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    Women’s day, a day of protest or celebration? – By: Gul Rehan

    Women’s day, a day of protest or celebration? – By: Gul Rehan

    The case of women’s day in our country conveys sense and scenario of glass half-filled or half- empty. The day recalls women’s participation in the political and economic arenas, reflect on progress made, recognize and amplify suppressed voices, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

    The first IWD was celebrated in 1911 in Austria with the idea to promote equal right and suffrage followed by protests in other European countries for demanding voting right, holding public office, employment and end of sex discrimination. The early 20th century saw movements and protests against gender equality, reproductive rights, violence and abuse against women by females in North America, Europe and elsewhere. Spurred and inspired by these movements and recollecting those issues, the 8th March International Women’s Day (IWD) originated from suffrage in New Zealand. It isn’t purely any celebratory day as mother day, father day, valentine day rather a day kaleidoscopically recalling and revisiting issues now and then. On which side of conditions it is; gloom or glitter. Currently the day is celebrated as public holiday in some countries where women have fared better whilst in others, issues are still being highlighted. UN observes this day with any peculiar theme and their achievements.

    Romans in 2nd century AD, were macho and misogynistic altogether. Women have no value and equal rights in ancient Roman Empire. Blamed for irrational, unequal, poor in judgement, married in teens and defined only in relation to father or husband. She couldn’t vote, control their own finances, play a direct role in political or military affairs, with few exceptions of claiming religious, economic and legal independence. Scathing opinion of Roman satirist Juvenal says it all “all chance of domestic harmony is lost while your wife’s mother is living”! With rare exception of few acclaimed women poets, philosophers and physicians, conditions of women in the ancient Greek were abysmal; unable to vote, own land, or inherit property. Her only place and purpose was home and rearing children. They are blamed for being envy, troublemakers, act under wild passion and ecstatic emotion. Aristotle had gone thus far, “women are intellectually incapable of making important decisions for themselves”.

    In both Roman and Greek periods, women were treated second class citizens, unworthy of trust, kept away from money and power. Rather being integrated were socially, politically and economically segregated. They were often valued for how they looked and not what they did.  Generally, they assumed unvarying and uninteresting domestic chorus; the keeper of home, spinning and weaving yarn, making clothes as wives, mothers or courtesans. Except few royalty and aristocracy, the rest were regarded unreal, no any social expectation, neither attached with history of power and battles. It was just ‘his story’ and theirs’ were not any worth recording and unreal.

    The Quran states “women have rights similar to those of men over them, and men are a degree above them.” Such degree is of maintenance and protection. This natural difference entitles weaker sex to protection. Islam emancipated women spiritually, socially, economically and politically. Both have equality in performance of religious rites and rituals. The Quran strongly deplores female infanticide, held it criminal act. Hadeeth(sayings) of Holy Prophet abound regarding nondiscrimination or equal treatment of boys and girls. Consent of a girl has been enjoined to resort to while being partnered in marriage with someone. Physiologically and psychologically both have been termed equal but in collective life leadership role has been assigned to man. Treating mother and elder woman is unequivocally reflected in this saying of Holy Prophet(PBUH), “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”

    Though one might construe half share in inheritance of female grossly inconsistent with Islamic doctrine of equitable treatment. Since man has been held responsible for maintenance and meeting financial needs of the whole family unit, so he gets twice than female. Politically, there is also hesitation that she can’t easily tackle role of head of state, commander of forces, as she can’t put on stress and strain, take tough decision due to her physiological and psychological make-up.

    During 16-17th century Sultanate of Women, Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana ) and Turhan Sultan of Ottoman Turkish left remarkable impressions. Same were cases in England and Wales, where Queen Victoria, the two Queen Elizabeths, Margaret Thatcher left lasting impressions. Aside from traditional role of queenship, there are many past and present females leading countries with varied titles. Khertek Anchimaa is regarded the first head of now a defunct state-Tuvan People’s Republic, the first democratically prime minister is Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon (Sri Lanka,1960), the first president is Isabel Perón of Argentina(1974), the first ever elected president is Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland(1980). Benazir Bhutto is the first democratically elected female prime minister of a Muslim majority country Pakistan(1988). Benazir of Pakistan and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand are two heads who gave birth while serving in the office. Another female leader of a Muslim country- Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has the longest serving prime minister; a combined total of over 19 years. There had been female prime ministers of NamibiaPeruUganda and South Korea. Currently, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina have female head of states. But Only 6.3% of world leaders are women.

    Pakistani women have proved their mettle amidst opposing public opinions within and outside the country. Some prominent women at the forefront of independence movement were Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain, Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, Lady Abdullah Haroon and Shaista Ikramullah. Barely there isn’t any field left where women haven’t made her presence felt, even recently there have been lady governor of SBP, judge of higher court. They have proved worth their salt outside the country in all fields including politics. Sayeeda Warsi, Cabinet Minister of British conservative party is just an example.

