According to a report of the Aurat Foundation, Pakistan is a country where almost 70% women are victims of domestic violence, at least once in their lives. This violence is generally committed by their intimate partners---husbands. These figures, however, do not include psychological violence, which is even more common in urban communities.

There are several reasons behind violence against women in Pakistan. Sociologists have identified many factors, ranging from cultural to economic and political, which play a vital role in making women vulnerable and a marginalized social group. Also, there have been various proposed coping strategies by the practitioners and academics in this field. But like so many other things in this country these researches are either only to provide us some facts and figures in order to get foreign aid, or are thrown into the dustbin of history. This is really unfortunate.

Reports by independent organizations and academic research on women’s deteriorating state of affairs and powerlessness are not ignored without any reason. There are reasons behind this deliberate refusal. But the most convincing, and largely accepted, argument is made by the culturists. This argument, which is beyond any factual evidence, demands a careful examination in order to counter it and get rid of it. 

There are so many emotionally charged ethnocentric culturists who firmly believe that women in Pakistan are neither voiceless nor are they powerless. The widely held popular belief is that women are respected, heard, and decently treated. This is what men believe, but not practice. Merely believing in some positive things is as useless as practicing a bad thing. A good idea, philosophy or view deserves to be shared, practiced and advocated.

When talking about respect and dignity such misogynists excessively talk about the status of an old mother, a submissive wife, an obedient sister and women covered in a veil. Ironically, submissiveness is what defines a woman with a good character for them. Those who question or argue are liable to be disrespected and silenced.

As a matter of reality, however, women in Pakistan, at a large scale are voiceless, powerless and considered men’s possession. This is what most of the research categorically suggests. Cases of honor killing, forced marriages, domestic violence on media further confirm this scientific research. Empirical studies conducted by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other Non-Governmental Organizations working on women rights expose the indecent truth of our society. Mostly women are not allowed to take decisions even in their most personal matters---the right to choose a better-half--- and apart from a few exceptions no woman is allowed to decide her role in public sphere; her job and interaction with her colleagues. Women’s role in public sphere, if any, is strictly defined, scoped, and drawn by men of her family. There can be two reasons behind this strictness. One is that perhaps women are thought to be lacking in reason, therefore men should decide things for her. Two, a woman is a man’s possession, hence her role would be defined and determined by her ‘master’.

Moreover, all matters which are sensitive or public in nature are discussed by the male members of the family. Generally it is the father and his son who decide about their girls and sometimes sons’ mother plays a role of an assistant, or a symbolic consultant, whose opinion slightly matters, but is never deterministic.

Making claims of women empowerment in a country where women have almost no rights to decide about their private or personal and professional lives reflects that there exists a serious logical disorder which needs to be seriously diagnosed and medicated.

The more disturbing thing is that the idea of women empowerment is often refuted under the pretext of cultural invasion by the imperialist West. Even many educated women argue against being empowered at the cost of social chaos.  Mostly, any effort to empower women is seen with suspicion, as if it would disturb our ideal family system. This is not what people, and particularly women, think of empowerment; rather this is how the idea of empowerment has been framed in our society.

Let’s talk about Pakistani culture. The culture of Pakistan can be best manifested if we talk about it in the same context. It indoctrinates a girl in a way that she is convinced that it is not possible for a woman to earn independently, nor can she protect herself. For both economic security and protection of her honor she needs a man; sometimes in the form of a father, then as brother and finally as a husband. She is convinced that there is no protection without a man. This is how Pakistani culture induces an idea of dependency in the minds of girls at their early stage of life.

Mothers in Pakistan tell their daughters not to go out, but they never tell them that why should they stay at home. Dear girls, you can’t go out because your brothers are out.

Unfortunately, women both educated and uneducated, in urban and rural communities, to a great extent, view the idea of women empowerment inherently negatively. Women empowerment is, as many women in Pakistan view it, a radical disruptive social revolution which aims at destroying our family system and marriage institution to create a western individualistic materialistic social order. Therefore, we, the eastern obedient daughters and faithful wives, don’t need any empowerment. Women empowerment is only a myth to topple our social system. This is simply untrue. Straightforwardly speaking, this is not what women empowerment means.

The main reason behind anti-feminist waves among Pakistani women is due to male-dominated cultural discourse in our society. Historically speaking, whenever any marginalized group gets some recognition and successfully attains some legal protection, the privileged group feels threatened and shows remarkable resistance. Oftentimes the argument to oppose any attempt to uplift the weaker segment of the society is based upon sociological reasons – the cultural norms and macro-level social patterns do not allow any such radical change. In case of Pakistan, almost every law which is made to protect women is sheepishly opposed by the lovers of patriarchy on the same lines as if it would disrupt our sociology.

Today Pakistani men feel about women empowerment in the same way white people felt about black empowerment in the previous century.

Today’s world is, however, more intercommoned and interdependent, therefore the process of social change is more frequent and fast. Expecting to live in 19th century is a stupid idea. And Pakistani men have to accept today’s bitter realities. Women empowerment is the bitterest idea for the ethnocentric cultural in Pakistan. But it needs to be peacefully accepted. This is a decent truth of our age.

But in a situation where women are not willing to get empowered, and men have greater control over the means of shaping narrative and developing popular discourses, what needs to be done? Probably the very first thing to be done is to redefine and reframe the idea of women empowerment. Women need to be told that women empowerment does not mean disobedience or destruction of family institution, rather it means to uplift woman, to give her a say in decision making, to end dependency, and above all, it means to make women understand that to sustain a relationship she alone is not responsible. And men should be told that women empowerment does not imply replacing patriarchy with matriarchy, rather it means to give women equal rights as a human being and as a life-partner.  This is what women empowerment is all about. This is so simple and clear.

To redefine and reframe the idea of women empowerment the role of academicians, media and public intellectual is the only ray of hope in the dark alley.