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A country of a few good women

A country of a few good women

By Zainab Zeeshan Malik

2016 is ending on a high note for the women of Pakistan. The contribution of Pakistani women leaders to peace, conflict prevention and human rights received resounding recognition in various parts of the world through accolades including the Chirac Prize, Franco-German Human Rights Prize and the Human Rights Tulip Awards. In previous years, Pakistani women have also bagged the two Oscars and the Nobel Peace Prize. The international community clearly needs no persuasion regarding the competence and aptitude of the ‘fairer sex’ in Pakistan to lead the country to a better future. Back home, however, the situation is a bit different. Through the halls of the government buildings, the comment sections of social media, the blaring music of news bulletins and drawing room talk, Nobel Peace Prizes and the like are brushed aside as Western conspiracies. A threat to the dignity of Pakistan, an affront to our international reputation. We nod on as emphasize how each award is an attempt by the beneficiary to gain personal recognition at the expense of the interest of the country. The consistency in disapproval leads one to wonder whether we do, in fact, harbour an undying love for our great country or are we just reluctant to recognise the achievements of the women who receive these accolades. The fact that the political leadership in the country has been equally reluctant to welcome women in leadership roles leads one to agree with the latter. Not to forget that the government has hardly been handing out awards and recognition to these award winners domestically.

Pakistan, one of the few countries in the world to elect a female prime minister currently reserves 17.5% of seats in the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies for women. These seats are filled through nominations by political parties based upon the proportion of seats they have won in the respective bodies during the election. It is no secret that these seats are not assigned upon the basis of merit but rather to relatives of party leaders and loyalists. Whilst the gender quota is an opportunity to make parliamentary business and law making more representative it is hardly availed by the parties as such. It is no secret that the seats are allocated only to those who will tow the party line and agree with the motions of their male counterparts. Majority of women who fill these seats lack any real knowledge of political process, have limited ideological independence and sense of civic duty and are therefore entirely dependent upon party leaders for direction. The lack of perceived legitimacy surrounding their posts in the parliaments often make them less willing to challenge the dominant party position which is mostly patriarchal and misogynistic.

Pakistan’s reluctance to accept competent women in roles of leadership is not just limited to the parliament – it infects every public domain. There is an almost unanimous agreement that women simply are not competent enough. Women’s successes are attributed to everyone other than themselves. A boy gets good grades because he is intelligent a girl gets good grades because she is good at rote learning. Boys are good at extra-curricular activities and school work, girls just stay at home and study. Girls get scholarships to Ivy League schools because the West thinks they are ‘oppressed’, boys get scholarships because they are brilliant. Women steal seats in medical schools from men, women exchange the dignity of the country in exchange for personal accolades. Women get international awards because of a Western conspiracy. There is no male comparison to this in the recent future but if there were it would be because Pakistani men are brilliant. Women get good jobs because they look good on company brochures and bosses are ‘tharki’, men get good jobs based on their qualifications. Public discourse attributes the achievements of Pakistani women to everything from shrewdness, international conspiracies and tharki bosses. There is no limit to how far we are willing defy the rules of logical reasoning in fear of recognising the competence of women.

Women who are shattering glass ceilings in all avenues of public life are often at the receiving end of resentment and rage. Patriarchy does not take kindly to detractors and has as a result maintained its position across the ages. Women who pose a threat to entitlements of men that are otherwise accessible to the latter with minimum struggle are everyone’s favourite pariahs. Women are often caught between appearing acceptable socially and keeping their achievements to a moderate level or simply living up to their full potentials. The latter must unfortunately pay a high price – nobody likes a woman who tries to be like a man. If you dare to be successful, you must be modest and hide your achievements. Or even better and brush them aside with a “ Oh it’s easy if you’re a woman” or “I just got lucky”.

Before we target disparaging remarks towards Malala and her Nobel Peace Prize, we must ask ourselves- would we be saying the same had she been a man? Is it really justified to argue everything from Zionist Conspiracies to the nearing of the Day of Judgment just to avoid praising the attributes of female colleagues? Our ability to own and accept the accomplishments and abilities of women in Pakistan is absolutely necessary in order to motivate girls to reach out for their aspirations.

The Nation

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