Pakistan: Male politicians continue to defend systems of oppression

News International

The fabric of Pakistani society, in general, seems to be afflicted with hypocrisy. At a recent seminar organised by the Aurat Foundation and the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), titled ‘Crimes in the name of honour and parallel legal system,’ representatives from various political parties were invited to provide input about what they believed was the solution to honour killings.

A number of speakers stressed the need for more shelter homes, arguing that only one shelter home operates in Karachi, which is insufficient for the needs of the many who seek refuge. This reasoning is not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, but a representative of a particular party as well as a senior police official passionately defended the role of Jirgas – and by extension, the kind of ‘punishments’ awarded to women deemed to be of ‘loose character.’

While the phenomenon of honour killing exists in parts of Sindh, it is perhaps more rampant in Punjab. It is interesting to note, however, that the root cause of the issue – a feudal consciousness – has never been tackled by any force in power, because those who grace the corridors of government would be affected if women and their ‘honour’ would be detached from male sexuality. It is because of this reason that female representatives of political parties continue to press for more rights, while male representatives vehemently defend systems of oppression that are bedded in patriarchy. The eventual result: status quo.

President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of one of the great female leaders of the sub-continent, seemed to take some initiative to redress the situation by signing the Women Protection Bill into law during a ceremony at the Sindh Chief Minister House. Approved by the National Assembly on January 21 and a day earlier by the Senate, the law provides for increased punishment over harassment of women at workplaces.

The idea of this bill may have been in line with the vision of slain Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Benazir Bhutto, and it certainly was more graceful as compared to the ruckus created by legislators of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) during the Musharraf era.

The major shortcoming of this law is that the definition of “workplace” conveniently overlooks agricultural sites and houses, and as a result, such laws turn out to be cosmetic. Given that feudalism as a social system has not been wiped off, much of the sexual harassment takes place in rural areas – again, the bastion of power of many mainstream parties, and by extension, the landlords who rule these areas.

In other news, students’ week commenced at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), while a free eye camp was also launched at the Civil Hospital Karachi. A demonstration was also staged against the alleged negligence of doctors while treating a teenage girl. At another seminar, speakers lashed out at free market economies, claiming that capitalism has inflicted misery upon misery on the hapless poor.

Meanwhile, the third route of the CNG buses was inaugurated. The service is fairly cost-effective for commuters, but the only disadvantage seems to be in terms of the time consumed if one were to travel all the way to Clifton from Orangi. Whether the service survives the imminent termination of the local government system remains open to conjecture. Let’s hope that for once, just once, political parties don’t discontinue the project for their own leverage, but provide a service to the millions being crushed under poverty and more inflation.