Does Pakistani Society Regard Woman as an Angel in the House or Source of all Evils?

O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever and All-Watcher over you." (Al-Nisa 4:1)

"I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world: one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women."
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Speech at Islamia College for Women
March 25, 1940

Woman can be called as God's complete creation. She is the symbol of love, care, tenderness and intensity. Women are emotionally stronger than men. Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi have shown that women can rule a country even better than men. However, historically the women have not been treated nicely by men. They have been denied their rights and opportunities, one may experience such attitude in offices, factories, schools, sports and entertainment fields.Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the rights of women and does not discriminate them in any sphere of life. The status of women in Pakistan varies considerably depending on cl**** regions, and the rural/urban divide. The uneven socioeconomic development and the tribal and feudal customs have strong impact on the formations of women's lives. At one place some women are soaring in the skies as pilots of fighter planes and others are being buried alive for defying tribal traditions.

Substance of the essay
The Pakistani women of today enjoy a better status than many other Muslim women. However, generally, the women's situation vis-ŗ-vis men is one of systemic gender subordination, although there have been attempts by the government and the civil society to elevate the status of women in Pakistani society. It can be safely stated that despite all the constitutional guarantees, religious values and teachings, human rights, women are much deprived and mal-treated segment of society. In most of the cases she is considered as the root cause of all evils and very rarely as an angel in the house. More than 60 years after independence, 80 per cent of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence, while one in three has to endure villainy like rape, honour killing, immolation and acid attacks.

Our country is ranked 82 out of 93 countries on the Gender Development Index and 152 out of 156 countries on the Gender Empowerment Measure.
In Pakistan the story of a woman's deprivations start even before her birth, because the girl-child is not a particularly 'wanted' child. Her life is a journey of subordination. When she is young her father decides for her on the matters ranging from her right to education to all the important matters including her marriages. After marriage, her husband and her in-laws get hold of her reins and decide matters on her behalf ó whether she will have child every year or not, or she will bear and not girls boys every time she conceives, or whether she can seek independent employment and so on. Finally, when she becomes old and her husband gets weak or may have departed already, it is now her son or sons who would decide her fate in the declining years of her life. In addition to that, women in Pakistan face all kinds of gross violence and abuse at the hands of the male perpetrators, family members and the state agents. Multiple forms of violence include rape, domestic abuse as spousal murder, mutilation, burning and disfiguring of faces by acid, beatings, honour-killings and custodial abuse and torture. According to a report by Amnesty International released on June 15, 2000, several hundred women and girls die each year in so-called 'honour-killings' in Pakistan, in the backdrop to government's inaction. Sadly enough, she has been deprived of her fundamental right to acquire education which is the best source of women empowerment. It is only education that can empower her not only socially but also financially and professionally. It will be because of education that helps her widen the mental horizon. Thus, this is an undeniable fact that provision of education to every ordinary woman can considerably change her fate. Undoubtedly, education plays a role of backbone in the development of woman at every level.

Despite the improvement in Pakistan's literacy rate since its independence, the educational status of Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world. The literacy rate for urban women is more than five times the rate for rural women. The school drop-out rate among girls is very high (almost 50 per cent), the educational achievements of female students are higher as compared with male students at different levels of education. This is the story of few years ago but now the education in Pakistan for women is improving rapidly. In the Lahore city there are total 46 public colleges out of which 26 are female colleges and if we talk about the rest of 20 colleges some of them are offering co-education. Similarly, the public universities of Pakistan have female enrolment more than of boys.
The state of rural women as compared to urban ones needs urgent attention. The rural women are undergoing worst ordeal at the hands of feudal lards. They have been kept vastly ignorant of their fundamental rights such as education, health, participation in politics, professional and financial liberty. They being illiterate and uneducated cannot fight for their basic rights. This gruesome state of women is just because of the lack of education.

The woman has no say in any domestic affairs of life. She has been the target of male dominance. It is only male, who is to wield power in both domestic and private affairs of life, whether it is the choice of marriage, casting of votes or any other financial and professional matters.

There is another social evil in society which is feudal attitude. It wipes out the entire factors which help woman to be empowered. It has really become a stumbling-block in women empowerment. This social evil urgently needs to be eradicated so that the chances of woman empowerment may become possible in the near future.

Truly speaking, the poor state of women can only be improved by promoting education ranging from primary to higher level and opening up the doors of opportunity for jobs in different departments, so that, they can become socially, economically, politically and professionally strong entity of the society.

To conclude there are plenty of ideas about what is needed legally and administratively to make a real difference, but none of those will have the desired impact unless our vision is tolerant, modern, liberal and progressive. But this is only possible when the women in Pakistan have the skills and the necessary expertise to use it. This needs to be started from the grass roots level, as two percent of the country's elite using this technology would not make much of a difference.

Dogmatic obscurantism and patriarchal values have twisted and distorted our sense of societal values, particularly with respect to women and their place in society. Unless enlightened approach is adopted by the society, the innate prejudice against women that is so widespread in Pakistan and which our society as a whole seems to blindly pedal, or wilfully prefer, will continue to play havoc with the lives of women. Finally, the state of women can only be improved on the basis of promotion of education, greater participation in politics and widespread awareness about social, economic and political issues. Professional and financial liberty can further improve the state of women. Reduction of poverty and feudalism can successfully improve the state of women in Pakistan. Positive role of religious scholars and media can hopefully ameliorate the miserable state of women. Last but not the least, the role of strong and cogent institutions can definitely heighten the status of women of Pakistan.

For I cannot think that GOD Almighty ever made them [women] so delicate, so glorious creatures; and furnished them with such charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind; with souls capable of the same accomplishments with men: and all, to be only Stewards of our Houses, Cooks, and Slaves.
DANIEL DEFOE, the Education of Women

Dr Quratul Ain Malik (CSP)