By Ayesha Hasan
I was initially about to write about how women largely remain on the margins of peace negotiations in political processes because it is majorly considered the “primary business of men”, but that can wait. There is something that disgusted me more than that this week: marginalising women from debating about and lawmaking around issues that revolve around women’s life. It’s like I decide where my neighbour parks his car or eats for dinner.
Among hundreds of thousands of photos that circled the social media in the last few days, two were distinctly disturbing. I was disgusted, if I may reiterate. First, the unnervingly disproportionate panel of one woman and eight men that CNN brought together to discuss last week’s historic women’s march around the world. The other was the photograph of US President Donald J. Trump, signing the executive order to reinstate the 1984 gag rule in the absolute presence of seven other men. The gag rule is so anti-abortion that it prohibits aid agencies that receive US funds from even discussing abortion with women that approach them, seeking help.
If you don’t see a major problem with the content of the two photographs I talked about above, just don’t bother to read any further, because all I am going to do is rant about how patriarchy is killing women’s rights to speak and their ultimate right and ownership of their bodies. I am going to rant about how men find it too easy to bargain women’s rights and consider themselves in a position to make decisions about women’s bodies.
Now if you tell me there wasn’t a single woman in the second photograph because none of them from the office wanted the reinstatement of the gag rule, let’s just wake up to facts. I have no doubts about the fact that Trump’s government has a lot of such women who we find staunchly opposing abortion, but a female absence in the photo was Trump’s message to the American women and that of patriarchy to women around the world: “we rule your bodies”.
Alas! It hasn’t happened for the first time and certainly not the first time when women were absolutely missing from the process. The world saw it when, to appease the country’s conservatives, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who started with promises to set a 25 per cent quota for women in the Afghan parliament, later introduced the Shia Personal Status Law, regulating the lives of the country’s Shia population and granting almost complete control of a woman’s life to her husband. In Pakistan, we recently saw the Council of Islamic Ideology proposing a bill to the Punjab Assembly, declaring that husbands could lightly beat their wives if they did not follow commands. Unfortunately, Australia, a country with the second highest human development index otherwise, is also not free from this bargain and legalising abortion is still an unresolved issue among political parties in some major states. In 2013, India added a clause to its existing legislation, allowing a man to rape his wife if she is over 15 years of age. Horrifically, this happened after the national and international rage over the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, in which a young medical student died from internal and external injuries from a gang-rape. In Israel, marriages and divorces sit under rabbinical law, under which a divorce can only take place if requested by the husband.
Trump’s reinstatement of the gag rule is no less absurd than any of the laws above and yet it was one of the first few decisions he made as soon as he took charge, because he wanted to make it a political statement by officially legalising patriarchy and announcing to the world the status of the United States of America on women’s rights without consulting women at any of the ends, both the giving and receiving.
And as if it wasn’t worse already, Russia is on its way to decriminalise domestic violence to put a stamp on this obsessive political patriarchal fundamentalism and adding its share to restricting women’s rights to make appeasing political statements to the right-wing conservatives: “let’s bargain on women’s rights, because they are most certainly negotiable”. But it is high time the world understood that women’s rights are human rights and ownership of one’s body, the sense of safety and protection is a basic human right.
I have grown up to believe that [most] politicians and far-right religious conservatives explicitly hate women, and that has never bothered me, until now that I have started believing the more frightening truth: they see women as expendable.
We have an alarming situation.