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  • For Year 2000-07

  • Home > Gender Columns >and miles to go before I sleep

    …….and miles to go before I sleep

    By Dr. Rakhshinda Parveen
    Published in: YOU
    (13th April 2004)

    Pakistan, embedded in patriarchal customs, is governed by inequity, injustice, irrational, gender – policies, discriminatory laws and selective male-friendly interpretation of the dominant religion Islam. Western media habitually perceives and projects Islam as an anti-women religion.

    Leaving aside the politics of biases of the West and their media, it remains a reality that although the Holy Quran is particularly conscientious about women’s well being and development, women have been easy targets of the most serious violations of human rights in many Muslim societies. Bringing meaningful changes for women is still nothing but a distant dream.

    The cost of rejecting subjugation and seeing the world with one’s own eyes has become in credibly higher. The convenience of subordination is still a better bargain than the inconvenience of empowerment (Samia’s murder in her lawyer’s office Afsheen’s “honour killing”, the tragic end of Shazia and Solangi, and Shaista Almani’s saga may substantiate this point).

    Many measures by different governments, donor-funded projects and the struggle by the civil society have contributed to unveil the issue itself. Owing to the collective efforts of the public departments and mushrooming CSO sector, the issue of gender violence is no longer dealt with a hush hush approach and remain pervasive in Zia’s regime and to the varying extent in the governments that followed. It has become visible and audible in the media. This is indeed encouraging and gives more motivation to the optimists. But the respective offering of various sectors towards eradication or even minimizing the incidence of violence have been extremely deficient. However this deficiency has its own complex spectrum of reasons ranging from imprecise intentions to infertile implementation of many promising protocols, treaties, mechanisms and conventions.

    Lamenting the role and performance of the state and non state activists in connection with the issue of gender based violence against Pakistani women is a futile exercise. The most urgent agenda of our time demands quick and creative actions to alleviate the miseries of the victims and impose challenges to the power structures patronizing the violence. It is a tall order. However it, if we as a concerned society, are interested in combating the curse of violence against the powerless by the powerful, we have to take up this challenge and move towards collective actions and realistic solutions. In spite of all the attention given to the issue of violence by the Government, CSOs and the more hype in the media, the incidence of violence is growing in a society. The patriarchal consensus has become more discernible and far- reaching. The legal and cultural endorsement of violence against women is echoed even in the parliaments.

    This mammoth task of irradiating gender-based violence cannot start without, as in the words of the eminent lawyer and scholar Prof. Dr. Shaheen Sardar Ali, “(Re) claiming our histories”. Dr. Ali has collected some remarkable narratives to “deconstruct popular memory” of many of the actions of the brave and enlightened women in our Past. One such narrative is as follows: This narrative relates to Sakina, the great granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). A renowned beauty and a highly intelligent woman of her time, she wrote a number of stipulations in her marriage contract including the condition of monogamy upon her husband as well as the right to choose the place of their marital home.

    Dr. Ali appositely poses some thought stimulating queries; why this marriage contract failed to acquire a place of pride in Muslim Women’s history as part of her precious heritage, to claim under the Islamic legal tradition? In the context of Pakistan in particular, why clause 17 of the nikkahnama under the Muslims family Laws Ordinance 1961 that reads: “Special conditions, if any”, is left blank in the vast majority of contracts. What’s more, clauses 18 (delegation of right of divorce to wife and conditions thereof) and 19 (Restrictions imposed on husband’s right to unilateral divorce) are simply crossed out.

    Isn’t it confounding that stories of all those women who were active in social, political and economic spheres were almost severed from the conformist and conservative history. However, the stupefaction scatters when one fingers out that history regrettable, has always been ‘His – Story’. With awe-inspiring care and consciousness. ‘His Story’ was always celebrated and written and ‘Her Story’ was always forgotten and hidden. Therefore, it is not bewildering to find that most of the societies. In this world are patriarchal and most of the human behaviors and man made laws reflects and endorse practices and institutions of patriarchy.

    The vastness of women’s historical marginalization in the documented history and subsequently in the mainstream media is incalculable and has caused a colossal injury to the cause of women rights. There is no single strategy and instant recipe to amend this damage. However, it must be realized by all gender activists that hollow activism would not serve the purpose. The demand of the distressing social milieu for women is to merge research with advocacy.

    Symptomatic treatment can only alleviate the pain and that too temporarily. It has only cosmetic value and charm. Problems cannot be solved without analyzing them systematically. It is the time to go beyond rhetoric and pragmatic actions as a remedy. An alternative activism has to be identified and adopted. Activists have to broaden the scope of their activism. They have to recognize the relevant research pieces and integrate them with their activism. An alternative history has to be integrated very candidly. Creative, strategic and coordinated-behavior-changing communications used aptly could meet this challenge. Communication is not only an efficient mean of selling development issues including sensitive issues like violence against women and disadvantaged groups but communication itself is an expression of development-which in turn is a multidimensional process not a product. The task before the development communication pundits in particular is to identify, define and designate a position for women in this region in the power structures which is due to them.


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