Origin of the Feminist Movements in Pakistan
During the last few decades, one could observe a revival of the feminist movement in its various shades. An increased emphasis on women’s rights in Pakistan has seen this phenomenon rise in the face onslaught from religion and a conservative culture even among the political and social elites. In spite of the achievements of female gender in the country, such as selecting one of the first elected female leaders of a country in the world, women still live in a precarious situation in Pakistan. This has led to the increase in feminist movement activities in Pakistan. This essay argues that feminist and women's rights, in general, have been handicapped by social and religious conservatism and governmental inconsistency.
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In Pakistan, the station of women has for decades been characterized by gender insubordination and open misogynist. Like in most other nations, however, there has been a change in various classes and regions on how women are treated by the community and their families. The Constitution has recognized the role of women, and their rights in the republic in Article 25(2) (Saigol, 2016). However, Pakistan is a dual law country, and as such, the Sharia also plays its role in the administration of Pakistan. Ultimately, some of the people in power and Sharia courts have interpreted that Sharia law stipulates the subjugation of women. For instance, the rulings of the Saima Waheed Case of 1997 while respecting the right of women to marry freely, also called for a constitutional amendment that would change the laws so as to stop marriages “based on love” and enforce parental consent in marriages (Saigol, 2016). An example is the institution of Hudood ordinances that included the feared Zina ordinance (Saigol, 2016). This helped fuel the feminist movement in Pakistan, especially the one that is driven and geared towards the secular driven values.
Secondly, some of the practices in the country have further given the credence and drive to the feminist movement in Pakistan. These have included the Purdah practices that encourage the complete isolation of women from the public sphere (Saigol, 2016). This not only restricts their liberty and movement but also limits their participation in other social and economic activities outside of the home. Another social practice that has drawn furor is a still widespread practice of child marriage, especially in rural areas. In some cases, young girls are even forced into marriages with strangers so as to settle family and clan disputes. Child marriage is closely related to the instances of watta satta in which families exchange the brides, usually without any consent from their side (Jamal, 2006). This drastic situation again is very common in rural areas. In some areas, men marry women who are their family members according to the Koran, so as to grab their property.
The practice of honor killings is also prevalent in Pakistan. An overwhelming majority of people who are victims of honor killings in Pakistan are women (Jamal, 2006). Moreover, the government has been reluctant to prosecute and punish many of the perpetrators of such crimes. This is exacerbated by the fact that a substantial number of honor killings are against women who seek their right to divorce, or who have been raped, or who get married to the partners that their male relatives do not approve.
Furthermore, there is an inherent inequality in social and legal relations between men and women. The Constitution, however, had a requirement of equality between the genders, but for a long time, women have undergone different social and legal impediments in Pakistan society (Jamal, 2006). This has included the social aspects necessary for the development of society such as education where women have significantly lower access comparing to men with the lowest literacy rate for the women in the world (Saigol, 2016). Moreover, access to property and employment and other economic aspects also remains low among women in Pakistan. By the way, patriarchy has played a crucial role in this regard.
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The Feminist Movement in Pakistan
Given these impediments to their lives, economic, social and economic progress, the feminist movement has developed in China. The movement traces its development to the pre-partition and colonial days. During the partition times, Fatimamh Jinna, who was the sister of the man considered to be the founder of modern Pakistani Nation, founded the Women’s relief committee (Saigol, 2016). This committee sought to assist in the repatriation of female refugees from India to Pakistan. The more progressive All-Pakistani Women’s Association was formed in 1949 by Begum Jinnah, the wife of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan (Saigol, 2016). This organization seeks to improve the social, economic and educational standards of women in the country (Saigol, 2016). Jinna was even to run for the Presidency in 1965, and in a show of goodwill, some parties rooted in religion even supported her, but she lost the election.
