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Women on the go – How information technology has helped Pakistani women’s mobility

Access to smart phones and internet has played a major role in adding to the mobility of women

Women on the go

It takes 34-years-old Afshan Babar some 90 minutes to reach from her home in Surjani Town to the training centre run by TAF Foundation (TAFF) where she is enrolled in the Cooking and Housekeeping course at TAFF-VTI.  There was a time when she could not have imagined stepping out of the house alone.

Now, the ability to reach from point A to point B has changed her life. “Watching others use public transport is what encouraged and motivated me,” says Babar. She has now joined the millions of Pakistani women, particularly in urban Pakistan, who are daring to be mobile on their own.

The credit for this acceleration in the number of women daring to go where no woman from their family had gone before goes, according to experts, to access to information technology and cellular mobile phones.

For Amber Zulfiqar, a Food and Travel Influencer & Digital PR Consultant, services like smart phone taxi services have eased up travelling for women. “Women are taking inspiration from other women — it grows like a chain. When a woman lets go of her fears of travelling alone, it is because she has heard stories of her friends using it or read encouraging material online.”

Most gender experts like Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, agree that cellular phone access is a blessing for Pakistani women. “Technology has shown women a path that is a means to an end. Sitting at home, many women have become entrepreneurs with the help of social media,” says Rahman, adding that as ours is a patriarchal society, men have better access to information technology as more men than women have cellular phones, especially smart phones.

“Nonetheless, access to information technology has helped women get exposure to the world and step outside their cocoons, not just physically but also intellectually,” she says.

“The first step for women is to step out of their homes. Exposure helps them evolve and grow. This mobility is not just travelling from point A to point B — it is also about joining the workforce,” says Sibtain Naqvi, Head of Public Affairs at Careem.

Naqvi echoes the opinion that mobility is a serious challenge in Pakistan. “A mega city like Karachi is without a serving metro system. And the challenge is bigger for women. Even privileged women are dependent on males of the family to go out; women from the middle class who are educated are expected to sit at home simply because getting to work poses a challenge. The vans that women use to get to office and go back home do not provide personal mobility,” he adds.

A woman’s needs are beyond just getting to work or dropping and picking her children, and the urban woman has a lot on her plate owing to fast-paced lifestyles of both spouses. Taxis are prohibitively expensive, often not maintained, with rash drivers and security issues; rickshaws pose their own sets of problems.

Even privileged women are dependent on males of the family to go out; women from the middle class who are educated are expected to sit at home simply because getting to work poses a challenge.

Once urban women of Pakistan got access to cellular technology, smart phone taxi services began to fill the gap. “We are happy to share that 70 per cent of Careem’s customers who ride are females — females from all areas and all economic strata. What apps have done is that they have empowered women to make their own choices — something they do not get to exercise beyond the kitchen,” he says.

The impact of women’s access to technology is not just limited to riding with the help of such apps, but goes beyond. For Quratulain Tejani, for example, being a digital strategist and entrepreneur would not have been possible without access to a smart phone. “A few apps and tools have changed my life completely. Google Maps have made mobility so much easier and convenient. I can go from one corner of the city to another, knowing that I can find my routes easily. Even when I’m driving around and get lost, all I need is 3G and Google Maps to help me find my way,” she says, adding that Google Drive and WhatsApp have facilitated her in her professional life.

For the 200 plus female captains in Careem and for the female entrepreneurs behind the thousands of home-based small entrepreneurships that rely on social media for their marketing, cellular technology is providing opportunities of work.

These impacts are not limited to just upper tiers of society. In TAFF, one of the projects includes training and placement of women from underserved backgrounds in the Domestic Help industry.

“I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation in students who graduate from our programme. Women who had never stepped out of their houses are now riding buses around the town to reach their workplaces on time. These are women who overcame their fears, including that of travelling on public transport to earn living incomes for their families.

“Most of them are also now part of WhatsApp groups created by TAFF-VTI to stay in touch with both students and alumni which is a testimony that technology is not only being introduced to but utilised as well by our students and graduates,” says Hammad Mateen, Programme Head at TAFF-VTI.

