By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
23 July 2022
Global Gender Gap Report Lays Bare Women's Marginalisation In Pakistan's Muslim Society
1. Pakistan fares poorly on Gender Gap closure.
1. 2.Pakistan ranks 145th on the list of 146 countries.
2. Pakistani women are backward in health, economic participation, political empowerment and education.
3. Pakistan is better than only Afghanistan.
4. A powerful and long lasting feminist movement is needed in Pakistan.
The World Economic Forum has released its Global Gender Gap report 2022. The WEF has studied the health, economic participation, political empowerment and educational progress of women of 146 countries and released its findings. While countries of Europe, America, and Asia have fared well, the countries of South Asia, particularly, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Qatar have been placed at the bottom of the list. Afghanistan is the last, that is, the 146th country while Pakistan is 145th.
The report shows that Pakistani and Afghan women are the worst victim of gender bias though both the countries boast of following the Islamic model of governance and Islamic principles of equality and policy of women empowerment. The report shows that the enrolment of girls in schools is very low in Pakistan. Since the women in Pakistan are educationally backward, they lag behind in every field of life. Therefore, only 4.5 % women in Pakistan are placed in managerial positions compared to 70% of Togo and 56 % of Jamaica. Due to the educational
backwardness of Pakistani women, they also lag behind in political empowerment. They are not aware of their political rights and have not been able to obtain requisite political representation to influence the political process for their development and empowerment. The worst, in some tribal belts of Pakistan, the women are not even allowed to vote in elections though they have been granted the right to vote. They do not have a say in the collective or communal affairs of society.
The plight of the Pakistani or Afghan women is due to the absence of a powerful feminist movement in their respective countries. The remarkable strides the women of Europe, America or some African and Asian countries have made is due to the presence of a continuous feminist movement and discourse in political, economic, social and literary arena. In the 19th century,
the women of Europe launched the feminist movement for women suffrage and the movement included social, economic and political rights of women. It also attempted to remove age old perception of women itched in the mind of men. For example, the great English poet Wordsworth was of the view that the best thought and writings were a gift of men and only those constituted the best literature. This was the common view about women in the East and the West till the 19th century. Edmund Burke had written a book Vindication of the Rights of Men demonstrating this superiority of men over women. But Mary Wollstonecraft decided to counter the male chauvinism and wrote a book titled Vindication of the rights of women. This book set the stage for the feminist movement in the West. In 1928, English writer Virginia Woolfe wrote a book 'A Room of One's Own' to assert the rights of women to equality and to demand an end to the discrimination against women in all the fields of life. This movement known as feminism became very popular in the West in the 20th century. Many feminist writers, intellectuals, activists and ideologues took the movement forward and the movement got a wide support of women worldwide. Thanks to the unending struggle of the western women, today the women in the west have progressed in every field be it science, or economics, arts or business.
The feminist movement, though spread to the Indian sub-continent, it did not have the desired impact so as to make a tangible change in the individual or communal life of women, particularly the women of the Muslim society. In Muslim society of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the general refrain is that the Muslim society does not need a feminist movement because Islam has already granted women equality and the right to a dignified life. Ironically, this is not the view of the conservative Ulema but also of some self proclaimed liberal thinkers and writers among the Muslims. For example, the renowned fiction writer and novelist of Urdu, Qurratul Ayn Haider said that she did not believe in a ladies compartment in literature. Another female fiction writer of Urdu Tarannum Riaz also said that feminism as a theory or ideology was not needed in the East because the East has already granted them equality and dignity.
The plight of the women in Pakistan, India, Azerbaijan, India, Qatar and Egypt as reflected in the Global Gender Gap report refutes their claim. Islam has indeed given women right to equality and has advocated women empowerment through education and their participation in economic and political development, but due to a conservative interpretation of Islamic theology, a biased narrative about women was propagated. Women were said to be naqisul Aql (mentally inferior) and bearing corruptive influence on men. Therefore, they needed to be kept away from men within the confines of the four walls. For this reason, they were denied participation in arts and literature. Muslim women were not allowed to be writers or poets. Those who wrote, their writings were published without their names, often with the name of their husband i.e. Mosammat Munir Baig or just under the abbreviation A. R. Khatoon.
Though thanks to the feminist struggle of some feminists in the sub-continent for the last one century, some changes in the mindset of Muslims could be brought about but still the Muslim women in the sub-continent have lagged behind the western women due to the wrong perception of a large section of men of the Muslim society. In Pakistan, the gender gap is wider and in Afghanistan, the ascent of Taliban has wielded a hard blow to the stride women had made before. As a whole, the absence of a feminist discourse in Muslim society is at the root of the educational and economic backwardness of Muslim women.
S. Arshad is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com.
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