into boxes based only on what their hands are good for: serving food to men. Women do not belong in a kitchen any more than men do: since there is food there, everyone belongs in one. Our women’s cricket team probably does more for our women’s rights than many rights organisations put together do, because it is empowering to see a woman use her talent, her discipline, and the strength of her body unabashedly in public, and above all while representing her country. What nerve to reduce these warriors into makers of chicken Karhai. Not every woman dreams of disappearing into the depths of a dark and dingy kitchen. That is a male fantasy that emanates from the same place misogynist jokes do.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which is like the Ruet-e-Hilal (moon sighting) committee and just as limited in its abilities and tools, has also found it important to issue an opinion on, yes, you guessed right, women. And yes, this Council, although it is supposed to have a woman representative, has none. So again, we have men talking about what women should do and not do. Women have no say in their husband’s second, third or fourth marriage, say the CII. When you have no opinion you might as well be invisible.
Is that however what our egalitarian and equity-based faith teaches us? Does it tell us that the first word divinely revealed, read, was only revealed for men, or can women too, read and determine their own path to the Almighty? These questions, which every Muslim woman will ask herself and her society, will inevitably lead to long awkward silences because the people nominated to decide on matters of faith are completely at ideological odds with our founding fathers’ vision. Allama Iqbal believed in Islamic modernism and in his interpretation, polygamy was both outdated in the context were it existed and also against the concept that faith needs to evolve in order to be eternal.
Another founding father the CII insulted is Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, when they opined that underage marriages are permissible. Jinnah worked tirelessly to pass the Child Marriages Restraint Act, one of his many steps towards empowering women of this region. It is no surprise that the very same group of people who opposed Jinnah have now become the leaders of a movement that is hell bent on returning us to the dark ages. Illustratively, Pakistan’s teen girls die in the thousands while giving birth, because not only is their age not a consideration when marrying them off, neither is the need to space children out a consideration for their health. According to UNICEF, 17 percent of Pakistani women have children before the age of 18. Considering the population of Pakistan, this number is swollen and catastrophic. On whose heads do these deaths lie? The least we can do is not give this barbaric practice religious sanction.
It is 2014; Pakistani women are soaring the skies in F-16s, conquering Everest, winning Oscars and outdoing their counterparts in standardised examinations in large numbers. In rural Pakistan they support the economy in the fields and in homes, bringing up children while they work. They are not voiceless beings to be marginalised at birth. Beware of the time they avenge themselves for the burdens that society has bequeathed them for eons. For a merciful future, stop speaking on their behalf