When General Zia took over the government, he has imposed strict measures on the freedom of women, something that was found to be not agreeable. The Women’s Action Forum was then formed to fight against Zia’s regime that repressed women on issues such as the issuance of the Zina Ordinances (Jamal, 2006). The legal, social and economic repression that followed his regime led to the reengagement of many things in the feminist movement.
While many of the feminists in Pakistan are secular feminists, there is also a large number of people who are Islamic feminists. This is a relatively new phenomenon and seeks to redefine the practices and norms of Islam to fit the discourse on the rights of women in Pakistan and elsewhere (Saigol, 2016). Islamic feminism seeks to appeal to the less educated middle and lower class strata in the society for which religion is the major source of answers to life questions (Jamal, 2006). However, more often than not, these feminists are treated like propagandists of the western culture who want to misinterpret Islam to fit their western-inspired ideals.
Many of the feminist movements, including the ones that are inspired by Islam, gained a lot of prominence during the time when Benazir Bhutto served as the prime minister. Her government gave many NGOs and related focus groups a lot of discretion about the propagation of women’s rights and lobbying the governance structures to improve the plight of women in Pakistan (Saigol, 2016). However, after Pervez Musharraf came to power, any of the gains women had accumulated during the Bhutto era were reversed by an increase in social and religious conservatism. This became apparent in 1997 when the Council for Islamic Ideology, a quasi-governmental body, recommended wearing the burqa to be mandatory for women in public (Saigol, 2016). However, the number of honor killings also seemed to increase in Pakistan. Nonetheless, in due time Musharraf saw the need for women’s rights and rallied for women’s involvement in the most visible aspects of the society such as the media, politics, and sports (Gul, 2006). This enabled the WMA to thrive with the introduction of laws that explicitly promoted the place of women in the society while removing some of the restrictions they have faced before. These included the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2004, Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, Criminal Acid Bill, Protection of Women Act and the Status of Women Bill (Gul, 2006). All these resolutions and documents have assisted in making Pakistan safer for females.
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There has also been a surge in the discussion on the rights of women after the murder of Qandeel Baloch that was kind of a social media sensation in the country. Her brother murdered her in an apparent honor killing (Agence France-Presse, 2016). This again showed that in spite of the gains that women have made in recent decades in Pakistan, the place of women, and especially a progressive one in the country is still socially conservative.
The issue of the child and women rights activist Malala Yousafzai raises a lot of controversy in the country. It is apparent that from her pre-teens, she has been an advocate for the rights of children, and especially girls in Pakistan (The Nobel Foundation, 2014). This is more so in the areas that the Taliban has occupied in the nation have banned the schooling of girls. In the days when the Taliban came to her home district, she ran a blog supported by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that was a source of inspiration to the children who wanted to get an education but had their schools bombarded by the Taliban (The Nobel Foundation, 2014). She also gave the talks on the rights of girls for an education questioning the Taliban for their banning of the same.
Her advocacy of women’s rights in the country led to an assassination attempt by the Taliban. While on her way for school, a gunman entered the school bus, shot her but she survived. As a result, this incident has increased her fame. After she had recovered, she continued her advocacy. Her bravery in the fight for the rights of women in the country has seen her lauded internationally including being a nominee for the International Children’s Award, meeting prominent people including the US president, and finally becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (The Nobel Foundation, 2014). Her dalliance with leading people in the West has complicated her stance in Pakistan with a majority of people being ambivalent towards her (Pew Review Center, 2014). However, a significant number of people in Pakistan do not approve her; notwithstanding, she remains one of the most recognizable names in the struggle for the rights of girls, and especially the rights for education in the country that has one of the highest illiteracy rates among women in the world.
How the Government and Society Are Dealing/ Responding with Feminist Movements in Pakistan
Religion and social strata of the people have influenced the reaction towards the feminist movement. Among the educated middle class, there is more reception of feminist ideals. Moreover, in major cities like Karachi, most people seem ready to respect the rights of women to a large extent.
