By Akram Shaheedi
Women-on Wheels programme in Punjab is an assertion that women in Punjab has dared to take their destiny into their own hands, breaking free of the barriers of discrimination mainly responsible for holding them back in the zest of practical life out there. They have suffered grievously due to inhuman, irrational and outdated social practices, and amazingly now their resilience have transformed into an unwavering commitment to be treated with respect and not to be taken for granted any more. The irreversible movement for the empowerment of women folk is continuing that is the redeeming feature in the context of our society that is abjectly male dominated.
The giant step in this desired direction was the Benazir Income Support Programme that empowered millions of women in Pakistan by raising their social status. Setting up First Women Bank to provide credit facilities to promote women entrepreneurship was another milestone public policy initiative. Unprecedented legislations during PPP government to protect women folk from the domestic violence and from harassment at workplaces had been serving as an effective deterrence. Honour killing, denial to inheritance, acid throwing etc had also been made cognizable offence. The representation of women in Pakistan’s Parliament and Provincial Assemblies is heartening that is instrumental to rectify gender- imbalances to a certain degree.
Now, Women-on- Wheels Programme in Punjab is the step synonymous to the continuation of the thousand miles journey to the cherished goal of mainstreaming the women in the national life. It should be welcomed and supported across the board shoving aside misplaced political fixations. The initiative of the Punjab government to train the women in Lahore as how to drive motorbike is a commendable and visionary initiative that will embolden them to play their role in the national development. It carries the pleasant potential to become popular within a short span of time. It will be a rich tribute to the pioneer women and indeed to those who made it happen. The pilot project is undoubtedly praise worthy. The official support to encourage women is worth emulating by other provinces without caring for knowing its origin. Good examples should be followed not grudged.
Much awaited change hasfinally set in here in the Punjab. Women in Punjab, in particular, are ready to take charge of their destiny as they have incrementally proved their mettles in almost all walks of the national life. They deserve to claim the space that has been usurped by the male chauvinist thinking. They are going to serve as powerful incentive for others to excel in whatever fields they are working in. The trend will attract popular appeal among other provinces’ women folk as well who are still facing the brunt of the worst inhuman and cruel customs and traditions. The practice of treating them as second class citizens must stop forthwith as they had enough of the bane of discrimination in the shape of step-motherly treatment both within and without.
It is an established fact that a large number of women are graduating from the professional institutions with distinction as compared to the male students. The driving force is undoubtedly their desperate quest to attain the status of an important member of the social and family club, so important factor to be treated with respect. This trend gives credence to the UN study predicting that silent revolution has been taking place in Pakistan as women have been successfully grappling for the driving seat. They are competing and competing well based on merit and their performance. Their pro- active participation in the nation building process will certainly bring the qualitative change in the country that is unfortunately known for the worst demographic indicators. The provision of equal opportunities to women is a far-fetched cry in many regions of the country. But, things are moving quietly and subtly in the right direction. The movement will get impetus under the continuity of the political system under the constitution.
The photograph published in the newspapers the other day portraying women riders wearing helmets and yellow dresses making a victory sign in Lahore after showcasing their riding on various roads were manifesting their commitment of believing in themselves. Their determination to turn the table in their favor through individual and collective endeavors was so inspiring. It was indeed very reassuring and a prelude to a promising future for them. It was a heart-warming scene suggesting that daughters of the nation have taken the charge of their future and they were determined to be captain of their fate. Their firm resolution was beaming out on their faces with unequivocal commitment to play role in the life outside the four walls vigorously: The presence of diplomats, Asma Jehangir, prominent leader of lawyers’ fraternity and women rights activists, and the prominent people of civil society including the government functionaries on the occasion clearly suggested the widest endorsement and appreciation of the magnificent initiative that will bear fruits of the liking of all of us. Kudos for those who conceived and executed it with precision and speed.
It was an exciting event to watch women riding motorbikes putting behind the superfluous and retrogressive values of misplaced modesty and wading out to face the challenges of modern life with the strength of character and with firm resolve. It was a like a grain of dream of the Qauid-i-Azam comes true who underscored the importance of women’s participation in all walks of national life. His prophetic saying, ‘no nation can rise to the height of glory unless women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable conditions in which our women have to live’. The Founder of the nation had rejected superfluous narrative of misogyny in its all forms and manifestations and had strongly favored the crucial role of women in the national progress and development.
Mohtrama Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was a thorough inspiration for women in Pakistan as well. She was a beacon of women courage and leadership who totally negated the discrimination against women. She was a role model for women as a leader, politician of substance, democrat and above all great fighter against tyrannical rule for people’s emancipation. She, as a leader of exceptional stature, fought out the ferocious dictatorship of General Zia-ul- Haq for the sake of the rights of the people of Pakistan. She led the movement for the restoration of democracy during the illegitimate rule of General Musharraf and succeeded although she had to sacrifice her life. It is almost impossible to find a parallel of her arduous struggle in the modern history. She became the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in the entire Muslim world, a rare distinction. She proved that gender discrimination was redundant and outmoded notion.
Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Noble Peace Prize Laureate from Pakistan, did not give in to the evil forces of extremism and terrorism and has emerged as the paragon of courage in the world promoting the cause of education among the girls at the international level. Imparting education to them will surely ensure the delivery of educated and skilled future generations thus making the country or countries as respectable members of the international community. Women education inevitably ensures their participation in the development of the country. No nation can dream of sustainable development without the effective participation of almost half of the population of women.
The government is advised to spread out this programme to other major cities of Punjab like Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Multan where women folk are also facing the same ignominious situation due to the non-availability of the respectable public transport. Women are working in the factories and industrial units with the surge of industrialization in the big cities. Moreover, they are keen to assume the social and family responsibilities to face the economic problems. Public transport system in these big cities is pathetic, barring Rawalpindi, and women commuters suffer a great deal of hassle. The key to the solution lies that women should be saved from such humiliation by enabling them to get rid of the shabby transport system. The urgent need to replicate the initiative cannot be overemphasized because the women folk deserve the same attention of the government. The redundant social barriers should not come in the way. The role of the LEA’s is very important in this count. The traffic Police should be given strict instructions to proceed against those who dare to discourage the women riding the motorbikes. The strict enforcement by the Law Enforcement Agencies in favor of women motorbike riders will ensure the success and wider recognition of the initiative.
The naysayer will be sarcastic but they are known for this. Their notoriety in this regard is limitless because of their aversion to new ideas and paradigm shift. As we say, the nation without vision perishes eventually. This visionary initiative should be spread out all around because of its ensured predictable suitability.