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The mobility, then, is more than just physical. Naqvi observes that generally, technology is associated with the male gender, especially in South Asia; while girls are encouraged to join Fine Arts and Humanities, boys are encouraged to work in the field of IT. But smartphones may have broken this technological barrier for women.

“We are seeing an interplay between women and technology. Even my mother has now moved to a smart phone so that she no longer has to wait for me to take her somewhere — she can just call a smart phone taxi service. This is true both for generations of technology immigrants as well as technology natives like the youth. This change is not just of physical mobility. It is sociologic as well as demographic,” he says.

However, experts like Uzma Quresh, Social Development Specialist with the World Bank Group warn against the vulnerabilities that women are exposed to due to being active on social media and using information technology. She cites examples of cyber harassment and also mentions cases of honour killings where a girl was killed because of having access to a phone or the internet.

“Virtual mobility gives women job opportunities. E-commerce portals and IT-related skills are profitable avenues for women and also give them exposure,” she says, but adds that society has to work not just on facilitating physical mobility of women but also ensure that virtual mobility does not lead to irreversible repercussions and safety threats for women.

“It is not enough to give women access to information technology and social media; we have to work on changing mindsets,” she says. The need, then, is that the collective social thought-process moves from being restrictive to being enabling for women. That, perhaps, will be real mobility for the women of Pakistan.

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Why must women get an ID card?

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply

Why get an ID card?

“Traditionally, in our village, people didn’t feel it was necessary for a woman to have a national identity card (NIC),” she says. Men are the ones who traditionally own property, get preference in education, and have ambitions to be financially independent, not women. But some ten years ago, Kaneez found an incentive to rush to get her NIC made — the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) that gave her the hope of a monthly stipend.

Today, at the age of 41, Kaneez is thankful she got the NIC, as none of the employers in Karachi want to hire her as house help till she shows them her NIC. “Once we moved to Karachi, I realised that to get my daughters admitted in school I needed to get their B Forms made.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply.

If women do not have an identity card, they lose out on everything, says Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and gender activist. “Without it they are not recognised by law; they officially do not exist. It has a massive impact on the personal, the social and the institutional levels.”

Without the NIC, women cannot reach out for any legal protection, their ability do anything on their own is curtailed; they cannot hope for independence. They cannot own or inherit property, and also cannot hope for insurance or be the beneficiary of any welfare initiative, as Lari explains. “Nadra requires a family certificate now for everything, so even the husband not having an ID card poses a problem if and when the wife and children want to get registered. Child marriage cannot be mitigated if a girl without an ID card is married off as she may be a minor for all we know.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply. “One of the issues is fulfilling the legal requirements and documentation required for getting the CNIC. Women in rural areas often don’t have means to readily get to the towns, are illiterate, have restrictions on mobility due to traditional customs and cannot travel alone [due to security reasons or family restrictions], and male members of their families don’t always support them to get to offices of the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra),” says Ali Akbar from the Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in district Tharparkar.

Read also: The cultural blockade

Akbar shares instances where women who did not have NICs were exploited and robbed of their rights. “Brothers and fathers who were not willing to give the rightful share of wealth to a sister or a daughter would, to close the revenue department’s record, get the tehsildar to record the statement of a couple of villagers mentioning that Mr so and so has no sister/daughters or that she has died or she is not claiming her right, and thus this male member of the family has the right to hold this property. But now the Nadra record is computerised and the woman has to be present and her statement recorded before the magistrate or registrar for any change in the legal ownership of property. The NIC, then, is a basic pillar for the empowerment of any woman.”

However, the awareness about the importance of being a registered citizen is growing among Pakistani women. Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, says the projects by AF aim to incentivise it in many ways for women. “For example, we tell Muslim women that you need it to go for Hajj otherwise you cannot get a passport to travel for the pilgrimage. There is increased realisation about this among the lower income and middle income strata as well where the women are working to support their families,” she says.

Currently, AF is working on a project aimed at women from non-Muslim communities, encouraging them to get CNICs and in turn to exercise their right to cast the vote.

