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March 3, 2016

Beyond the girl in the river


March 3, 2016

Two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy just focused on one victim of an attempted honour killing and brought the attention of the whole world to the scourge of patriarchal terrorism in a country that is third most dangerous for women. This as opposed to Maulana Fazalur Rehman who has drummed up his male chauvinist campaign to provide legitimacy to women’s murder.

Amid tremendous laurels, Ms Chinoy has so far escaped the wrath of those who consider exposure of the fight against honour killing a matter of national (read tribal) dishonour. While a big majority of art-loving people celebrated the Oscar for Ms Chinoy, honour killing continues. The passage of the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill has stirred up a storm by those who consider woman to be a helpless appendage to the oppressive domain of men.

Once again, clerics of all hues have joined hands and launched a vicious campaign against simple rescue mechanisms to safeguard victims of domestic violence. The bill even avoids the well-defined gender inequality premise to address discriminations against women. The bill is entirely focused on providing mechanisms to provide safeguards to victims of various forms of domestic violence – emotional, psychological, economic distresses and sexual abuse.

In the past, the PPP government had passed various legislations at federal and provincial levels, but these made no significant impact, except for somewhat limiting sexual harassment at work places, and honour killing. But unlike so many other laws that failed to protect the most vulnerable, including women, the Punjab bill, if fully implemented, provides an inbuilt mechanism to protect women from violence.

The bill provides for Women Protection Offices, Violence Against Women Centres, and District Women Protection Committees. It places all necessary protective requisites together, such as police reporting, FIR, prosecution, medical help, mediation, non-ejection of women from their homes or provision of shelter, forensics, post-trauma rehabilitation, precautionary measures for safety of possible victim from the aggressor or defendant and expenditure on maintenance, etc. The draft bill was thoroughly debated by a committee representing all parties – including the Jamaat-e-Islami; various amendments were also carried to develop a consensus.

So why all this noise against such first-aid measures for the victims of domestic violence? In backward, tribal, feudal and patriarchal societies such as ours, misogynous men are destined to decide the fate of women as they like to keep them under their control. Patriarchal family structures, tribal honour codes and feudal traditions, discriminatory laws, anti-women prejudices and religious orthodoxy reinforce discriminations against women. And they are set up in the framework of eastern or Islamic values that are upheld to deny women rights and freedoms that are at par with men.

Women are recognised as unequal to men and their roles are predetermined and traditionally stereotyped as mothers, sisters, daughters and wives – all adjunct to men. They are bartered in exchange for settling disputes, killed for honour, and not allowed to have control of their bodies/lives. Their labour, domestic or outside, is not recognised. They don’t have equal opportunities, equal work or pay. Burdened with multiple jobs, both at home and at work, they are still considered inferior to men who are polygamous and parasitic.

Even moral and ethical values and standards are different for the sexes. Masculinity is defined by sexist superiority and husbands who care and share the burden with their wives are seen as not manly, but as feminine (‘zan-mureed’). The Punjab bill has initiated a debate on the rights and freedoms of men and women, even though it remains civil and not criminal in nature.

The patriarchs of clergy have picked up a battle against the idea of stopping criminal coercion against women. They contend that by stopping coercion against women, the sanctity of family will be violated and morality will be undermined. What they are actually admitting is that sanctity of family and morality of society is based on the subjugation of women by men and a measure of coercion is needed to keep women under male-control.

Not strangely, all the conservatives and religious extremists think that women are essentially an invitation to sexuality (and hence, they be kept under the control of men behind the chaadar and chaar-divari). This is purely a male sexist view that is covered up by the noble notion of not allowing the spread of obscenity. Mufti Naeem has frankly pleaded use of violence to keep women in check. Would Mufti Sahib grant similar authority to women?

Most interesting, although naive, arguments are being put by Maulana Fazalur Rehman. He says that with the Punjab bill “men will become women and women will become men”. If it so happens that men concede their patriarchal and oppressive control and women get empowered that is exactly what the proponents of gender equality want. But a desperate Maulana wants to form a front of men to defend their rights against women. What kind of male rights does the Maulana want to defend? Men’s right to: kill women in the name of honour, use domestic violence, sexually exploit women, deprive women of their rights and freedoms, right to polygamy, etc?

In the 21st century you cannot humanise society without addressing issues of gender equality and adopting gender-based feminist approaches to ensure participation of women in all spheres of life, and bringing an end to all forms of discrimination against women. The late Benazir Bhutto, had ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1960.

It is time all those constitutional provisions and laws that are in conflict with the articles of CEDAW were amended to make women equal partners with men. No more, no less.

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

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