As if one wasn’t enough, Chinoy’s gone and won another Oscar. And this isn’t like winning your neighbourhood competition — it is the highest possible accolade in film making. And she’s done it twice. At the same time, the long awaited protection of women against violence bill has also been passed by the Punjab Assembly. And while activists and experts have torn the bill to shreds, I like to look at it as a small step forward on a rather long road.
But then again, I wouldn’t really know how it feels to be a woman in Pakistan. So, for the sake of this article, I decided to ‘get serious’, and understand what it’s like to be a woman in this male-dominated society. But where does one start? Should I try to become a daughter, mother or a sister or a housewife or a professional? Will I be married or single? Living in a joint family system or on my own? Urban or rural? Will I be a liberal or a conservative? So many questions, so many layers!
So here I am. A married woman, with two kids (both in primary school), a husband, a house, a pet, and a job (notice the descending order of importance?). Every morning is a race against time. Get the kids up and ready for school. Get breakfast into their system. Tea for the husband. The day’s tasks for the servants. Rush to the car to drop off the kids. Return to get ready. Check on husband. By now the phone starts ringing. Remember I have a job too? Juggle, juggle juggle.
At work, it’s a different ball game altogether. Like men, there are two types of women in the workplace — those that have resigned to their fate and have limited ambition. Others are go-getters, with drive and ambition. But from what I’ve gathered from my female friends, who are professionals, it doesn’t matter which type of woman you are — at work, there is direct and indirect misogyny. It may be in your face, or subtle, but it’s there. How do you deal with it, I asked? Some said, by aggressively pushing back, but mostly, by laughing it away, until it happens again. And then doing the same. ‘It’s a never-ending cycle of advances,’ I was told.
It seems it’s a matter of exposure. Men in Pakistan are just not used to seeing women outside the confines of their homes. And when they do, they can’t stop staring. To be fair, this is not just a Pakistani problem, I, rather, my wife, noticed the same when we visited Egypt a few years ago. The men would just stare. Even though, nearly every woman there wears a hijab (not the ninja kind), and a much larger percentage are part of the workforce. So I turned the equation around. How would you feel if a stranger stared at your mother, wife, daughter or sister, with nothing but lust in his eyes?
The consensual reply was ‘we won’t like it one bit, and things might get ugly.’ But shouldn’t it be ‘we won’t like it one bit because it’s making someone close to us uncomfortable.’ And that’s just it. These women aren’t their own identities. They are ‘their women’. Someone’s mother. Somebody’s wife. Somebody’s sister. Not, Ayesha, Amina or Fatima.
Another major obstacle, in my mind anyway, is the notion of women being the weaker sex. And while this may well be true for physical strength, there is little evidence to suggest that women are weaker in any other areas. But this has been institutionally ingrained over a long period of time.
One lady I spoke to about this said things are changing, that there is progress. And while I’d like to agree with her, she and I both are from a privileged part of Pakistani society. Step away from this little glass house, and in the rural expanse of the country, and things are very different. There, the women not only join the men in the fields every day, but also have to look after the needs of the entire family, and be available at the whim of the husband as well. Or else, face his wrath.
The argument here is ‘she brought it upon herself’. And this stems singularly and entirely, by being an object owned by the man, and not a person in her own right.
Lastly, and perhaps most unfortunately, religion has played a tremendously negative role in the subjugation of woman not only in Pakistan, but across the Muslim world.
Islamic thought and jurisprudence is monopolised by men. This monopoly extended downwards through society into mosques and madrassahs. There, the men are told what women are, and that’s what they pass on. It is a far cry from what the religion has accorded them.
It is under these unfortunate conditions and mindsets that the women in our lives operate. In these times, every man ought to be a feminist.