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A Trajectory of Hope: The Pakistani Woman

Nothing scares an extremist more than a girl with a book. Nothing develops the morality in a child more than an educated mother. Nothing is more vital to a society’s success than the state of the woman

There are more women than men in Pakistan. Doesn’t that seem odd? Where are all of them? We hardly see the same number of women as men out on the streets or in workplaces/ courts/parliaments/ armies/ cabinets or in any administrative or executive position. Why is that? Have we ever wondered what our mothers, daughters, wives and sisters might achieve if we do not chop the wings of their future development and instead teach them how to fly?

Many believe that women are inherently subservient to men. This belief can stem from, religious, ethnic or social codes. But there is another reason why man thinks of woman as his inferior and it has something to do with evolution. For most of man’s journey on this planet, he is been living in a hunter-gatherer era. Man’s instincts to provide food for his family are more significant than what we might feel. After all, he has been doing that for centuries and centuries before modern work places were even conceived of. There is no doubt that our male ancestors took greater risks than their female counter parts since their job consisted of hunting wild beasts while their mates were to stay in the protected domain of the shelter they had built and deliver future offspring who would carry the beacon of humanity among them. The asymmetry in physical strength is what fundamentally makes man ‘superior’ to the woman but I ask, how important is the attribute of brute physical strength in today’s time?

There was a time when the greatest fighters were held in the highest esteem since the brute strength of man inspired all. Gladiator fights would cost hundreds of lives and the winners would be champions forever. Even mythical stories of heroes such as Achilles and Hercules inspire strength and force more than wisdom and knowledge. Man has not stopped obsessing over this phenomenon and even now it is apparent in spectator sports such boxing and the various variations of wrestling. I often imagine why we feel a distinct sort of pleasure when two fighters face each other and try to cause the maximum physical pain to their opponents within the framework of the sport. Perhaps it is because we cherish contest. Perhaps we want to feel emotions we would otherwise not feel, at least not comfortably. But there might be a darker reason, a reality which the Germans call ‘Schadenfreude’. Literally it means kill-joy but its philosophical connotations denote that man feels pleasure at the misfortune of others. This would probably explain why gladiator fights sometimes consisted of slaves tied down to poles while bloodthirsty lions were unleashed upon them. What kind of a society would allow such an inhumane act, that too just for pleasure? Turns out it was the most civilized power at that time, the Roman Empire.

What can the Pakistani men of today’s time learn from this? Perhaps the reason we want to subdue ‘our’ women is not because of any religious, social or cultural reason but of deep-rooted psychological reasons best described as ‘Schadenfreude’. Perhaps we are too insecure in our own skin that we dare not see our female counterparts outshine us. This insecurity lies further than any religious or cultural fascination. Perhaps man is weary of his position as the dominant gender and in a world where strength is not as significant as it was before, he is holding on to a superiority complex based on nothing but physical force. The weakness of man can be understood. The two most powerful people in the world include Vladimir Putin and Barrack Obama, what can they do which the third most powerful person Angela Merkel not do?

The US has been an innovator in many aspects but we beat them to the first Female head of state. We have elected a woman twice while the American population has never done so even though there seems to be a promising change in the next US elections. If a woman can be a Prime Minister, is there anything she cannot be? Benazir is only one example. Granted that she inherited most of her power but it cannot be denied that in a world dominated by men, she left her mark. No one can ever claim that they were successful in over-powering or dominating the Late Benazir Bhutto.

Politics seems to be man’s world in Pakistan but I would argue that some of our greatest political minds have been female.

Maleeha Lodhi, Phd, twice served in the capacity of Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US and once as High Commissioner of Pakistan in Britain. She now serves as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. Can you imagine what we would have wasted if we had told her to stay at home and not partake in public life?

Syed Abida Hussain, a politician fiercer than any man who would stand in between her political journey. She has many times successfully contested a General Assembly Seat from Jhang, defeating her macho-makhdoom cousin and other powerful political stalwarts. Her book, Power Failure describes well the journey of a beautiful maiden dragged in the cusps of male dominated power politics.

Hina Rabbani Khar, former Foreign Minister has a degree from LSE as well as diplomatic skills second to no man who has ever encountered her. Even though she was young, she was considered to be the best candidate to represent Pakistan in the world at large.

There are a few things common in these three great politicians. All of them inherited their power to some extent, they belonged to rich and powerful parents and they all aligned themselves with political parties to maintain their power. More interestingly, all three of them were chosen for diplomacy, perhaps to show a softer image of Pakistan. This shows that even our leaders understand the significance of women in positions of power.

One begins to wonder how many thousands of Benazirs, Abidas, Maleehas and Hinas do not reach their potential simply because there are men who feel insecure about themselves and thus do not let the women under their power contribute to humanity, as every individual should. We are all guilty in this regard, from the bottom to the top. The poor man prefers to send his son to school instead of his daughter, the rich man sends his son to university and get’s his daughter married at a young age. Some rich men are happy to send their sons abroad for education but cannot even conceive sending their daughters since they perceive it as a dent to their ego.

We have assigned gender roles, such which must always be followed at least in 99% of the society. Women are supposed to be soft, loving, caring, meek, silent, covered, introverted, shy and most importantly obedient. Men however are supposed to be rough, strong, powerful, crude, insensitive, cruel and most importantly, dominant. Those who move further from their assigned gender roles incur the wrath of the society at large. This wrath can be endured if one has significant financial means but it cannot be avoided if one is financially dependent to a man.

Pakistani women have contributed a lot to the society and they have much more left to contribute. In a failing economy such as ours, it is the responsibility of the State to encourage women to work and contribute to the economy. In agricultural lands where labor is required, women work besides men. Necessity drives even the most honorable man to sacrifice his perceived morals when he is hungry as nothing is more important than survival, not honor and not even perceived morality.

I propose that the government make it a priority to ensure that the some amount of money is spent on female education as it is in male education. There should be legislation, which punishes parents who do not send their daughters to school. It should also be a prerogative of the government to ensure a safe environment where children of all social classes and genders can gain a proper education.

What if Malala had been a boy? Would our feelings for her be different? I think those who love her would love her less and those who hate her would also hate her less. It is because if a boy was shot, our sympathies would not be as much and thus this would not be such a tragic tale. If the boy publicly denounced the Taliban, even the extremists would have not paid a lot of heed since many boys and men are prone to say many things. But, it was a girl, a young child who stood up against the entire premise of extremism by not submitting to fear continue to hold the principle of learning and education most dear.

Nothing scares an extremist more than a girl with a book. Nothing develops the morality in a child more than an educated mother. Nothing is more vital to a society’s success than the state of the woman. There is only one trajectory of hope for us, the Pakistani woman.

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