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Nevertheless, while a significant percentage of Pakistanis is receptive to the rights of women, this is not across the board. In some cases, the feminist movement has faced opposition from religious and social conservative circles (Jamal, 2006). For instance, the murder of Qandeel Baloch, a young Pakistani woman who tried to assert her independence from her socially conservative family, shows the extent to which the nation can tolerate the rights of women to make their own decisions (Agence France-Presse, 2016). In some cases, being explicitly feminist is seen as an affront to contradict to Islam, which is the dominant religion in the nation (Jamal, 2006). Moreover, some of the more prominent feminists have faced accusations from religious leaders as being agents of Westernization in the country, which has affected their acceptability among people, especially in rural and conservative circles.
The government’s reaction towards the feminist movements in the country has been haphazard, and contradictory. While there have been some progressive policies that have sought to support or at least tolerate the feminist movement in the country, the same has not been for other administrations. For instance, in 1956, the Constitution recognized the principle of suffrage for women. However, the military government of Aye Khan has suspended the constitution, thus doing away with the rights (Jamal, 2006). By the way, the Constitution-making Committee of the year 1972 included two women. This was under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had campaigned on the issue of equality (Gul, 2006). In the ensuing of the Constitution in 1973, Arbuckle 25(2) affirmed the equality of the sexes. This marked a continuous increase in the rights of women within the country. The Bhutto government is thus responsible for supporting many women’s organizations, but it also seemed that this was in so far as they remained within the confines of the traditional norms.
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After the overthrow of Bhutto, the country faced a rapid Islamization in the public sphere during the dictatorship of Zia-al-Huq. This caused that women lost the little of the rights they had (Gul, 2006). Dress codes and discrimination of women were placed for government consideration and included the Hudood Ordnances and other laws (Saigol, 2016). The situation led to the awakening of women’s rights advocates. The government seemed to get bolder in the discrimination of women in 1981 by proposing a new law of evidence. According to this law, the evidence of a woman was not so worthy than those of a man and this law faced drastic opposition from the Pakistani Women Lawyers and WAF (Gul, 2006). The status of women improved significantly during Benazir Bhutto's government, and the climate was more liberal compared to the previous military administration. The next government led by Sharif was tolerant to the women’s movement at first, but later it tried to pass the Shariat Bill which would have greatly undermined the rights of women (Saigol, 2016). Sharif was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf before he could do that. After Musharraf’s overthrow, the governments have been relatively liberal towards the feminist movement but have also been encumbered with some controversy, especially after some people who stood in opposition to the feminist movement and women's rights such as Maulana Shiraini were appointed to the Council for Islamic Ideology(Saigol, 2016). The existence of some legal institutions, such as the Federal Shariat Court, which has struck some pro-women legislation as being contrary to Islam, has further complicated the female issues.
International Convections Dealing With Women’s Rights in Pakistan
In spite of gender inequality in the country, Pakistan has acceded to some international agreements on gender equality. The first one is the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which is one of the most compressive women rights conventions in the world (United Nations, 2016). Secondly, the country is also a member of the Beijing Platform for Action. Pakistan, however, signed both of them in 1996. Pakistan has also signed the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2016). These two instruments reaffirm the principal part of the female gender in the growth of the state and call on countries to take steps so as to achieve gender equality
The essay has sought to argue that in Pakistan, the feminist movement, while it continues to grow, faces significant challenges from both Pakistani society and government whose policies do not seem to be structured as regards women’s affairs. It is apparent that while a significant number of women have been involved in the organization who struggle for the rights of women, from the wife of the first prime minister to Pakistani activist Malala, they have all encountered a myriad of challenges from the society. The government has several times enacted laws or elected them. There has been the assertion by some members of the religious leaders that feminists seek to bring western values to Pakistan which is not approved by Islam. However, there have also seen some progress and success in this struggle like an election of prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the campaign against the inaction of the evidence act and active campaign of famous Pakistani defender Malala.