The BISP has had a positive impact in encouraging women like Kaneez to apply for NICs. “Our surveys show that numbers of women who have registered for the NIC has increased exponentially,” says Hasrat Prakash, Field Supervisor, BISP, in Mithi and Chachro, district Tharparkar, who adds that women are not just going for the ID card but are actually opting for the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC), Pakistan’s first national electronic identity card. The SNIC contains a data chip and many security features.

“BISP now requires biometric verification, which incentivised making of these SNICs. The incentive, of course, is the money stipend. The best part is that more women are now included in the voters’ list, and that more people are registering daughters at birth for the B Form, especially the eldest daughter of each family,” says Prakash.

As mobility still remains a real issue for women, facilitation efforts are being made by various organisations to help them get registered. “If in any locality we find one hundred or more women who need to get registered, Nadra’s mobile van comes there to help us and register women on the spot. There are holistic efforts by the civil society, aid agencies, Nadra and BISP among others, and the situation is comparatively better,” says Rahman, but also adds that more campaigns and efforts are needed for social mobilisation.

“Registering can be a tiresome process and if the people are not highly motivated why would they give up on a week’s daily wages to get an identity card?” says Lari, adding that “the most important thing that needs to be done is make the registration free as well as easier.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/get-id-card/#.Wi-XQt-WbIU

No woman no water: empowering women to be water and sanitation decision-makers

They carry water home, store it, keep it as clean as possible. Yet women are kept out of major decisions around water supply.

During this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm, experts focused on an age-old problem: how to recognise and value the central role women play in solving water-related issues.

Tracing the recent history of this attempt, Ankur Gupta of the Global Water Programmetold thethirdpole.net: “You can look back at the Dublin 1992 principles that state clearly [the need for] the involvement of women in water management. There is a lot of evidence coming up pointing in the direction that exclusion of women is harmful, especially in Wash (water, sanitation and hygiene).”

Particularly in South Asia, Gupta commented, it is necessary to involve women in decision-making about water supply, starting at the household level. “To fall back on clichés, this helps women in terms of self-esteem and confidence; better water management gives them more free time to engage in other activities. Most importantly, Wash and water management activities need to be monetised and recognised. But for that, the required political will is missing.”

Gupta suggested specific remedies: providing scholarships for women to study water related professions, quotas for women to take up roles on boards and committees, and the provision of menstrual hygiene management facilities.

Read more: Open defecation ends in Bangladesh – almost

Wherever women have been empowered to decide on issues of water, sanitation and hygiene, the results have been excellent. This is how Bangladesh has recently succeeded in controlling open defecation, said Akramul Islam, director of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee‘s (Brac) Wash programme.

“Women in rural areas are vulnerable when it comes to the use of latrines,” said Islam. “Brac’s participatory rural appraisal started including both men and women. This helped us know for sure where new latrines are needed and what their design should be [according to gender-specific needs], because it is often unsafe for women to walk far to use the toilet.”

In this programme, Brac gives leadership training to one male and one female from each community. “Slowly, women have started voicing their opinions and that is very encouraging,” said Islam.

Who carries water home

Brac has another big first: working on making water carrying a shared responsibility of men and women. Women carrying water is a practice so ingrained in South Asia that it is almost a taboo to think otherwise. But Brac is doing just that.

“We are motivating men to collect water so that it is no longer seen just as a woman’s responsibility,” Islam told thethirdpole.net. “To counsel the communities [especially the men], we have brought the village Imams on board. We counsel them and give them small booklets with information they can disseminate through Khutbas (sermons).” And attitudes are slowly changing, Islam said.

“Urban women are some of the greatest water wasters,” said Muhammad Ashraf, chairman, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources. “They should be involved in the Wash sector and water conservation at the domestic level.” If women are included in decisions pertaining to Wash, they and their children would be the first to benefit from it, Ashraf pointed out.

The level of education and awareness among women has a direct impact on Wash, said Pervaiz Amir, director of the Pakistan Water Partnership. “Women in Kashmir’s rural areas are [relatively] educated; they give high priority to investment in toilets. On the other hand, the situation in Tharparkar and Cholistan is bad due to a lack of education. Engaging women in public services and increasing their job opportunities can have a direct impact on sanitation and hygiene services.”

