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.

 

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What Has She Done?

Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media/nobelprize.org

Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media/nobelprize.org

So what has she done?

That pesky Malala.

What has she accomplished to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, you are asking? Especially, since she said she didn’t deserve it.

Here is what she has accomplished what I or any of you could not have.

Despite being a little girl, she stood up to a very clear and present threat from the Taliban, which actually jeopardized her very existence.

In case anyone had any doubts, the Taliban actually ended up shooting her in the head and it’s a fucking miracle she’s even breathing.

They still vow to go after her.

She just had to speak out an innocuous little thing to get all this attention that she just wanted to go to school. Yes, that’s all what it has been about.

But it snowballed into something gigantic thanks to the ignorance of her haters.

You think it’s all obvious? No, it’s not.

But she won the prize also because she was important enough for an activist to address the United Nations Youth Assembly. She has also been active for causes such as speaking for the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haraam and addressing the concerns of Syrian children refugees.

She is not just a local figure anymore, but a global figure.

What really matters is  that the world sees her as a global ambassador for education, for girls especially.

Now why girls? You know, why be a sexist? But you have to be, because in her culture, people do go out of their way to target women like her. To deprive them of education.

Now when does it prick the most that she has won yet another prize valued by the West? Well, when you constantly apologize for the Taliban, Islamism and obscurantist misogynistic forces.

But it probably happened for a plain reason that Malala has become a Gandhi like figure to the West. Right up there with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, and even Gandhi was not awarded this prize, thanks to his shocking Holocaust satyagraha statements.

And this is precisely why Malala is important to the world now, even if she is of no consequence to the social conservatives and Islamist nationalist conspiracy theorists in Pakistan.

So don’t be surprised if you find completely irrelevant babbling complaining why Edhi not receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is such a disaster (as if they cared about that too) and sharing articles making ridiculous comparisons with a random girl testifying against drone strikes backed by an American congressman.

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

Which reminds me that part of why Malala is condemned is because she is backed by Western powers. Hell, even President Obama met her with his entire family. He never did that for the Pakistani Prime Minister. That’s really fucked up.

She even had the courage to criticize him to his face about the drone strikes of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient President.

But that’s how powerful Malala has become.

Maybe she has sold her soul to the devil.

I never really had tremendous respect for the Nobel Peace Prize anyway, because I had read somewhere that only a devil would put a prize on peace. Maybe George Bernard Shaw’s statement, not too sure.

But  I was greatly impressed when I saw the likes of President Carter, President Sadaat and Prime Minister Begin winning one for the Camp David Accord of 1979, and when I saw Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat receiving it.

You know, bitter adversaries working hard to attain some peace. Back then, I really found this shit inspiring. That part I still admire though.

But overall, the idea has been pretty empty and meaningless. You know what they say, hey, that’s the award that President Obama got for who knows what. And oh, even Henry Kissinger received it.

Must be something evil for sure.

I know this one, like all of them, is highly political. But who gives a fuck. Somebody said something nice about Pakistan.

But if I ever was delighted for a Nobel Peace Prize, for the first and most probably the last time, it is for Malala Yousafzai.

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Donate to the Malala Fund please. 

The Logic Behind Honor Killing

Source: Sajjad Qayyum (AFP/Getty) under fair use

Source: Sajjad Qayyum (AFP/Getty) under fair use

Call me naïve, ignorant, immoral or disconnected from my culture, but I never could understand the logic behind honor killing.

I have thought about the subject a lot anyway, but hearing a recent news of one of these frequent incidents made me want to ask the question loud.

Why do brothers and fathers, or any other male (or sometimes even female) members of a Pakistani family, who outrage so much when a female of the clan is found to have a relationship against their wishes, and what particularly changes in the nature of sexual relationship when she copulates with someone of their choice under a matrimonial bond?

Marriage merely becomes another tool to control people, doesn’t it? But seriously, someone is still having sex with that woman. Oh, is it about sex?

This emotion known as “gairat” is rather loosely and perhaps erroneously translated into “honor” and this emotion is shared by population throughout the country, and even in other countries such as India, Afghanistan and actually people here and there all around the world.

While gairat has something to do with family honor, it is also related to sexuality and the jealousy affiliated with it. There would be probably be no film noir had there been no such sentiments in the West. I am not even sure if such emotions can be termed natural or not, but they surely make sense.

Now while it seems a very noble and chauvinistic quality, it probably kills its very supposed purpose by finding satisfaction from killing the very “offender-victim” it is meant to protect.

And if a jealous cuckold husband kills an adulterer or a cheating couple gets rid of the inadequate husband, it would make sense, but it requires the brain of Sigmund Freud to get your head around fathers and brothers killing daughters and sisters and sons killing mothers.

But during a marriage, which, at least and especially in Indian culture is a mere material transaction for the woman to spend the rest of her life as a slave, the family honor is somehow fulfilled giving away their daughter in such a manner. This shameless public display of humiliation is somehow considered honorable.

What is even worse, many, if not most, of these families would tolerate all sorts of atrocities in the name of married life. You would expect them to wreak even more havoc in the event of acts such as domestic abuse, not that such exceptions do not occur, often depending on the social status of the offended.

So in the Indian subcontinent, domestic abuse is widely considered nothing unusual in the married life by most traditional people, who find separation and legal divorce process a disgrace.

The rationale behind honor killing is certainly that women are property, the attachment of great offense to its violation and that women do not have the privilege of pursuing sexual liberties like men. People are brought up believing that all around the world in one way or another actually.

Though in the conservative Pakistani society, even men are not completely free to pursue sexual relationships, with peace at least, either. Because let’s face it, men are also victims of honor killings and are at least traumatized when a partner is targeted.

This is why I consider establishing a sexual or marital relationship in the Pakistani society a great risk that could potentially take your life. You just never know where you would offend the honor of a person, and usually one person in a group is enough to initiate a riot.

It is like committing a blasphemy with which most people somehow get away easily, but not everyone is so lucky. And you could be next.

But it is only understandable why people are so outraged about the event of the greatest cosmic significance in their lives. After all, the propagation of the human race depends on it. It must be pure and noble.

It is a pity that God chose sex as the method of procreation and created the vulgarity of genitals in the human body.

Nevertheless, sex is a sin. And the penalty is death.

The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?