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It’s Time to See HER Differently

According to Amartya Sen; the Nobel Prize-winning economist, about 107 million females are missing from the globe today and every year, at least additional 2 million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination. Indeed, gender inequality is one issue that has been there since the very existence of humanity.

There is no denying the fact that women all around the world are the greatest victim of gender discrimination in every walk of life; be it education, politics, health care, economic empowerment or decision making. But most importantly, women have been deprived of three basic rights that every human deserves and that is freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Nicholas Kristof, co-author of the book ‘Half the Sky’ writes,

“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century.”

When you see this level of discrimination against women, you just can’t stop asking yourself, ‘Why women?’ And as if it’s not enough galling, your mind throws another irksome question at you and that is ‘Why do men discriminate against women?’

In Pakistan, due to prevailing male dominance, rights of women are neither given much importance nor any protection. The Global Gender Gap Index Report 2013 ranks Pakistan 135th out of 136 countries on gender-based disparities. This alone explains the intensity of this issue in the country. Every year thousands of women are kidnapped, raped, burned or killed in the name of honor or revenge (Aurat Foundation Report 2012).

Gender discrimination is a behavior which a person learns from his or her culture; it is about having a mind-set that tells you to differentiate between the two genders because one perceives the other as inferior or weaker. Such cultural mind-sets establish the very basis of gender-disparities in Pakistan as well. By raising our little girls to become obedient, submissive and dependent individuals, the society paints a fragile and powerless image of our women which is not only accepted by men but sadly, by women as well.

A girl is not weak and suppressive by default but she is brought up to become like that. She’s told, at every step of her life, that she must be subservient to man who has the power to decide her fate.

Let us analyze some common beliefs and attitudes that exist in our society in this regard.

Men are supposed to be assertive whereas women are supposed to be docile and compromising; any woman who argues, fights for her rights or voices her opinion is considered to be uncultured and big-mouthed. Hence, in our society women are not entitled to have freedom of expression.

Another strong belief is that women ‘must’ be protected either by their father, brother or husband. We are taught from childhood that ‘men’ have to protect us. However, what I find very ironic is that these men will largely protect us from ‘other men’. Although, I will not deny the importance of a father, husband or brother who definitely provides a safe shelter to women but what if her abuser is her father, husband or brother or she is in a situation where these three men are not present, and then what will she do? Apart from physical violence and abuse, it is their very own father or brother who sells them for drug and sex trafficking, kill them in the name of ‘karo-kaari’, force them into ‘watta-satta’ marriage, etc.

We never tell her that she can protect herself and that even though her father, brother or husband will always be there but when there is the need she must stand for herself. This is the reason why women often feel helpless when their very own ‘protectors’ are hurting or abusing them. Worse, they think it is acceptable.

Education is one of the major areas where women have to face discrimination; especially in the rural parts where illiteracy among women is high. The key reason is that men don’t want their females to be empowered as they fear it would reduce their control over them. Although, today we see more and more girls getting higher education in the urban areas but the very motive of parents in educating their daughters is very disturbing. For a majority of parents the primary motive of educating their daughters is to enable them to find a good husband. Moreover, it is for the sake of social ‘status’. A father would very proudly announce in public that his daughter will soon be a doctor and if someone asks his daughter about her future plans the father would immediately reply, ‘Oh, she’ll get married’.

Why can’t we tell our daughters that they need to get education so that they could become better persons, could educate their children and even be able to support their families if needed?

Then there is this strong belief that working women are ‘too liberal’ and housewives are ‘cultured’. The society takes that a working woman can ‘never’ be a good wife, mother and daughter-in-law as her priority is not her family. Even if she does a fairly decent job in balancing her family and work life, the society will find some way to criticize her efforts.

Conversely, the ‘cultured’ housewives also don’t enjoy much appreciation and respect. The daily house chores that housewives do don’t generate any financial reward and, according to men, don’t require any special skills, it is taken for granted since it is something that women are ‘supposed’ to do. However, we fail to understand that their job is much tougher than any other job that earns dollars; they have to work 24/7 with no leaves, holidays or incentives. But what surprises me even more is that if a woman after completing her education decides to become a housewife then she is labeled as backward. Hence, our confused society sets paradoxical standards for women to follow.

Currently, Pakistan’s rank on Human Development Index (HDI) is 146th out of 187 countries while it ranks 123 on Gender Inequality Index. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the existence of such stereotypes sets the stage for momentous gender discrimination that subsists in our society in the form of honor killing, rape, domestic violence, child marriages, etc.

When you tell a small boy not to cry ‘like a girl’, he perceives that girls cry because they are weak. Having this perception in mind, he grows up to be a man who sees women as dependent and powerless individuals. He then teaches the same thing to his children and in this way the chain is never broken, the discrimination goes on.

No matter how much educated our people become but if their minds are still living in the dark ages then women will continue to suffer. This issue doesn’t really need awareness, it needs attention and action; it needs a change of attitude and a will to change.

Women alone can’t bring this change. Until and unless men don’t accept women to be equal to them intellectually, women taking stand for their rights won’t stop this gender disparity. I believe it is also the responsibility of men of our society to ‘take a stand’; they should not only say ‘No Violence to Women’ but also do ‘No Violence to Women’.

Therefore, it’s time that we tell our daughters and sisters that yes, they are beautiful and pretty but most importantly they are smart and courageous, it’s time to let them be the writers of their story, let them dream, let them speak, let them think, let them choose and above all, set them free.

Yes, it’s time to see them differently for a change.

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