March issue 2009

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 15 years ago

Maulana Sufi of the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi, who has just thrashed out a peace deal with the ANP government, says he will be conferring with the Taliban to gauge their views on allowing girls to go back to school.

So, will those who went around burning 200 girls’ schools depriving 80,000 students of schooling and 8,000 teachers of jobs, and beheaded an NGO worker for protesting against this barbarism be presiding over the destiny of women?

The space that the Pakistani woman had created for herself, after a long and arduous battle fought over the last 60 plus years, is being eroded, bit by bit.

The most troubling aspect of this disturbing scenario is that those who wish to push Pakistan back to the medieval ages have been given the moral authority to decide a woman’s fate by our elected representatives. Members of secular and liberal-minded parties like the PPP and the ANP, who profess to hold the woman’s cause dear to their heart, boast women activists like Sherry Rehman, Bushra Gohar, Shahnaz Wazir Ali and Nafisa Shah in their ranks.

So, why aren’t these articulate women making their presence felt? Why didn’t they protest, loud and clear, when girls’ schools in Swat were being razed to the ground and women were being forced to stay at home?

Surely they represent women in the assemblies — or do they only represent their respective parties?

Had they raised their voices, one would not have been a witness to some of the unsavoury acts of the present dispensation. Israrullah Zehri, the senator who defended the burying alive of five women in his area as being part of Baloch tradition, for instance, should have been booted out. What happened instead? The man was awarded a ministry — that of post offices — especially created for him. And that’s not all. Another minister, who presided over a jirga that handed over three girls between the ages of two and five years as compensation to settle a tribal feud, was given the august ministry of education.

But the story doesn’t end here. Remember Mukhtaran Mai, that brave woman from Meerwala who filed a case against her rapists from the upper-caste Mastoi tribe. Seven years down the road she still has to get justice. And what’s more, a sitting minister from the PPP ranks is pressuring Mukhtaran to withdraw the case or else face defeat in the Supreme Court. He says he will not allow the humiliation of his tribe.

Incidentally, while this government has created a special ministry to accommodate Mr Zehri, a minister for women’s development has yet to be appointed. There is talk, however, of creating yet another commission on the status of women.

Every incoming government wants to create a commission. To what end? Write another report? Three previous commissions have written extensive reports delineating the problems of women: violence, sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace, low literacy levels, high mortality rates, anti-women laws and feudal practices.

This International Women’s Day, let the PPP appoint a minister for women’s development and start implementing the recommendations of the former commissions, one by one, instead of writing another report which will be consigned to the backburner by the next government.

We at Newsline decided to celebrate March 8 by bringing out a special issue written entirely by women — and dedicated to all the wonderful women who carry on their struggle, despite the odds.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.