A few hours ago a Pakistani woman, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, made history by winning her second Oscar. A few days ago the Punjab Assembly also made history by passing legislation to protect women from domestic violence joining the ranks of Sindh and Balochistan, while we still wait for KP to wake up. Both of these historic achievements are being criticized and branded by certain quarters as an extension of the western agenda, whereby Pakistan is ridiculed on the world stage for being a dangerous country for women.

The reason I have used the vague phrase “certain quarters” is because I am finding it hard to describe this mindset. I cannot describe them as “conservatives”, “religious” or “right wingers”. These three groups may differ in their views from “liberals”, “seculars” and the “left wingers” on matters of civil liberties and modern day concepts like equal pay, equal opportunity, same sex marriage and on what is appropriate punishment for a particular crime, but it is not conservative, religious or right wing values to defend heinous and blatant acts of violence like acid attacks, honour killings, rape, sexual, psychological and physical abuse against women. “Misogynist”, “sick”, “fanatic”, “extremist”, “ignorant” and “inhumane” appear to be more appropriate words for this group, but I try my best to refrain from assuming the moral high ground and labeling people.

Now let us try and examine the so called “western agenda” in protecting Pakistani women. The law passed by the Punjab Assembly criminalizes any act, amongst others, by a husband which involves taking away food, clothes and shelter from a wife or cause such physical and psychological abuse that it results in a wife facing severe conditions like anorexia, clinical depression and even attempted suicide. These conditions are not a result of a “slight use of force” as mentioned in Surah Nisa and interpreted by many religious scholars, but outcomes of abuse, violence and torture for which I cannot find any justification, even in the most orthodox interpretation of the Holy Quran. But it does not appear worthwhile defending this law through the principles of Islam, as majority of the provisions which are being branded as “anti-Sharia” by the likes of Mr. Naeem of Jamia Binoria or Mr. Fazl-ur-Rehman of JUI-F, do not even exist in this new law. My interaction with certain so-called scholars from JUI-F last night on a TV show further proved to me that most of the critics have not even read the law and these mighty men are only losing their minds after reading the words “Protection of Women.”

Those who say highlighting acid attacks and honor killings in Pakistan is western agenda should be thinking why it is not our own agenda yet. Why is protecting our women, daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, cousins and colleagues not our own agenda yet?

We recruit women to be teachers in every city and every village to protect this nation from illiteracy; we recruit women as lady health workers to walk through every street and reach every corner to protect this nation from polio and we also recruit women in our armed forces to guard every inch of our border to protect it from our enemies. But when it is our turn as a nation to ensure that these wonderful women are protected from abuse in their households why do we protest and resist any such endeavor? Perhaps because patriarchy is not only about maintaining that men are supreme, but also living the lie that men cannot do any wrong in relation to women and whatever step a man may take to “discipline” a woman is justified. So it is not Islamic to suppress and abuse women, it is patriarchal. Do not confuse your gender bias with your religious inclinations.

And it is in this background that Sharmeen’s struggle is and should be Pakistan’s struggle. It is a struggle to acknowledge the perseverance, courage and resolve of thousands of victims of abuse and violence who had to seek refuge from their own family, who had to live without police protection and who had to struggle for justice in courts designed to frustrate them as opposed to providing relief.

It is a struggle where Pakistan musters the courage to give itself a reality check, where we do not hide and run away from our flaws, but we identify them, accept them and address them. A Pakistan where we know that 176 elected MPAs including 32 women will remain absent during voting on the bill to protect women, but the assembly still proceeds against such odds, forms the necessary quorum and passes the bill against social and political pressure. It is struggle to make democracy deliver to do the right thing against the popular vote. Democracy is not only about representing the majority view of the country, but also about electing leaders who are educated, experienced and far-sighted enough to exercise their leaderships skills to understand and do what is better for the majority of the country, even when the majority itself fails to realize it. After all that is the only way of breaking the status quo, moving forward and growing up.

The politicians, clerics, journalists, commentators and the common men and women who have taken potshots at Sharmeen, while suffering through a misplaced sense of nationalism, would have benefited Pakistan more if they play their part towards a safer Pakistan for all – men, women and children. It would be a Pakistan Sharmeen would be happy to depict in her film – but she is a documentary filmmaker who depicts reality not fiction. Those safe in Pakistan won’t become any less safe if their lifestyles are not celebrated, but those in danger will be more endangered if our mainstream media and politics continue to ignore the perils they face.

Sharmeen has played her part by bursting the bubbles of many, including the Prime Minister, who live protected lives and roam around in the corridors of power thinking all is well in the Islamic Republic. The recent Punjab Women’s Protection Act is not just a step forward but it is Pakistan fighting back against draconian traditions, patriarchal mindsets and misconceived notions of religion. It is a declaration that Pakistan has decided to join the struggle of those thousands of female victims of abuse and violence along with Sharmeen and that is why Sharmeen’s win today is indeed Pakistan’s win.