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The Veiled Victim

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Since long she has been yearning to break these shackles of social taboos. Crushed under colossal social pressures, her gender has become her grinding stone although born equal. She is threatened by deadly customs like Sawara, Watta, Satta, Walwar at home; and workplace harassment when she is out of the four walls of her abode.

Harassment at the workplace hinders and hampers a women’s economic empowerment and their access to employment opportunities.

Recently the United Nation’s Gender Inequality Index had put Pakistan 147th out of a list of 188 countries just because of our poor record on female education, health, socioeconomic stature, political empowerment and education.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) demonstrated utmost respect for females throughout out his life. Unfortunately we departed from his teachings and today the evils that we have created from within ourselves are endangering our women, rendering them vulnerable and weak.

All the legal and social embankments for female safety and security set aside, what is needed is pure and simple purging of the  mindset. However there can’t be any quick fixes like the one proposed by President Trump. Mentality can’t be whitewashed with bleach or detoxed with anti germicidal UAV light overnight.

A bias against women manifests itself in our land from the street hawker to the super rich.

To understand the grind of a women’s life, we need to feel the work-life balance dilemma that she goes through. From Kashmir to Karachi almost every household under the male hegemony is unwilling to compromise – and not even on compassionate grounds.

So she stumbles from dawn till well after dusk, shuttling between chores and challenges. And she alone has to cope with the management of her own toddlers, the tossing and twists of a twirling “better half” and then workplace harassment.

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Our mentality as a society, our value system and our thinking patterns need to be overhauled.

As a female politician and a lawyer I have dealt with my share of challenges. Fortunately, raised as an equal, being nurtured neither more nor less than my sibling put me on equal pedestal in public life.

Pakistan was the first Muslim country in the world to have a female Prime Minister but yet our hollow value system, training and upbringing sows the seeds of a heavy dosage of misogyny. As a lawyer I see Innumerable cases of women being abused at the hands of in-laws and husbands. I wonder when the battery and banal brutality of being a bride will be brought to an end.

Feminization and poverty go hand in hand. Of 1.3 billion people living in poverty, 70% are women. A rise in poverty exacerbates conditions of oppression for women and children. In poor households with scarce means, gender discrimination in the allocation of household resources is more pronounced. Women suffer most from nutritional deprivation in low-income households. Poverty also forces women to work harder to earn and protect their families from starvation. This contributes to the stresses these women already face due to poverty and cultural oppression. It is estimated that two thirds of the psychiatric patients at any hospital or clinic are women.

The Constitution of Pakistan recognizes equality between men and women. Article 25(2) states “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex” but also recognizes as valid Sharia law (Chapter 3A. – Federal Shariat Court)

The 2017 Elections Act recognized gender inequality in voter registration as an important challenge. It declared null and void an election without a minimum of 10% of women participation. I think it’s high time we in Pakistan as citizens of the world try treading a different path in order to change our mindset.

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We in Pakistan have already brought in some commendable laws to help women, like the The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011: a comprehensive piece of legislation that prohibits several oppressive and discriminatory practices against women. Customary practices that are criminalized under this Act include marrying a woman off to settle a dispute between feuding sides (wani), depriving women from inheriting property, forced marriages and marriage with the Holy Quran. The protective legislation has been given ironclad cover in Pakistan penal code’s Section 310-A, Section 498A, Section 498B and Section 498 C.

Another comprehensive law is the Protection of Women (Criminal Law Amendment Act) allowing rape to be prosecutable under civil law, Pakistan Penal Code and allowing women to be treated equally.

All this legislation has been brought in to protect the weak segment of our society. Yet I dream of a society that thrives sans these laws – solely on the strength of its value system. I think of a society that would treat a woman as an equal since her birth, as it is her birthright: inseverable and inalienable.

Violence against women should be seen as discrimination against a citizen: a penal offense and certainly not a private matter.
I dream of a time when Beauty and the Beast shall shift characters: where she is no longer marginalized, in real life or fairy tales. She should be the warrior, the Robin Hood of the twenty-first century.

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Naya Daur