Pointing to the link between sanitation and nutrition, Amir also emphasised the need to have women “closely tied to all household-related water decisions. They collect water and regulate the level of usage. When women are excluded, the results are poor, leading to social disharmony and even conflict”.

Positively, there is an overall increase in attention to gender gaps in many spheres, said Maitreyi B. Das, global lead for social inclusion at the World Bank. “This year, World Water Week in Stockholm has made a concerted effort to have more sessions on gender issues. I think there is a greater realisation that SDG6 will not be met unless we focus on men and women separately and together,” said Das referring to the UN’s sustainable development goal to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

After talking about the particular need for inclusion of women in water management in South Asia, Das added: “As our recent report notes, overall gender inequalities are mirrored in water related domains. We will neither achieve our water-related goals nor our goals for gender equality unless we address gender in everything we do, in every sector.”

https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/09/07/no-woman-no-water-so-women-must-decide/

Also published here: https://www.dawn.com/news/1357427/no-woman-no-water-empowering-women-to-be-water-and-sanitation-decision-makers

What makes a Pakistani male “manly”?

Being a man isn’t just about masculinity

Published: September 17, 2016

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly. PHOTO: RANGIZZZ/SHUTTERSTOCK

“But that’s how we guys are.”

Is a common response when a woman asks a man about a few traits and attitudes that are seen as manly and macho.

While walking on a street near you, in a mall, or even when couples enter weddings – a familiar scenario ensues. The husband can be seen walking a few steps ahead of the wife for sure, and the wife trudging behind him, adjusting her ensemble, trying to catch up.

For Pakistani males, Def Leppard’s classic Two Steps Behind You is too mushy I’m sure. It is seen as some mark of masculinity to walk at least two steps ahead, if not four.

In our society, or maybe that is how it is all over the world, a few things are seen as ‘guy things.’

For example, the obscene joke sharing. It seems that there is an unsaid rule that in order to classify as a man, you absolutely must share lame and cheap jokes, and video clips and photographs of women in awkward or objectionable poses. Whatever one shares amongst friends is the personal business of each individual. But what is worrisome is how this is seen as a sign of masculinity. Such stereotypes are so etched in our social fabric that we are conditioned to think this is what makes a guy a ‘man.’

Ever seen prime time dramas on Pakistani television channels? They all seem to imply that it is some signature symptom of manliness for men to have affairs, cheat on the wife, and have physical needs, while a good, demure woman is stereotyped as a prudish character who is always shy and playing hard to get.

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly.

It is the men who are supposed to drive the car even if the wife or sister is the better driver or even if the poor husband or brother is exhausted after a long day at work. It is encouraging, actually, when one meets a man who is man enough to say “I don’t enjoy driving” if he doesn’t. But mostly they are unable to voice it, just like it is not easy for a woman to say she does not enjoy cooking.

Women themselves are participants in the act of perpetuating these stereotypes.

They feel sympathy for their sons or brothers if they help the wife with carrying the baby,change the baby’s diapers, or God forbids take paternal leave. Helping in the kitchen is something real men, of course, don’t do.

This conventionalising is not always in favour of men, and is not always healthy. Consider the economic arena.

In this age of inflation and consumerism, one salary is often not enough to support a family. With more and more women joining the work force in Pakistan, both can spend on the collective household. But gender stereotyping ends up pushing both males and females in pigeonholes of rigidly defined roles. The man ends up not helping the woman in the kitchen and housework even if she is also an earning member of the family. Similarly, even if he does end up lending a hand at home, many working women confess to feeling a pinch inside when they have to spend on their families. The feeling is best described as being made to do something they are not supposed to be doing.

Man-kind has not really progressed that much, has it, when the marks of manliness are not values like strength, courage and honesty, but instead driving a sports car, riding a massive motorbike in boots, or smoking a cigarette in public.

There are some inherent traits and tilts that are natural to both the genders. Some of these are natural. But others are not. They are just by-products of being exposed to certain socio-cultural habits of a nation.

For those who are the strongest of men, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to push their boundaries and challenge these norms by walking behind the wife or speaking softly and let the woman in your life have the last word. Being a man takes more than that.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

So who should talk to the 20-somethings about contraception?

