The topic of my essay seems to suggest that the two entities are a world apart. To quite an extent, they are.
Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, often at odds with its secular-in-proclamation-Hindu-in-practice neighbour India, with both having flexed their muscles much at each other. Pakistan is also renowned as a nation producing well known cricketers, with its current prime minister among the top world class players. And infamously, Pakistan is also alleged by many as a country harbouring terrorists. These are all broadly masculine traits: the street stomping long bearded mullahs, the gallant army, the classy cricketers and the terrifying terrorists.
The other entity is quite the opposite. Frailty, thy name is woman has been an apt description of an average Pakistani female, until now. Why the image may have changed will come as the discourse progresses in its natural evolution.
A woman in Pakistan, in the past and even today, has probably solely carried the burden of honour, faith and respect in the society. So much that for a family’s honour, she would be stripped of her own integrity. For a household’s honour, her blood would be shed. For the honour of a figurehead, her life would be tumbled upside down. After all, it is women who are a symbol of honour as well as dishonour for a family.
For to fatally wound the honour of a family, it can be abused by naming all possible relations which are practiced by a woman. A man’s act of evil can be dismissed, since boys will be boys. But a show of independence, a free mind or even making a decision by a woman can seriously challenge the honour of a family.
It was to restore such an honour, that Qandeel Baluch was murdered. In life, she may have been ridiculed. In death, her brother’s ‘noble’ act iconised her identity. Whether she dwells in heaven or rots in hell, Qandeel Baluch has become a symbol of fallen honour as well as that of defiance.
It was to bring back such a lost honour, that Mukhtaran Mai was raped. But she did not die. She lived on, spoke and demanded justice. After a long struggle, justice was indeed delivered when her rapists were sentenced. Mukhtaran continues to work for women’s welfare today.
Thus, there are two faces of a Pakistani woman. A woman in Pakistan may be denied education, right to marry, right to live independently and take decisions for her life. She may be forced to suffer abuse in the form of wicked words as well as physical torture.
And at the same time, a woman in Pakistan or belonging to Pakistan may also question when she is denied a right. Malala Yusufzai may have to flee the country in order to live, but her quest for education – for her self as well as for many others like her, in Pakistan and around the world, continues.
A woman in Pakistan is also known to stand up and say enough to the many boundaries which are drawn around her. To answer the abuses hurled at her, she may unleash a selection of words which can leave the listener speechless. Be it a discussion at home or at work or even on the street, like the Aurat March, a Pakistani woman also has the courage to say, that morality is not confined to her only.
If a Pakistani woman is submissive, she can also be the face of resilience. If a woman in Pakistan can be restricted within her home, she can also practice at will her right to freedom and conquer mountains.
In Pakistan, a woman can be a symbol of beauty, loyalty, faithfulness and sacrifice. At the same time, she can denote success, vitality, intellect and skill.
A Pakistani woman, on the whole, is neither a feminist nor a conservative. She is not entirely a conformist nor wholly a rebel.
The woman of Pakistan may be an average daughter, sister or housewife, who remains obscure all her life. Or she could also be Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir, Fehmida Riaz, Razia Bhatti, Sana Mir or Samina Baig.
Here I would like to quote a female writer, although not a Pakistani, but in fact, an Indian. In one of her recent writings, Arundhati Roy commented on her native land as “a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously.” This is how I would like to sum up a woman in Pakistan: an entity who lives simultaneously in several eons. She may be the one who still holds on to tradition, to patriarchy and her values. She may also be the one, who while fulfilling all her roles may start questioning their futility. Or she may be the one, who aims to define her role herself and not be answerable to any question or rooted by a culture. Her silence, suppression, struggles andsuccesses, live and breathe side by side.
Women and Pakistan, may be the same or may be separate. But in a man’s world, it is the woman of Pakistan, who harmonises as well as enjoys prominence.
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