Bottom Line Feminism

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

If there is a single most important issue that could make the greatest difference to women’s rights in Pakistan, it is their financial independence.

Apologists irritated by feminists might want to disagree with it just for the sake of proving them wrong. But the fact of the matter is that the conservative structure of our society, obsessed with maintaining the unreality of sexual purity, is clearly rigged against female individuals.

Marriage itself is an area which is traditionally designed to disable professional opportunities for women to a great degree, citing the natural role of motherhood and family building. The traditional norms ensure that women remain dependent on their husbands for lives, which subjects them to endure never-ending abuse in many cases.

While you would expect modern and educated women to overcome these hurdles and end a relationship when they have to, many women are handicapped to do so even in our upper middle class. You can’t end an abusive relationship because you would have no means to live, and nowhere to live, especially if your own family refuses to accept you. But even in a normal marriage, no woman should ever run out of options on how to live their lives.

In many cases, you cannot help but conclude that the greatest protection women need are from their socially conservative parents, who are ready to sell them to the next best buyer for the next best price.

Just because marriage has the seal of social and legal approval, does not necessarily make it any different to slavery, if that is what it really turns out to be.

There is an easy way women can escape the abuse that ensues. By simple having the means to live on their own. Just like anyone else is supposed to.

We already know that, don’t we? Yet, it is still a problem, and it’s the 21st century.

And there is hardly anything we can do when we find such instances around us, even in our very families.

In practical terms, there is no cause more important to focus on than to promote the financial independence of women in Pakistan, especially outside the universe of the affluent and the educated.  And it is indispensable for women to reclaim their due space in the society.

This is why the more useful of our activists are focusing on helping women become financially independent and making actual difference in people’s lives.

Not to get too optimistic, but initiatives such as WeCreate from the US-Pakistan Women’s Council is more on the lines of what we need. I guess it’s about time that we momentarily stop complaining about America being the evil empire and start thanking them from thinking about women in our country, among other things. Because apparently we could be doing a better job.

But this is not the first initiative that promotes entrepreneurship and financial empowerment for women. While the Pakistani government has also initiated such projects which are much needed, we should not wait for it, or for American aid, for that matter.

Private local businesses and non-profits can make a difference by partnering and initiating grass root platforms to offer hope, if not security, to women facing domestic social pressures and help them become financially independent. We can never have enough of these initiatives.

No woman should ever be afraid of the idea of divorce and of living as a single mom. Ultimately, it goes down to building the culture of gender equality in economic participation, with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Eliminating segregation and ensuring financial independence.

That’s pretty much the bottom line to my mind.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

My Comment on Pakistanization: A Post by Syed Ali Raza Abidi

Apart from people fighting over how racist they are while discussing incidents of violence, sometimes words of sense appear on the pages of the Express Tribune as well. Oh, but then again, what I am talking about right now is not a work of a full-time professional columnist, so maybe that is why. However, let us come to the point. Pakistan right now seems to be passing through the darkest and worst of its phases ever since its creation in 1947. Pakistan is currently facing every possible problem which exists under the sun, let it be corrupt leadership, poor law and order, violence, lack of education and discipline, threat from terrorists, international pressures, a weak economy and even the worst natural disaster in recent history of the planet.

A coincidence? Maybe not, because in Pakistan, it doesn’t rain, but it pours. Some basic problems lead to many others. A lot of people can get you depressed with their words, but maybe not Syed Ali Raza Abidi. His recent post in the Express Tribune Blogs titled “Solving Our Problems: Pakistan-ization“, which offers solutions for a change, instead of the same old rhetoric of hopelessness and the same old mantra of “the end is nigh”. This is the reason why I have decided to mention this meaningful and constructive post here and to add further to it. I also added a brief and impromptu comment on the blog page.

A Secular Constitution, Education and Brave Leadership. Will solve many social problems. The goal must be Economic Freedom. One of the most meaningful posts that I have read on this site for a long time.

Although some people may not agree with the first three words of my comments. So let me address those first of all. Although it is a popular notion that the struggle for Pakistan was initiated for the Muslim community of the India under the Raj, so that is why many people believe that Pakistan should have a constitution with Islamic provisions, but that does not mean that Pakistan should not consider a Secular constitution like most sensible countries. Incorporating Islamic provision is not really an issue, unless they result in the preference of a particular community as compared to the others, and even worse, may not offer enough, and ideally equal civil rights to some communities.

