GUEST WRITER

SALMAN ALI

Nation has almost forgotten the ideology of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The founder of Pakistan clearly said in 1944, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”

Sadly, the vision of the founding father has not kept alive in the country he created, in which the conditions of women are deplorable. They are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault; and have been denied their due social, economic, political, fundamental and financial rights. Moreover, it is a harsh reality that women in Pakistan have always been treated as second class citizens because the state cannot make a clear distinction whether it’s secular or theocratic in nature. Charles Habib Malik, great philosopher and diplomat has said that the fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world. The good thing for Pakistan is that during last twenty months the Pakistani women have brought home an Ocsar award, the Nobel Peace Prize and the Asian Gold in cricket: a great achievement, indeed, on account of talented Pakistani women. There is no doubt that women can play a significant role in development of any society, but not in ours. The case is significantly different, as Pakistani society is based on patriarchy, feudal and tribal culture. Women are not able to achieve her goals because males do not allow them to come out of homes. Pakistan is, undoubtedly, having a male dominant society in which women are considered as unequal to men.

Our women are surviving discrimination, forced and child marriages, dowry abuse, domestic violence: all inside the homes. Even if they are allowed to step out of the home, they are victims of sexual harassment, acid throwing, religious abuse, human trafficking and many other problems. The question is why women are not treated equal to men as our Constitution recognises women rights, yet not given to women because of cultural and traditional, social, economic, legal, religious and political reasons. The Article 25(1) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan states: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.” Whereas Article 25(2) states: “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.” But the state does not deliver to its female citizens when it comes to equal rights. It is very unfortunate but Pakistani constitution does not view women as equal and productive citizens of the country.

Ghulam Sughra Solangi is a renowned trailblazer for women rights, who has battled injustices and inhuman activities for long in rural Sindh. A woman from nowhere fought against all odds to get her rights and turned out to be the luckiest Pakistani women who became first Ashoka Fellow in 1999. She also received International Women of Courage Award by the US Secretary of State in 2011.

She always wanted to seek education in her childhood but her wishes were destroyed on the sack of local traditions. She got married at the age of 12 and got abandoned by her husband at 20. When she expressed her desire to learn, she was discouraged by her family. “I said first to myself and then my family that I want to live on my own and get education.” In 1989, she became a teacher at a primary girls’ school in her native village, Khairpur. But her thirst for education was much bigger than that. At the age of 31, without any formal schooling, she successfully became a graduate. Sughra started working with Marvi Rural Development Organization for the welfare of awakening of rural women. Women are the pillars upon whom we depend upon. They are our emotional and spiritual support, even at the times of economical, social and political crises.

A much-needed will is required to root out the problems of women, so that they can play a progress role in the development. Woman empowerment is a key phenomenon in bringing about sustainable socio-economic progress of every nation. This forward-looking approach is helping welfare societies to benefit from the active participation of women from every walk of life. It is not as if nothing is being done in Pakistan with regard to women empowerment but clearly not enough. Most women, especially in the rural areas, are being deprived of basic human rights. In metropolitans, they are victims of exploitation and harassment at workplaces, educational institutions, even in public offices. They get paid for labour far less than males.

Amid several laws and legislation against women abuse, when a woman reports such crime against her, she herself becomes a target of exploitation and further harassment. They are so vulnerable to torture and terror in our society that they fear speaking up for their own rights and most of the crimes against bury unreported. Many a women, with history of harassment, are found to have been forced into prostitution and bonded labour in our country. It is not only the duty of the government or NGOs to safeguard women’s rights, but of every citizen of Pakistan. Women of Pakistan also must have to stand for their rights like Sughra Solangi. Men are also appealed to adopt a positive and just approach towards women, following the footsteps of our founding father.

The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore and can be reached at salmanali088@gmail.com