Published: January 27, 2016

The world is realising that due to cultural norms, adolescents and young people often do not discuss contraception with their elders or family members. PHOTO AFP

They can curse in each other’s presence, break traffic signals in unison and smoke together, and they may at times act macho and show off their romantic escapades. But young men, like their elders, do not readily open up about reproductive issues. Parents or teachers do not discuss subjects of a sensitive nature with them. While it is the same with adolescent and young women, they are comparatively more open to confiding in each other and getting guidance.

But it seems the world may be in for a change in attitude. Young men, all over the world, are stepping up to take part in reproductive discourse.

One such young man is Hamza Moghari. He is still reeling from the long journey from Deir El-Balah in Gaza, Palestine, to Bali, Indonesia. And the reason why he is there is that he has the guts to talk to his peers about difficult subjects like contraceptive choices and reproductive health. Hamza has seen more violence and difficulty than he deserved to in his tender age of 22 years. Coming to the International Family Planning Conference (ICFP) 2016 is a dream come true for him.

“This is the first time I sat on an airplane. I nearly never came,” he says, sharing the long journey of how he first reached Jordan from his home in Gaza.

He explained that he was sent away and told to go back due to lack of a no objection document, but he stayed near the border and went back the next morning, and was finally let into Jordan from where he flew to Bali.

A tad bit shy by nature, he confesses that the most difficult subject to talk about with boys his age is sexuality. Yet it seems that the world is realising that due to cultural norms, adolescents and young people often do not discuss these issues with their elders or family members. With their own age group, if they feel safe enough, they can talk about the typically hushed topics too. Y-PEER, a youth network of young people from more than 700 non-profit organisations and government agencies in more than 50 countries initiated by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), uses an integrated approach to work with young people on subjects like gender, contraception and reproductive health. This year the thrust of all the discussions at ICFP was how to involve youth in the process. Half of the world’s population today, which is over 3.5 billion people, is under 30, mostly living in developing countries. They need guidance on these matters and silence may not be feasible anymore.

“If you’re not on the table you’re on the menu. How do we bring the youth on the table to talk about family planning?”

This question was put forth by Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, at the ICFP.

Pakistan is currently the world’s seventh most populous nation, according to the registered number of Pakistani, 199,085,847 in July 2015, as per the CIA FactbookContraception is thus an important subject that should be included in the nation’s narrative at all levels. In Pakistan too, this working via youth strategy has found a foothold.

One such initiative is Chanan Development Association (CDA). What started as a small theatre group is now an organisation that is youth-led and works for the youth.

Muhammad Shahzad, the executive director, has in tow young leaders wherever he goes. At the ICFP, too, he is watching out for and introducing proudly bright young people from Pakistan. One of them is 24-year-old Qaisar Roonjha, who says working with and for people his age is something he just has to do. His organisation, WANG (Welfare Association for Young Generation), is youth-led, and its primary focus is to struggle for a fairer society. Important buzz words like Youth Development, Women Empowerment, Mother and Child Health, Young Girls Education, Gender justice, Peace Promotion, Youth Development and livelihood security are all highlighted on the WANG website. From Lasbela in the perilous province of Balochistan, Qaisar has come a long way.

“I have met at least 40,000 young people all over Pakistan in the last five years,” he says with pride.

He shares that the toughest subject to tackle while talking to young people in Pakistan is gender equality.

“They still seem ready to discuss contraception. At least the married ones do. But seeing women as equal partners is difficult,” adds Shahzad.

Qaisar, whose video was selected for a competition held by organisers of the ICFP, attended the high profile conference in Bali as a moderator.

Ayesha Memon, an MBA student and youth leader from Hyderabad, also won the same recognition for her video, and addressed groups of interested activists and experts at the ICFP.

“Young people need to come out of their boxes; we should not assume things can’t change.”

Sharaf Boborakhimov is no novice at engaging with his peers on some of the trickiest subjects, which especially boys never openly talk about. Originally hailing from Tajikistan, he currently lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. This graduate in International Economy joined Y-Peer in 2011.

