Pakistan is a country of many contrasting clichés. Just imagine that an event to celebrate the empowerment of women would be staged all around the country on the 8th of March – a country where the birth of a daughter is not considered a great fortune. Just imagine that at such an event in Lahore a little girl in grade 4 would deliver a speech in such impeccable Urdu that she rendered the whole audience speechless with awe. And then directly asked the chief minister presiding over the event where he found most comfort – in his office or at his mother’s side.
The power of Pakistani women has long been denied but is still persistent. They might have been kept hidden inside their homes for so long yet now women all over Pakistan are coming out with a vengeance. They are everywhere, from institutions to athletics to media to politics. We even have our very own women’s cricket team and we have had a woman as the premier of Pakistan too.
Still, so many of the ordinary women I know have managed to maintain their households and raise kids. My mom raised me and my sister, worked as a doctor, managed our home and took care of my dad. To be honest, I think she worked twice as hard as any man I know and still never complained. I feel sorry for men who feel that women are inferior to men because no man can be without women as the saying “behind every great man there is a woman” goes.
The other day I heard about a case in the legal department of a major hospital in my city – 3 girls were lured away from their home by a neighbor who promised to find them work. The eldest one was raped, and the middle one is reported missing. Generally, in a country like Pakistan where the appearance of dignity is more important than dignity itself, a case like this would never have come to light. People never let the poor victim forget what happened to her- thousands of versions of the story are churned up, most devoid of any semblance of truth, but all with the sole intention of making sure that the victim can never resume any semblance of normal life. But this girl managed to break free from conventions and come forward to demand justice for herself and her sister, instead of keeping it all hush-hush for the sake of appearances. This was an act of singular bravery on her part. It takes considerable courage to show that pretending that everything is okay doesn’t make things all right. In fact, it doesn’t help at all.
I firmly believe that women should be given the same opportunities as men. I would want my daughter to have all the opportunities that I would want for my son. As a human being and as a Muslim this is little less than my duty- which is certainly not to use ill interpreted ideas of religion as an excuse for keeping women locked up in their homes or hidden behind veils.
Though it’s at a very late hour, anyone with access to the internet or even television can learn about women’s rights and needs and become aware of their enormous potential – no matter what society outside might be constantly telling them.
It is actually a little shocking to me that a country where we have had Benazir Bhutto, a woman, as our prime minister, should in fact also be a country where girls are raised to believe that their sole objective in life is to land a suitable husband. But then again, change is here to stay and we are indeed changing for the better.
We see women in every field, on every platform doing things they have been lead to believe they couldn’t. Girls form the largest percentage of students receiving scholarships. I see girls from non-affluent backgrounds working hard to get into high positions while supporting their families – which was traditionally the man’s role. But now the lines demarcating the roles set by society for women- as daughters, wives, and mothers- are wavering. And the horizon is opening to unlimited opportunities. It makes me glad to know that such awareness is reaching new heights, and even though the feminist movement was a little slow to pick up at first, it is now reaching a satisfying level of development as women have educated themselves and realize that the world is not just a set path but much more an unlimited number of choices. This power to choose is the actual reason for the empowerment of women at the present hour.
What I would like to see is a Pakistan where women aren’t defined by their men. Women are not just somebody’s wife or somebody’s daughter. I would like to see a country where a person’s achievements were what described him or her. Nobody’s individuality should be suppressed just because she is a girl and thus is supposed to follow certain norms dictated by society. Rather, they should be allowed to discover whatever they want to be, whatever they want to do with their own lives. This would lead to a better Pakistan, and a better society and self-confident, educated women will play an absolutely pivotal role in achieving this.
So all hail to the international women and kudos to all the women of Pakistan for all their sacrifices and their valor, integrity and determination in fighting for their causes.