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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 1 Dec 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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PAKISTAN: Breaking the Shackles!

By Farzana Ali khan

A change in society is improbable as inadequate educational facilities for girls and the low level of industrial development make life difficult for women while stringent laws make Pashtoon women less visible. Pushtoons are residing in Khyber Paktunkha province of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There is a line in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet: "Frailty thy name is woman." It hints at the fact that women are feeble creatures.

Women have always been considered weak. But compared to men, it is only the physical difference that has undermined women's role in society despite the fact that women have always proved their significance in almost every sphere of life.

I was born into a typical middle class Pashtoon family. I do not remember any special events taking place when I was a child, but it does not mean that I had no childhood. Being the youngest sibling, all my family members loved me.

None of my sisters studied beyond graduation. I am the first girl of my family to have acquired university education, that too in three different subjects -- English Literature, Business Administration and Law. But had not my elder brother supported me, my accomplishments in the field of education would not have been possible. Being a Pashtoon woman I haven't faced much difficulty in achieving what I wanted to, still there are a few incidents that have made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

There is a famous saying in Pushto about the status of women in society: "There are two places for women -- one is in her house and the other in her grave."

Many Pashtoon families in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are extremely conservative -- gender discrimination and violence against women are two of the many causes. Male members of a Pashtoon family are always considered superior to women, irrespective of age, being the bread-winners; while women are considered a commodity - only there to perform household chores.

The stringent laws in society make Pashtoon women less visible. Inadequate educational facilities for girls and the low level of industrial development make life difficult for women, and change in society improbable.

Gender discrimination is an integral part of Pashtoon culture. As soon as a mother conceives, everybody wishes for a baby boy.

A majority of parents do not send their daughters to school which makes it impossible for women to liberate themselves. One other tradition is that after reaching puberty girls must wear the hijab or observe purdah, and not socialise with men except their father, brothers or close relatives.

Girls have no say in their marriage. Marriage between cousins is preferred so that family property stays intact. A refusal to do so is considered disobedience and against the family honour.

Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is very high in Pakistan and higher in Pashtoon society. To address the issue of the status of women in this part of the world is an uphill task. The root causes being a patriarchal society, poverty, illiteracy, cultural and religious constraints.

In rural areas 90 per cent of women work in the fields the whole day with their male family members who keep a strict eye on women in the name of honour.

There is a need for vocational training and educational institutions for girls and women, to address these issues. Better facilities at health and maternity centres are also important to improve the present day status of women.

The ultimate goal of emancipating women can be achieved by making them financially independent so that they can have their say in decision-making in their domestic matters.

About the author: Farzana Ali Khan is a journalist working for The News International.

Source: The News International