Whenever Pakistan is discussed in an optimistic light there are a few factors that are usually mentioned, including its geo-political position, youth bulge, socio-cultural diversity, and abundance of natural resources. One factor, however, does not get the mention it deserves. This is the valiant role of women, despite many odds, in building our state and society.
Ours is not quite a woman-friendly society. With rampant gender-based violence, harassment, honor killing, rape and barbaric tribal customs, Pakistan ranks 82 out of 93 countries on the Gender Development Index and 152 out of 156 countries on the Gender Empowerment Measure. Women have restricted mobility and poor access to education, professional training, health care and labor markets. Despite all these challenges however, the women of this country have stood triumphant in the test of time.
They have historically defied all dictatorial regimes, from Fatima Jinnah opposing Ayub to Benazir Bhutto standing against Zia-ul-Haq, and even the unexpected Kulsoom Nawaz challenging Musharraf. A good number of them have excelled in all fields including politics, art, education, business, sports and media. In this patriarchal society, they have secured the highest posts in the higher judiciary, bar council, military, and other public offices. All this, however, has come after many trials and tribulations.
From struggling for the Family Laws Ordinance to resisting the Hudood Ordinance, we have come a long way forward. During Benazir’s second term, Pakistan preceded many developing countries of similar profile in ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Today we are among the most progressive countries in the Muslim world for pro-women legislation with such landmark laws as the National Commission on the Status of Women Act 2012, The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act 2011, The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011, Protection against Harassment of Women Act 2010 to name a few.
Some of the credit does go to the current democratic government but it would never have been possible without the decades’ long struggle of human rights activists and the gallant female parliamentarians such as Sherry Rehman, Dr. Fehmida Mirza, late Fauzia Wahab, Bushra Gauhar and others. According to a report, the female parliamentarians who constitute only 23% and 16% of the National Assembly and the Senate respectively have overall been more active in parliamentary activities, particularly legislation.
We need to celebrate the long legacy of great Pakistani women who are a beacon of light in this difficult period of our history. We must be proud to have among us Asma Jahangir, the icon of human rights; Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the only Oscar winner from Pakistan; Ayesha Jalal, the acclaimed historian and many others; this short space is too little to name them all.
We dedicate this issue of Laaltain to all the great Pakistani women of the past and present who give us hope and inspiration to work for a more tolerant and prosperous Pakistan.
(Rab Nawaz – Editor-in-Chief)
(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 5)