What is routine becomes the way it must be
It must’ve been a rocky road for Aneela Naz but she made it. Naz belongs to the KP, home to one of the country’s most conservative societies. She chose to enter the police at a time when it contained just nineteen women (it now contains 600) and rose to the position of District Superintendent of Police.
Naz’s success is partly due to her father’s support. He moved from their small hometown making it possible for both his sons and daughters to be educated and working.
While the obstacles faced by women such as Naz must be prohibitive, it is hard for most men to understand even the minor obstructions faced by women in Pakistan in their day to day lives. I speak not of acid thrown on a woman’s face or other more serious crimes but of the general attitude towards women.
One of the jobs most easily available to a woman in a country with such high rates of illiteracy as Pakistan is that of a domestic worker, or maid. These domestic workers often encounter abuse at work, particularly from their female employers. Since most employers are unable to offer accommodation, they commute to and fro on the bus and face harassment on the road as well where they are followed by cars containing men, or encounter other male pedestrians who tease them. A routine male response to this is that if a woman would only dress conservatively she would not be subject to such treatment, which is not correct. Women, even if shrouded by a burqa, are subjected to as much disrespect as those in more convenient clothing. The only difference is if the clothing implies some financial standing, then a woman may be treated with a kind of false, temporary respect, and then only to her face.
There is a shockingly high incidence of domestic violence (and substance abuse) in this country, particularly among the poorer segments of society. Almost without exception women such as these domestic workers are also treated badly at home, with disrespect by their mothers-in-law, beaten and otherwise abused by their husbands and in many cases also by his brothers. You would think these abused women would break the chain and bring up their sons to be more respectful, yet come the time to choose brides for their sons they have no criteria beyond close kinship, a pretty face and a large dowry. They treat their daughters-in-law with the same lack of respect they themselves were subjected to, and do not object when their sons treat their wives exactly the way their husbands treated them. What is routine becomes the way it must be.
There is little point in arguing with those who maintain that in Islam a woman’s place is in the home, and that women should not enter the workforce. If the example of Khadija (RA), a successful businesswoman and the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), is insufficient then the only response left is to demand conditions under which women do not need to work and are able to stay at home… which are not the conditions prevalent here in Pakistan. As in most other countries, families here barely manage to exist on a single income.
The plight of unmarried women in our society is perhaps the saddest of all, and this phenomenon is seen across the social board, barring only the most affluent few. The stage is set for this tragedy by members of a woman’s own family when it exerts its imaginary right over her, by not allowing her to marry the person of her choice, by forcing her to marry only within the ‘clan’, and ultimately and worst of all, because even though such marriages may turn out to be happy, by not allowing her to work or have access to skills required to earn a living should the need arise.
How many women do we know living miserably with a sibling or with the extended family? Unloved, unpaid labour, they decry to the last moment the choices that forced them into such an existence, yet are unable to survive independently. Not only will they not be allowed to move out since it would be a disgrace to their male relatives’ ego to have their sister or aunt living anywhere except under their roof, but also they would be unable to support themselves, even as a domestic worker.
There are no visible initiatives to change this situation, to make enablers of our schools and families, like Naz’s father was to his daughters, instead of a hindrance. No amendments or additions to syllabi, no effort to teach better attitudes in schools, no laws to protect women in the workforce or from their families. On the contrary, notice how the media and these very same unhappy women perpetuate the myth of helpless, brainless, born-to-be-dominated womanhood. Go to any bank and notice how the manager and bank tellers speak to the female receptionist, or go to the receptionist’s home to witness the way she treats the woman who cleans the house.
A question asked on social media was, ‘Had Nergis Mavalvala lived in Pakistan, could she have achieved as much as she did?’ The same applies to Malala, and to countless other women. What do you think?
It feels silly to repeat such an obvious fact but women constitute half the population of any nation. It should feel as silly to treat half the population of the country the way women are treated in Pakistan, even were it not wrong and not at all the way women ought to be treated. Why not become enablers instead, like those who made it possible for their daughters to be policewomen, activists and so much more against the odds?