By Shagufta Gul
September 5, 2018
Women constitute over 50 percent of the total population of Pakistan. However, despite various initiatives and much legislation, we still have a long way to go. Thus far, the state and society have failed to define the role of women in the social, economic, and political spheres.
Women have been breaking stereotypes in Pakistan. Maria Mehmood was the second DPO in Punjab. Samina Beg was Pakistan’s first female mountaineer to climb Mount Everest. Dr Mehrtaj Roghani was the first female deputy speaker in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) parliamentary history.
But Pakistani women are still faced with barriers in our patriarchal society. The belief that women should be restricted to the four walls of the house, and that they should spend their lives looking after their family’s domestic needs is still prevalent. I can still recall debating a student in Mardan who insisted that women are ‘bad managers’, hence they should stay home while men earn money for them.
There is also a general perception that women are always passive victims. They are always portrayed as the victims of extremists and terrorists, even though they are often their mobilisers and supporters.
Women acted as suicide bombers in Sri Lanka during the Tamil Tigers insurgency. They have played a similar role in Chechnya, Palestine and Nigeria. This shows women are just as vulnerable to extremist ideologies as men — if not more. In fact, multiple studies conducted across the world have found that the same factors that radicalise men can radicalise women — including financial and economic deprivation, discrimination and lack of skill development.
Women acted as suicide bombers in Sri Lanka during the Tamil Tigers insurgency. They have played a similar role in Chechnya, Palestine and Nigeria. This shows women are just as vulnerable to extremist ideologies as men
Hence, engaging women in a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism is as important as it is for the male population. Women from the most socio-economically vulnerable groups tend to be restricted to their households and are uneducated; this makes them more vulnerable to extremist ideologies. This, plus all the fake-news on the internet, thanks to social media, threatens to radicalise a large number of women. The Pakistani state and civil society must take note of this and act accordingly. Seeing women as silent spectators or helpless victims would be a mistake. They are equally capable of perpetrating violent atrocities.
The way out of this scenario is through further empowerment of women and increasing the level of representation they enjoy. We need more female policy-makers, parliamentarians and local body-representatives. We also need them to be more empowered than they currently are. Women must also be educated on the dangers of extremism and how it thrives. Educational institutions — public, private and religious seminaries — can play a vital role here.
Mothers need to be educated and sensitised by state and civil society organisations. They are the first ones to see symptoms of radicalisation and can catch early signs, like change in attire or social attitudes. Meanwhile, law enforcement and intelligence agencies will also have to stop overlooking the female population when they are hunting terrorists. Concurrently, more women should also be recruited into these organisations. The media will also have to play its due role, and this should involve portraying women as strong and brave, rather than sticking to traditional gender roles. Most importantly, we will have to educate the country’s female population.
Shagufta Gul has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector