Women Independence in our Society - Lunar Gaze Lunar Gaze: Women Independence in our Society



Women Independence in our Society

Blog By: Rimsha Zulfiqar

July 05, 2020

/ by pyro gyro
Women Independence in our Society

In the shadows of the more prominent figures like Fatima Jinnah, Begum Shahnawaz, Salma Tassaduque Hussain, Begum Liaqat Ali Khan and Fatima Sughra, there were countless women who dedicated their lives to the Pakistan movement. Theirs was a parallel story of courage and labor, a voice that invigorated the struggle but was unheard when the deafening roar of 'Pakistan Zindabad' rang out.

Pakistan does not treat its women well. This can be attributed to the two traditions the country has inherited. One, women’s poor status is common in the Muslim world. They are segregated and don’t have access to the government-supplied social services that equal those available to the male population. There is no better example of this than the attack on Malala Yousafzai that almost killed her. Her crime: to speak in public about the importance of educating girls. The second example is from Saudi Arabia that does not allow women to drive automobiles. This restriction severely limits women’s ability to move around and hence, for them to enter the workforce in the Kingdom. The second tradition comes from the country’s location. Pakistan is a South Asian country and women’s status in the subcontinent is low. It took the rule by the British to make the burning of Hindu widows a crime, a practice called ‘sati’. Even now, India by tradition assigns a very low status to women in its society. It is interesting that the practice of ‘triple talaq’ — a husband could divorce his wife by simply saying ‘I divorce you’ three times — among Muslims in India was declared to be illegal by the Indian Supreme Court. In Pakistan, the practice was banned by the 1961 Muslim Family Laws Ordinance promulgated by the military government headed by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Upon achieving independence, Bangladesh did not abandon this marital law provision.

Women’s low status in Pakistan has serious demographic consequences. The government’s optimism that the country had entered the phase of demographic transition has not been borne out by the census of 2017. It is estimated that the rate of growth in population was one-third higher than what the government had believed. It was 2.4 percent rather than 1.8 percent assumed in the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2016-17. The second surprise from the census’s finding is that the sex ratio in Pakistan has not adjusted to what is regarded as the demographic norm. In normal populations, the ratio of women in the total population is slightly higher than that of men. This is largely on account of women’s longer life expectancy. This has not happened in Pakistan and the reason is the relatively low status of women in Pakistani society. As the impressive demographic transition in Bangladesh has shown, improving women’s standing in society has significant consequences for the birth-rate. Bangladesh, once a part of Pakistan, has shown what can be achieved by improving women’s social and economic status in society.

The main factor accounting for women’s higher social status in Bangladeshi society is the rate of female participation in the labor force which, at 43.1 percent, is almost double of Pakistan’s 24.3 percent. This is largely due to the employment of women in Bangladesh’s large garment-making industry. Another factor is the level of female educational attainment. Once women enter the workforce, their need for education increases. In Bangladesh, 42 percent of women aged 25 years and above have some secondary education compared to Pakistan’s 26.5 percent. The sociological consequences arising from these two factors probably explain most of the significant differences in the status of the women in these two countries.

In Pakistan, parents appear to invest less in their daughter’s education because they expect higher labor market rewards from their sons — this is due to the expected parental dependence on their sons during old age. This creates discriminatory practices and accounts for lower school enrolment rates for girls. The empirical evidence from Pakistan, however, shows that the return on education is much higher for females than males, but the portion of the returns on daughters’ education that goes to parents is much lower than in the case of sons. Upon getting married, most women move from their parent’s household to that of their husband’s. This is the case in particular in rural areas.

Another factor that applies to women in general in Pakistan and elsewhere is time-poverty or time-paucity. Girls’ day is filled with activities that are not required of boys. In households with many children, older girls are required to care for their younger siblings. With their time thus crowded, girls are unable to attend schools. The problem becomes more acute for women in the workforce as they are still expected to continue with their gender-related and culturally-defined domestic roles. Lower rates of fertility reduce the size of households and cut down on the demand for girls for attending to young children. This is one of the many virtuous cycles that appear all over the demographic field.

The foregoing raises a number of questions, many of them relating to the making of public policy. How should girls’ access to education be improved is a question policymakers should ask. This can be done with a combination of government action and private initiative. Governments at various levels — in particular at the local level — should build schools for girls, bringing educational institutions nearer to home. This way, girls will not need to walk long distances to go to school. The private sector should be encouraged to provide small amounts of credit to women entrepreneurs, especially to those that employ women to increase their operations. Once these steps have been taken, local governments may levy fines on the households that still keep girls from attending school. These and other actions could be incorporated in “women’s social uplift programs”, provinces should be required to formulate and implement.

The employment of women in Bangladesh’s large garment industry has made them relatively independent of men’s control. They have a greater say in deciding on the appropriate size of their families. Bangladesh performs better in terms of the social development of women compared to Pakistan.

Before discussing whether women have rights in Pakistani society or not, one must first understand Pakistani society.

The women in Pakistan have been constantly complaining of having being isolated from mainstream society. Women feel disillusioned on being maltreated by the male-oriented set up in Pakistan. They strongly claim that if they are given a chance, they can contribute more positively towards the development of all social aspects. However Pakistani society usually adopts a hostile attitude towards women. Their development in society is hindered due to many factors. Particularly the rural woman has to tolerate unbearable dominance by the other sections of society.

Numerically the women in Pakistan are almost equal to men. They are equal in potential as men. Pakistani women live in the most diversified location of the tribal, feudal or urban environments. She can be a highly qualified and self-confident professional or a diffident peasant toiling along with her men-folk.

A significant number of women in Pakistan observes ‘Pardha’ while coming out of their homes or when mixing with men in social settings. The concept of the ‘Pardha,’ or veil, is meant to segregate the women-folk from the male section of the society. The women are not prohibited from working but at the same time are supposed to keep their behavior in line with Islamic values. Because of the pardha system, most women (particularly of low education) have to work at home to contribute financially to the household. They involve themselves in knitting, dressmaking, embroidery , and other such endeavors.

In areas like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, life is governed and regulated by a strict set of beliefs and behavioral patterns. Often a woman has no say in any aspect of her life, including her marriage. In the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, a woman may keep her connections with her family after marriage. She is expected to receive economic and emotional support from her brothers and father in case she gets a divorce from her husband. In Punjab and Sindh, women work the fields alongside men, collecting fuel and in some cases working on the construction sites shifting material from one place to another.

Most women in rural areas have to bear the double burden of domestic work as well as other jobs to earn money. They are the first to rise and the last to go to bed. They light the fire to prepare breakfast, wash the utensils and clean the house before setting out to work on whatever they were working on before. When every member has gotten out of bed after completing the day’s work, they are engaged in more work. Although the conditions of women in urban areas are better than those of rural women. Traditions and religious restraints have hindered women’s independence to a great degree. However, Pakistan is still the first country in the Muslim world that has elected a woman as its prime minister, that too twice.

Women’s rights are the basis for the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth century and feminist movements during the 20th century. In some countries, these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local customs, and behavior. Whereas in others they are ignored and suppressed. They differ from broader notions of human rights through claims of an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls, in favor of men and boys.

The Qur’an, revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) over the course of years, provided guidance to the Islamic community and modified existing customs in Arab society. From 610 and 661, known as the early reforms under Islam, the Qur’an introduced fundamental reforms to customary law and introduced rights for women in marriage, divorce, and inheritance. By providing that the wife, not her family, would receive a dowry from the husband, which she could administer as her personal property, the Qur’an made women a legal party to the marriage contract.

While in customary Arab law, inheritance was limited only to male descendants. The Qur’an introduced rules on inheritance with certain fixed shares being distributed to designated heirs, first to the nearest female relatives and then the nearest male relatives. According to Annemarie Schimmel “compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned herself.” Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures until centuries later. According to Professor William Montgomery Watt, when seen in such historical context, Muhammad “can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights.”

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