Breaking The Barriers
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY LALAY HASSAN
Pakistan is a country of many wonders but deep rooted in its soil are the seeds of patriarchy. A society where gender inequality falls far behind in the queue of injustice, a society where half of the population is denied their right of freedom, a society, which does not feel the need to educate its women, is a society that cannot progress.
Growing up in one of the most progressive cities of Pakistan, my heart aches for the women of this country who since birth have been told that they are some sorts of inferior beings of the society, who have been taught since the beginning that their main aim is to serve their male counterparts.
The constitution of Pakistan ensures equal fundamental rights for all the citizens without any discrimination of gender, caste, creed or religion. Yet, the literacy rate of women in Pakistan is around 47%, which means more than half of the women in the country are not given the right to basic primary education whereas the literacy rate among men is more than 71%.
This gender gap is the main cause of lack of awareness among women about their basic human rights, which are given to them both by the religion and by the constitution of Pakistan but often confused with religion, cultural barriers are the main reason behind the gender inequality in the country.
As a Pakistani woman I consider myself extremely privileged and lucky to have been given the freedom of making my own choices, freedom of deciding the field I wanted to study in, freedom of working in a professional field after graduating, freedom of taking the decision of when I want to get married and to whom. These basic rights feel like a privilege to me as I have seen girls same as me, deprived of these rights, many bright and brilliant girls who were not allowed to study past high school and got married off without their consent, so many dreams crushed, so many bright lights dimmed because of the cultural barriers we’ve imposed upon ourselves, girls who were led to believe by some misogynistic men that these rights were not given to them by their religion, which is the farthest from the truth as Islam not only gives women all these rights but financial independence of every individual is of great importance in Islam and history of Islam is filled with powerful women who were not only educated but earned for themselves and their families and a prominent example is the wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Lady Khadija (sa) who was a very prominent businesswomen who owned trade caravans but due to the lack of awareness among women about the history and the teachings of Islam and the rights given to them under the constitution of Pakistan, they live their whole lives in deceit and lies told to them by a small number of empowered men, impersonating as ambassadors of Islam and calling themselves Muslim scholars and Ulema.
Even in the middle of all this chaos, every once in a decade we see a woman who is a beacon of hope for the rest. The first female Prime minister of the Muslim world Benazir Bhutto was a Pakistani, who against all odds, stood strong, fought alone and fought hard and did the impossible, a country which was ridden with the plague to patriarchy was now being led by a woman. She showed the world how brilliant and strong the women of Pakistan are. History of Pakistan is filled with the examples of such strong and resilient women. Asma Jahangir, a human rights lawyer, very rightly said “Even the uneducated women in this country have such a wisdom about them; and that is because they have had to deal with a hostile environment around them from the day they were born. It has made them realize they have to really fight. Women in Pakistan are survivors.”
Asma spent her whole life working for and defending the women, children and religious minorities of Pakistan. In 1987, she cofounded the Human Rights commission of Pakistan and later became its chairperson. She became the first female President of the Supreme Court bar association of Pakistan and with that she broke so many cultural barriers, barriers that were preventing the women of the country from progressing. Law, which was considered a male dominant field and the women who joined it were looked down upon but Jahangir through her courage and determination changed the course of the field forever.
In the words of Malala Yousafzai “no struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one of the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”
Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the noble peace prize. Malala, a girl my age, took a stand as a 12 year old for her education and stood up for her rights and which she was shot by the Taliban but she did not let that stop her or derail her from the mission she assigned to herself, a mission of getting educated, a mission of giving every girl an opportunity to go to school, to get education and to build a future they want for themselves. In 2020, Malala graduated from Oxford University and continues to fight for women rights, as she said, “I tell my story not because it is unique but because it is the story of many girls.”
Every year for the past 4 years on world women’s day, hundreds and thousands of women come out on the roads for “aurat march” which translates to women march, they march for their rights, stand up for themselves, make sure their voices are being heard. I am proud to say that I have been part of this campaign, I am proud to say that I march for the most oppressed class of my society; I march for the women who cannot be a part of this movement. And with this movement starting and spreading across the country, raising the much needed awareness among women about rights, I hope and wish with all my heart that it can be the wave of change we’ve all been waiting and praying for.