—by Zainab Zafar
Our society has been culturally conditioned to exhibit its allergy towards the very notion of Women’s Day. Divided opinions, biased perspectives and dying tolerance apart, look at an odd fact that we are a society that beheads even a statue of a young girl depicting her right to education in Daska, Punjab. Intolerant people also chopped off her fathers’ helping hand as well. If symbols to remind our social duty are so intolerable you can imagine about the actual ground realities. Our intolerance towards access to fundamental rights for women is transmitted into acts of hatred onto inanimate objects it is time to rethink the premise of the argument where we deny ideologies like feminism a place in Pakistan as if we do not have space for it.
Many rushed to social media to share their comments on how the beheading of the statue goes to show how symbolically we undermine the educational attainment of girls in Pakistan but while symbolically it can be interpreted in many ways it does not mean we shy away from the fact that our society has failed its women.
Statistically, out of 22.8 million children out of school and near 53 per cent of them are girls. This number alone becomes a compelling feature to strive for the rights of girls that have been actively denied. The statue becomes more than a symbol of hate but brings up the question, “if we cant treat a statue with care how do we treat our nation’s girls?” We see women and young girls being withheld from positions of power or refused opportunities that would allow them in moving more freely and upwards in social mobility. Education becomes a dire part of the opportunities that have only now begun to welcome women in our society.
It is upsetting to see Pakistan placed at 151 amongst 153 countries on their status of women in Global Gender Equality Index. Under these conditions critiquing the need for feminism in this country, labeling it, as Western propaganda has been a stagnant debate we have engaged in for decades. It is a failure on our end to reject ideologies that can make our country a safer space for those who need it most. Aurat March or celebrating Women’s Day in any act or form has not only been dismissed but the intolerance goes as far as forming an anti-march (Haya March) against it. It was easier for our country to formulate an entire movement in opposition to them than to curate policies that would cater to the needs of women.
Arguably, keeping in mind it is tough to create changes in a society very heavily dependent on religious and cultural sentiments that we remain desensitized to the idea of change. We step into a stalemate the second we label this as extreme instead of a helping hand. We shun out our women’s voices by targeting posters or placards from protests that would stir controversy and in the process we forget about the very purpose we began a movement for. The media plays an integral role in both giving a platform to these women but also takes it away from them by highlighting statements they know could be ammunition to create dispute. Thus, in a society that already faced hurdles in obtaining these rights the heavy desensitization and pushing culture, as an easy tactic to counter feminist arguments towards giving women the rights they deserve this becomes a tougher sprint to run.
8th March, Women’s day, gives us a day where we can vocalize these very problems at stake. Aurat March is one of the platforms that allow a free space and free speech for women to do so. Frequently the spotlight of Aurat March, as posters steal a movement aiding to the women of Pakistan, with written slogans such as Mera Jism Meri Marzi (my body my choice) or Khana Khud Garam Karo (warm your food yourself), people think this derails us from a movement and takes away from bigger issues. However, these issues highlight the need for effective legislation and control towards reporting incidents such as domestic abuse where a right to bodily integrity is denied or put an end to victim blaming culture. It is for Zahra an eight-year-old domestic worker killed by her employers for setting their pet parrot free. Khana khud garam karo stands for justice against the murder of Roshan Bibi killed in November of 2017 by her husband for serving cold dinner. It stands for justice for the nineteen-year-old murdered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by her husband for failing to put out a hot meal for Sehri in Ramadan in May of 2020. Similarly, the statue being decapitated in Doska is a cry for help for our country having nearly 11 million girls out of school. The longer we wait the worse the situation will get. These platforms raise awareness towards dismantling our problems, these chants and slogans are merely symbols of a greater issue that continuously get taken out of context. These are valid, these are important.
To circle back to the statue that was beheaded, it is a symbol for the many injustices that women and girls face in Pakistan on a daily basis. This has brought into notice our empathetic need to understand the position of women and initiate the conversations we must have to reverse an environment of chaos and allow there to be more room to welcome the succession of women in our society. There is a long way to go before society can be a safer environment for girls to grow up in and women to live in. But in the meantime it is important to mobilize movements such as Aurat March and to raise our voices towards rationalizing viewpoints that hinder a revolutionizing movement towards female independence.