Breaking Barriers: A Journey Through Women's Rights

Breaking Barriers: A Journey Through Women's Rights
Women in Pakistan have been under constant duress and agony at the hands of Pakistani society. In today's culture, violence is a prevalent and gravely concerning matter that affects people from all origins, ages, and genders. While there are many ways that violence in general can appear, this focus here is on one crucial and frequently disregarded form: violence against women. This issue includes a variety of mistreatments and hurtful actions committed against women, which have detrimental effects on their physical, psychological and social well-being.

To shed light on the complex nature of violence against women there is a need to explore its root causes, common forms and the major negative effects it has on both the lives of women and society at large. Understanding the nuances of this problem will enable us to work together to create a more secure and inclusive environment for everyone.

The root causes of many of these patriarchal and misogynistic values are often disregarded; the understanding that sexism is not a new or foreign concept but has been around since the assignment of gender roles.  One of them being the psychological mindset that most men have and 'gender stereotypes' labelled by society.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights quotes it as “Gender stereotyping refers to the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men.” Stereotypes mostly associated with women are gullible, shy, weak, and compassionate while men are mostly labelled as decisive, independent leaders.

Historically women have commonly been side lined and ridiculed. In the Subcontinent, especially, there has always been a desire for having a male heir. Women have done countless home remedies just for the sake of conceiving a son in the past. An example of this can be observed in the Ancient Indian culture where it has been observed that the Hindu ancient book, Atharvaveda, contains charms and rituals in order to bring forth the birth of a son. Most historical accounts talk of politics, war and diplomacy all of which are male dominated; leaving little to no documentation of the impact of women to historic society. Traditional history books only acknowledge women who assumed male roles or were loved by influential men; Shah Jehan to build the Taj Mahal for his wife or the brave Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi who fought to retain her husband’s kingdom.

Although in today’s times circumstances have drastically shifted as to what they were in the past, discrimination has still not fully ended. Women now have the right to acquire property, vote, and opt for the same careers as their male fellows but they still face numerous hurdles. One huge obstacle encountered by women on a daily basis is sexual and verbal harassment. They are constantly a victim of cat-calling on the streets, grotesque stares, and being objectified from head-to-toe.

Traditional history books only acknowledge women who assumed male roles or were loved by influential men

Women are also on a constant radar of being a victim of honour killing by society, if they dare say anything that goes against their values or teachings.

However, it's important to note that violence is not just restricted to physical means but psychological, verbal, financial domains as well. There are a number of causes that lead to such horrendous acts. The foremost being the fact that Pakistan observes a patriarchal system where male dominance is widely seen. This instils a belief in the citizens that men are more supreme beings as compared to women. Moreover, women are often made to fit in the conventional gender roles by having expectations that they be obedient, submissive, and dependent on male family members. This deeply ingrained gender hierarchy reinforces the idea that men are superior to women and explains the domination and control that certain men exercise over women, frequently using violence.

Furthermore, there is an increase in violence cases because of the lack of implementation of laws. The Pakistani constitution provides ample safeguards for the protection of women but there is little to no practical implementation.

The government has made some legal advancements to enhance women's rights, including the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2004, the Protection of Women Act, 2006, and the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2016. However, implementation and awareness of these laws remain crucial issues. The Government of Punjab has also established Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which oppose gender inequality and the abuse of fundamental human rights. By educating women on their fundamental rights and providing a support structure to ease their access to the legal system, it resolves to end harmful customary practices. Despite these initiatives and constitutional improvements, women's rights in Pakistan continue to be a problem.

The core cause of these problems is the lack of education in the country. Pakistan’s literacy rate for men is 72.5% and for women it is 51.8%. It is quite evident from the results that women are less literate as compared to their male counterparts. This also in return affects employment opportunities available to them and increases their dependency on males in their family, making them more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.

Although Pakistan has made efforts to improve female literacy rates with a higher number of female enrolment in major universities and medical colleges but the future of these women is in the doldrums. With marriage, and the prevalent cultural norms, the way forward is unclear.

What is more important at this juncture is that the nation needs to understand the base principles of Islam which has kept a man and women equal to each other in every aspect with the difference of their roles.

What the men need to understand is that marriage must not be a barrier for a career oriented women. As for her the balancing acts between her husband, children and her career is highly fatiguing, a simple act of kindness from the husband and her in-laws could make her reach the heights of success. This is the true message of the religion as well.

To conclude, the government, civil society and communities must all work together to address violence against women so as to eliminate the scourge.