“What we do is provide safe spaces to youth where they can talk about sensitive subjects to people their own age. The peer-to-peer methodology works in tackling these subjects. We choose each word very carefully. We have to memorise manuals to know what to say and what not to and how to approach a subject.”

He has a close eye on the Syrian crisis, has Syrian friends, and has worked in Jordan closely with Syrian refugees who have made the Zaatari Camp their permanent home.

“We specially trained couples so that they could go back in the camps and train others. The refugees are just like any other couple. All they want is peace. They are depressed and frustrated no doubt. But in them I see a vision and a hope for a better tomorrow. They need guidance about contraception too.”

Theatre-based peer education, in Sharaf’s view is most effective for youth, whether they are refugees or not, the same strategy Chanan begun with.

“Since 2009, we have recruited some 50,000 young people for Y-Peer who work with us to educate their peers in important matters like sexual and reproductive health rights and also contraception,” Shahzad shares, adding that Pakistan was the first country in Asia Pacific that introduced UNFPA’s Y-Peer program in the region in 2009.

They are working with youth across 135 districts spread all over Pakistan including its toughest regions. In Pakistan, 65 per cent of the population is under 29, and 40 per cent fall into the even narrower age bracket of 10 to 24 years, says Shahzad.

“A big focus of our work is to engage with policymakers,” he says, sharing that Chanan was part of the National Task Force of 2009 for youth policy development, and is hosting the National Secretariat for Y-Peer in Pakistan.

For Hamza, the journey started by working for a local Palestinian organisation called Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA). He is studying to get a degree in nursing.

“There are two million people in Gaza. The blockade is continuing since two years. Aid and medical help is almost impossible. Unemployment in my people is 70 per cent; among the youth it is 55 per cent. The healthcare system is fragmented. Very few people are able to reach the government-run healthcare centres.”

“In shelters that he has worked in, two to three thousand people were staying in one school. That meant each classroom was housing at least 50 people. Men, women and children, all strangers for each other, crammed into one room. With no food and water at least for the initial days till help started trickling in. Do you think family planning is a priority for them on a hungry stomach?”

In difficult situations and at such a young age, to be taken seriously and sensitise people about contraception is an uphill task. But these young people have realised that their generation’s reproductive choices will shape future demographic trends. They are thus helping their peers make informed decisions.

She was 13 and he was 39 – Rape & Consent

Men face infidelity and are wronged and cheated in relationships too. But women, globally, end up paying a bigger price. PHOTO: FILE

The 15-year-old girl from Lahore gave her “consent” and he was her “boyfriend”, and so it is not rape, they say.

This case is garnering a very expected response. But why are we surprised? It reminds me of a case I came across a while back. A 13-year-old girl fell for her 39-year-old neighbour. They started chatting via the internet. One day, when she was home alone, he coerced her into having a sexual encounter. Reality was not as the girl had imagined. When it actually happened, she yelled, cried and resisted but was raped. But the men in her own family, her own relatives, were of the opinion that this incident should be brushed under the rug and no complain should be lodged with the police.

“Larki buhut taiz hai. Ghalti humari hi larki ki hai. Chakkar chalaya hua tha us aadmi se. Yeh to hona hee tha.”

(The girl is very fast. The fault lies with our girl. She had an affair with that man. This was bound to happen).

This is not to say that it is just men who further these stereotypes.

It would also be unfair to assume that only females are raped. Painful incidents where young boys are raped or sexually abused mercilessly keep surfacing on the media. But the numbers, compared to females, are jarringly lower. Hence, here we will discuss the predicament women are faced with.

Staring in our faces is the reality that unless a woman, of any age, has pushed away, kicked or tried to hit the man forcing himself upon her, and has signs of that physical scuffle in the form of torn clothes and bruises, she will not be considered a victim of ‘rape’. And even that will be accepted only if the man was a stranger practically. If at all she had an inclination towards the man and/or had any one-on-one communication with him at any point in the past, she will be considered one of loose character and having brought the ‘inevitable’ upon herself.

This definition of rape is so inbuilt in our society’s system that the idea of rape beyond this is considered… well… not rape. So much so that other categories of rape, in which some form of consent is present at some stage, may be involved from the woman’s side, are ruled off the list of kinds of rape in an absolutist fashion.

