VIEW: Daughters of the nation —Mashal Sahir - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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In Pakistan, the most horrendous abuse of women is rape. According to statistics, 928 women were raped in Pakistan in 2009. However, most cases are never reported due to the humiliation attached to the victim and also because our ‘efficient’ police officers ask embarrassing questions that add insult to injury

Inherently, whenever the word ‘woman’ comes up, we picture a doting mother, a devoted wife, a loving sister or an obedient daughter. But why is a woman referred to by the various relationships associated with her? Does she have no identity of her own?

In Pakistan, a woman’s suffering begins from the time of her birth and continues till her death. The birth of a daughter is seen as a reason for grief. In some cases, baby girls are even poisoned and their bodies are left in dumpsters to rot. Even in urban areas, so-called ‘modern’ families discriminate against their daughters, although they refuse to admit it. Throughout her childhood and youth, a girl is denied most of her rights; she has to understand that she cannot join her brother to play outside on the street and instead has to sit inside and play with dolls even if that is not what she wants. She has to understand that it is alright for her brother go out with his friends but not for her and she has to understand that even though her parents can afford to educate her brother in an expensive private educational institution, they cannot do so for her. Her parents decide what she wears, what she eats, who she talks to and even what she likes and, till the time she gets married, she is constantly trained to become an ideal wife, marriage being her ultimate goal in life. Expressing dismay at a girl’s birth is not the only way to discriminate against her; taking away her right of choice is also discrimination.

Finally, when she grows up, she is married off to somebody her parents approve of. At times, she barely knows the person she is getting married to. However, if she refuses to submit to her parents’ wish, she is forcefully married off to a complete stranger. Moreover, if a girl is found guilty or even suspected of having an ‘illicit’ relationship with any man, it is common in the rural areas of Pakistan for family members to murder the girl. According to the Aurat Foundation, there were 604 cases of honour killings reported in Pakistan during the year.

Furthermore, women are married off to complete strangers for all kinds of reasons. Among poor people in the rural areas, daughters are sold for money. Also, they are married off in order to repay debts and settle disputes. Therefore, it is obvious that in Pakistan, a woman is considered nothing more than a mere possession or an article of trade. It is safe to say here that our ‘educated’ class is far ahead of the illiterate class, for they do not believe in buying girls in the name of marriage. On the contrary, they not only take over the custody of a girl, but also a good amount of dowry that accompanies her. Why give money for something they can charge for? This ‘tradition’ crushes the dignity of a girl and makes her feel like a curse that someone is willing to bear for a price. It is a pity that in our society a woman’s survival is impossible without the presence of a man by her side.

Finally, after years of being controlled, her reins are handed over to her husband and later to her children, who treat her like an immature child who is incapable of making any decisions. A woman is not treated like an individual in our country, she is treated like a burden that one guardian transfers onto the next. Her fate now rests with these new guardians. Once again, her personality is redefined according to her husband’s wishes. She is made to change her habits and her interests and if she fails to do so, she is often subjected to physical torture. Domestic violence is an inextricable feature of our culture, which includes beatings, burning and disfiguring of the face, mutilation and even murder. A monitoring exercise conducted by the law firm AGHS shows that from April to June this year, 122 cases of women being burnt alive were reported in Lahore. However, much of the violence against women, particularly in the domestic sphere, goes unreported.

Other than domestic violence, women are abused in many other ways. In Pakistan, the most horrendous abuse of women is rape. According to statistics, 928 women were raped in Pakistan in 2009. However, most cases are never reported due to the humiliation attached to the victim and also because our ‘efficient’ police officers ask embarrassing questions that add insult to injury. Another form of abuse widely practiced in Pakistan is the trafficking of women. A UN report has described Pakistan as one of the key sources of female trafficking in the world. Due to the existing poverty level, parents are forced to sell their daughters into domestic servitude or prostitution. Moreover, women are discriminated against when applying for jobs and usually a male candidate is considered better for employment.

Men are considered superior to women in our society because of the primitive mindset that prevails in the country. Women are viewed as economically less advantageous than men because of the assumption that they have a lower earning potential than men, which matters a lot in a poor country like ours. Another reason is preserving lineage, as the family name is carried on only by males in our society. Another reason is the gap between law and its implementation; there are laws in the country against honour killing, rape, trafficking and domestic violence, but they are never implemented.

It is imperative to educate the masses, to teach them that an individual’s potential cannot be judged on the basis of his/her gender. The media can play a vital role in this context. There is also a dire need to reform our legal system and to ensure that laws are implemented.

People need to realise that a woman is ‘somebody’. She is somebody who spends her entire life trying to be somebody else’s idea of ‘perfect’ and, somewhere along the way, even she forgets who she is, that she had certain expectations of her own and, by the end of her life, she is nothing more than a reflection of all the expectations people had from her. She is somebody who never gets to live the only life she has. This is probably the price she has to pay for being a woman.

The writer is a staff member and can be reached at

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