It is useless to be too specific about it, but it is common sense if you look at it. Every citizen of Pakistan must have equal rights and the constitution should guarantee that. I don’t really understand why anyone should disagree. There should not really be a concept of a majority and minority community. I personally disapprove both these terms when it comes to communities. When every community and citizen has equal rights, why is one community a majority or a minority? What if the Sunni population is larger than that of the Shiites, and what if the Shiite population is larger than the Ahmedis? And the same applies to other religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Zoroastrians. It does not matter because all are equal in importance. All are Pakistanis.

Maybe it is not possible to completely prevent social discrimination of communities which do not have the majority of population in a particular area, and this applies to anywhere in the world, whether you take the example of India or the United States, but at least Pakistan should correct the text book. It is important to do so. I think the most important step that any government can take is to change the communal based status of the constitution. This will be an important achievement, unless some crazy right winger registers a petition in the Supreme Court to get the amended constitution reversed to its miserable communal state. It will be the most tragic thing that will happen to the country since the 2010 floods.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone in Pakistan talks about it, and even the most progressive and secular parties of the countries assign no weight to it. Maybe they are afraid of the reaction of the people, who are under the false impression that Pakistan needs to have an Islamic constitution. There is no need to delete the Islamic provisions, if everyone agrees to that, but not if they are conflicting to the equality of civil rights. However, there is no need to paint a communal color to  the constitution anyway, so that no community in the country should feel left out. Only Muslims can be the President and the Prime Minister of the country currently. Pakistan should be an equal opportunity employer.

This was how the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a Twelver Shia by faith, but a Secular statesman in political vision, wanted the country to be like. Yes, he believed that the country should offer the freedom to Muslims to practice their faith, which they have, but he also wanted other communities to have equal rights in every way. They may have their freedom in the country, but we have to offer them their equal civil rights yet. The Ahmedis often complain of discrimination, and with a secular constitution, their complaints will be answered on a basic level at least. It is up to the Muslims to decide about their status as Muslims or Non-Muslims, but as far as ensuring  equal civil rights are concerned, that is the responsibility of the secular government.

I think we must not be emotional or sentimental in this regard, and must treat the matter pragmatically. This could solve a number of social problems in Pakistan and could prove the first step towards the education of the masses, which will further result in the eradication of communal prejudice, violence and sectarianism. Mr. Abidi talks about a solution in his post that as a nation we need to speak and face the truth. This is one truth which we have been avoiding for a very long time.

The blog post under discussion puts forth five very brief and strong points in his solution to the problems of the country, which are:

  • Separation of Religion from State
  • Bringing Uniformity to the Education System
  • Revamp and Revolutionize the Health Sector
  • Transparent Judiciary
  • Accountability with Honest Work by Citizens

While these points could never have been put in a better way, I only added a brave, honest and straightforward leadership to it, which should have a clear intention to work towards the progress of the country, unlike the passive establishment and the morally corrupt political leadership of the country. The bureaucracy, feudals and politicians of the country have been infested with corruption, which has become an integral part of the society, from the grass root level to the ruling elite.  And yes, the armed forces should be as accountable as any other Pakistani institution, because they ensure the existence of the country.

The people of Pakistan already realize the importance of an independent judiciary. But an important point was raised in the post under discussion that we must recognize the enemy within our ranks. It is the enemy within which is pinning the country down. As for the pseudo-intellectuals he talks about, well let’s just say that people find it fashionable to speak against their motherland. There can be no second opinion about the attention which the health sector requires. But education by far remains the most important element of the post. Unless the people are educated, do not expect any progress or improvement of any kind.

This means that the education facilities should reach every single village from Gilgit-Baltistan to Gwadar. Not only will this produce an economically self-sufficient society, but will also purge out the disease of acceptance of violence and prejudices in the society. A sincere and honest government can make that happen. We have all the funds we need. Once everyone is educated, and in a uniform system without abolishing the Madrassah system, there will be no more incidents like the Sialkot murder. Many in the West blame Islam for all the violence, but do not realize that actually the cause is lack of education. Why the educated Muslims around the world are not resorting to such violence?

I know it is easy to rant about it, but the right intention is all what is needed for offering a solution to the problems of the country. If you want to sum up the post under discussion, it can be done in just two words: “right intentions”. Moreover, Pakistan must work towards financial independence, no matter how difficult and hard it seems. This is the only way the country can break free from the shackles holding it down. This will also offer more diplomatic freedom to the country and greater influence among the nations of the world.

As for the pressures from the world powers in various areas, this is where the role of brave leadership comes into play. Leaders like Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto have done that. It can be done again.

Things have never been worse for Pakistan. It is the perfect time to change.

The journey towards improvement can be begun

Facing the right way is needed to be done.

Why worry about the distance ahead

When you’re even afraid to take the first step.