By Maria Ikram –
Gender equality and gender insensitivity
remain distant ideas in Pakistani society. A culture that regards .women on the same pedestal as men is a stride towards a thriving society. Regrettably, it’s a path that very few and far nations have journeyed upon. As a Muslim state, Pakistan is cogitated adequately moderate to allow its women to work, and not have inflexible decrees in place, which constrain the independent streak for women. Yet, as a Pakistani living overseas for several years now, I feel there are miles to go before we can proclaim to understand robust words such as “gender equality” and “gender insensitivity.”
Gender insensitivity is so extensive that many females are forced to lead a discriminated life. There are more infant deaths among girls than among boys. Every year 135,000 women die during childbirth in Pakistan and of those who survive, only 21% have access to medical facilities. Regrettably, male advantage has a lingering saga and is still determinedly rooted in all our social foundations.
Most men need an impeccable woman, who not only reigns in supreme goddess-like looks, but also is a pro at energetically multi-tasking work and home. Men, however, have no trepidations regarding balancing work and home, and appearance takes a back seat. The correlation is protected so long as the woman is not expressive, which is a characteristic they are taught while growing up – patience and silence. The local media only adds fuel to the fire by displaying content rich in male chauvinism, which does not encourage courageous women; images of females distressed in muteness are interpreted as role models in TV soaps.
The double standard for sexual behavior reiterated the truth that men exerted almost complete power over women – legally, sexually and financially. The larger populace lived under a social system aptly titled patriarchy (Greek, literally: father rule). Women were curbed to the age-old norms and traditions of being domesticated, and in this sphere they had no influence over public affairs.
The Cultures had men in aristocratic and bureaucratic roles, with chief religious, political and artistic influence, while women had to be reliant on men for almost most, if not all of their meager necessities. This male-controlled system has, of course, been somewhat reformed. Some of its vilest immoderations have been rectified, but, as women well recognize, in principle it has subsisted to this very day. Undeniably, it is still defended by many men as “natural” and preordained. As evidence, they point to a prodigious amount of historical and anthropological proof, which appears to demonstrate patriarchy as a collective foundation dating back to the earliest ages.
Gender equality seems like an allegory to even many accomplished women. Appalling, but accurate. Another cause for women to have been abridged to ridiculous commodities is Capitalism. The unpleasantness of this governing system of private ownership of production, for profit, is apparent from the statistic that sex has become the third largest industry in the world.
The internal labor of women, encompassing the broad range of domestic housework including childcare is crammed into a day of ‘house-work.’ But this structure does not reward such forms of work, resulting in the traditional, communal, moral and ethical roots of society implementing ‘house work’ for these women, with no reparation, and being taken for granted attitudes. It is only natural then that women who are neither appreciated, nor remunerated, foster a mindset of alienation.
This further supplements depression and weakens the already burdened women. Utilizing this situation, the leaders of this structure create regulations; customs and inferior cultural rituals to further subjugate women, which are intrinsic to the system and its state. Zia-ul-Haq’s military tyranny, including the enactment of the “Hadood Ordinance” and other anti-women black laws further expedited the manipulation of women.
Forced restrictions upon women weakened their courage, assurance, and resolve, resulting in abiding by the mundane ethics of the society — reactionary periods – which developed a despondent attitude amongst women. They were just showpieces, influenced into acting as possessions with disproportionate use of maquillages and make-up, a hunger for jewels and a psychology of ornamentation.
And so, the concluding question ascends: how prolonged will be these gender politics? Will women’s rights be only constricted to ordinary pleas and protests? The double exploitation of women – conservative ideals and capitalist misuse – needs to be comprehended by probing its chronological, social and economic basis. Further more, the exploitation needs to be conquered if the liberation of working class women is to become a reality, and not stay a utopia. Only then can a strategy for its extinction be formulated, and an answer provided for the final destiny and triumph of this struggle.
The writer is based in New York. She has previously worked at The Daily Times