    Women in Pakistan are struggling to have more presence in public arenas but are facing many restrictions, unleveled playing fields. There is ten percent quota for women in public services. Former president Pervaiz Musharrif increased women strength in parliament to 33%. Female population of country is 51% but confront many ill perceptions and physical barriers; unequal employment opportunities, unsafe workplace environment, availability of limited public space, lack of public transport. There is also a conservative perception that a woman has only domestic responsibility of taking care of family. Women still face rape with impunity, so-called honor killing, acid burn cases, job related issues, curse of dowry, lack of preference for girl education in rustic areas. It can be said women have more freedom than earlier however not true in many respects because prejudice still remains in this male chauvinistic society. Neglect of women history, success stories, achievements, reduces expectations and limits sense of possibility. The neglect of women’s histories perpetuates the inequality of the past. In the near past Aurat (woman) marches or feminist voices whenever and wherever echoed, were perceived and portrayed negatively by public at large.

    Women in factory in Bangladesh and film industry in India have helped increase its foreign exchange. We kept blaming western lifestyle for objectification and commercialization of female, a sign of an astray culture. on the other hand, Urdu poets in this part of the world eulogized their beloved in poems and poetry, presenting Eastern women more familial and feminish. Religious clerics defined varied matrix and parameters of their own. Our mediocre population were appreciative and exemplified kingdom of Saudi Arabia(KSA) for keeping their females indoor, barely allowed to go in public, but lately owing to worsening economic condition allowed or even forced them out to drive and work. What a turn of event and dawn of reality! It is not the veil rather strong economic base to protect females’ honor and dignity.

    Though we have women social welfare organization, which is not sufficient to growing population. Banks, schools, hospitals, emerging fields of IT, mobile technologies are good avenues of jobs for women. Contributions of women are everywhere, so women safety and security be ensured. Since without woman nothing is possible for men, they are basic unit of the society, they make a family, family make a home, home make a society and ultimately societies make a country.

    In some mountainous parts of GB and Chitral, women had had many hardships and mounting health and physical well-being issues. They somehow have now access to education, health care, microfinance, and skilled crafts(wo)manship, due to expanding infrastructure, particularly mentionable is of civil society’s interventions that have uplifted the social and economic status of women. But some in the same adjoining and nearby areas are still lacking and legging behind in the provision of these services, the most victims of which are women, hope sooner or later they would also get along.

    It is cliché observation and sight in our society, a woman’s faculty and decision-making power due to dichotomy between emotion and rationality is always criticized and questioned. But research has shown that gender differences in cognitive abilities are either nonexistent or very small. Factors of social exposure and broader engagement with worldly affairs would definitely result in better performance based on vast observations and deeper reflection. In conservative, retrogressive and backward milieus, chances of committing grave mischiefs are high, if women are left their own devices. A Persian proverb says, ‘expect trust from a dog but not from a woman’. It is quite obvious women if supported, have achieved unimaginable feats and successes. Our females have made niche in film, art and architecture, social mobilizer and development practitioners et al. It is said empathy and emotion are antipode of reason and rationality, but emotion does not necessarily preclude rationality.  Leadership role in decision-making of women is no less than men, behaving rationally even having naturally characteristic of high level of empathy.

    Pakistan’s women issues or needs closely resemble with and is aligned with UN thematic goals; world free of violence against women, empowering and investing in women and girls, equal rights and opportunities and pathway to decent work for women, planet 50–50, changing world of work. Gender equality is progress for all and for sustainable tomorrow. One in three women experience gender-based violence, legal restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men and less than 25 percent of parliamentarians are women. Industrial woman workers work for little pay in dangerous factories without any safety and stark salary disparity still do exist. Violence against women remains at epidemic levels throughout the world. But there are courageous girls and women around the world to topple these disparities.

    In this information and knowledge driven economy, participation and economic empowerment of females including transgender is indispensable and inseparable for development, particularly for third world de-veloping countries like ours. Doing away with social taboos, misperceptions, integration with larger workforce, radical structural social and economic reforms are the way forward addressing the current imbalance. Pakistan at this juncture needs to put on a neutral outlook; equal opportunity, free from bias and prejudice, shunning religious orthodoxy views toward its women-folk, if it is to conform to a modern and moderate nation in the comity of nations. Speaking of strong nation, Quaid-e-Azam said, “no nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.”

    The writer hails from Ghizer, currently teaches international baccalaureate(IB) in Gulf country and is pursuing her doctorate in Mathematics. She can be reached at [email protected]

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