By Benazir Jatoi
March 20, 2016
The well-known feminist and human rights defender, Kamla Bhasin, famously once said that “Women are the last colony. All other colonies,” she says, “have been liberated.” This is because a coloniser exploits all the resources of the colonised.
The exploitation of women is not unknown, the world over. In 2014, newspaper clippings alone revealed that 1,610 women were murdered in Pakistan. These are, of course, only reported cases. This number does not include ‘honour’ killings, in which women are killed because they have allegedly brought shame upon their family name. According to a report submitted to parliament, 860 reported cases of ‘honour’ killings were filed. Rape, acid-throwing and sexual assault and harassment are realities of present day Pakistan. Reported cases do not include the thousands of unreported incidents of injustice where women suffer in silence, hidden away behind walls, vulnerable and ashamed. According to credible research 70 per cent to 90 per cent of the women in Pakistan suffer from domestic violence at least once in their lives.
Exploitation does not always take such a gruesome, bloody form. The patriarchal society has perfected the art of exploitation, bloodless and wrapped in a multi-layered and multifaceted shroud called ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. The idea that to play outdoors, to learn, or work is not for girls is a school of thought that all women in Pakistan have experienced in some form or another.
The idea that she ‘looks’ better in the house, is a term that has been translated into all our local dialects with ease. The family structure is patriarchy’s finest and most well-knit model.
History has taught us that colonies are liberated either through bloody conflict or through forced surrender. Unlike the British Empire, our present-day colonial master, patriarchy, is too far seeped into our everyday lives. Uniquely, it has, as rulers do, taken exploitation and absolute power so seamlessly in its realm that it has managed to legalise blatant injustice. Patriarchy brings with it towering social structures through which the cracks of light are not visible for many women; social attitudes deeply embedded in our psyche, that men and women alike don’t feel there is anything to challenge; countless incidents of unjust verdicts where a woman’s testimony is half that of a man. To a cynic like me, it seems that technology has allowed patriarchy more coverage and might. With technology on its side, patriarchal messages and images are invading our screens and homes faster than ever before. The feminist movement has not been aided with technology, in fact it is a medium that has more often hurt the cause then aided it. Our mindset remains truly patriarchal, our structures seem unbreakable and our attitudes barely swaying. This is packaged and re-enforced by an ever-present technological wave, on which we all seem to be riding high.
But milestones have been achieved. Women around the world have made successes in matters they are entitled to. The right to suffrage, equal pay, maternity leave, the right to divorce and the list goes on, were battles won on behalf of us, by a brave few. In Pakistan, our battles are often basic, such as the right to exercise our right of choosing whom we marry, the right to an education, the right to work. Yet it cannot be denied that Pakistan has seen some progress. Women have entered the fields of science and sport, media and machinery, politics and parliament. Some battles have been won, others lost, some yet to be realised. To me these are fantastic milestones, but realistically, only ripples.
Not being one for bloody conflict, I often ponder then, about where our battleground lays and who sets the rules?
Rules? That Is If We Are Fighting By Any.
What do a ruled people want most? The only thing that comes to mind is freedom. Liberation from discriminatory laws, from oppression and violence, from the lack of choice and lack of space. We, who believe in equality, want to break social structures, to be rebuilt on sound, equitable, gender-sensitive principles where peace and dignity are applicable to all sexes. And the first pivotal structure to truly transform is family patterns and behaviours.
And if all this talk is overwhelming the non-converted, let’s just talk pure economics and success. Decision-makers during the Chinese revolution were not all pro-women. What they did understand was that a successful revolution and women’s progress are linked. Sweden, one of the most successful countries to bridge the gap between the sexes, and its public policies, were affected by the number of women entering the work force. Whether the goal is ideological or economic, half a population cannot achieve success without taking the other half on board. Success requires the other half’s participation equally and meaningfully. This in turn means restructuring society to eliminate customs that discriminate and hurt women. Surely, there is no other way.
Liberation from exploitation and discrimination is not the call of a mad, raging feminist movement. It is the only logical conclusion, for a just, peaceful and free co-existence in a society where both men and women live.
Benazir Jatoi is a barrister and UK solicitor who works with Aurat Foundation on law and governance issues