The girl gang raped in Lahore was a minor. Even if, hypothetically, she knew or liked the man, she is a child, not an adult. It is recognised as statutory rape even under Pakistani law which is generally not the most women-friendly. But a Pakistani publication went as far as using insensitive language like “…to meet her boyfriend…” and “the tests proved that the couple had been engaged in a consenting relationship”.

If this is the mentality being echoed by an English language publication, what thought process do we expect the average uneducated or less evolved Pakistani to exhibit? If the minor is not old enough to have a driver’s license or an identity card, is he or she old enough to discern and decide the consequences of indulging in a sexual relationship?

The 13-year-old girl I mentioned earlier was a normal, curious child who knew little what this encounter with her almost 40-year-old neighbour would lead to. But that man knew exactly what he was doing. How is this, then, not rape?

Another example is how every time we use the term “marital rape”, many, if not all, will express shock over the idea – shock that is genuine, as it is considered unthinkable that anything within the bond of marriage could be wrong. Others know what it means but say all is fair in nikkah and vows.

But perhaps the most insidious form of sexual exploitation is when a woman is exploited via emotional manipulation. Leading someone on with the pretence of commitment and promises of a marriage has led many girls and women in our society to points of no return. And this happens across the board – it is not restricted to urban or rural, affluent or underprivileged. After giving their all, women are left in the lurch.

Again, men face infidelity and are wronged and cheated in relationships too. But women, globally, end up paying a bigger price.

Thus in many cases, the seeming “consent” actually has layers of details in the background that one does not know. Talking about this is important so that as a society, we learn to understand the difference.

FEMINISM – What the F word meant for Pakistan in 2015

Published: December 30, 2015
PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

She. She has worked for one of the world’s leading Formula 1 team. She is a fighter pilot. She is UN’s goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality. She’s changing the contours of this country. And she is not a man.

In recent years, Pakistan has seen a lot of “firsts” owing to women. At the tail end of 2015, Rahila Hameed Durrani was elected as the first-ever female speaker of the Balochistan Assembly. Muniba Mazari was named Pakistan’s first female goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by UN Women. Iron-fisted Ayesha Mumtaz gave owners of sub-standard eateries in Punjab sleepless nights as Director of Operations at Punjab Food Authority, and rose to fame thanks to her unrelenting firmness during raids. And fighter pilot Mariam Mukhtar added the name of a woman in the list of Pakistan Air Force fighter pilots to die in the line of duty. The year has been particularly significant in bridging some of the gender disparity that the country battles day in, day out.

Female co-pilot dies as training jet crashes in Mianwali

Mariam Mukhtar. PHOTO: FILE

“Women and girls in Pakistan are taking many strides to reclaim public spaces and challenging the concept of women belonging inside ‘safe spaces’, spaces largely identified by a male dominated society,” says lawyer and gender activist Maliha Zia Lari, adding that an increasing number of girls and women are taking up jobs and activities previously considered to be male domains. “This is extremely positive.”

Public places, public office

What initially started as a hashtag, #GirlsAtDhabas ended up becoming a jump start to fresh conversation about how women can – and must – frequent all public spaces, including dhabas, police stations, courts and even mosques.

#GirlsAtDhabas aims to make dhabas run by women a reality

PHOTO: FILE

“The year 2015 ends on a high note as women’s leadership role is getting increased recognition. In traditional milieus such as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan, women are leading the provincial legislatures,” says columnist and activist Raza Rumi, and particularly mentions how Rahila Durrani also happens to be a well-known civil society activist. “She brings with her years of experience as a women rights defender.”

The social ripples are many, but there is little simultaneous effort at the state level, and there is too low a number of senior female politicians, female politicians in important decision-making positions, female CEOs and judges. In a recent write-up, former vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) Adil Najam suggested that after 137 male justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the time is ripe to appoint a woman. But top positions in all spheres, for the most part, continue to be ruled by men.

Lari mentions how the recent local government elections once again evidenced agreements whereby women were disenfranchised from voting. “It is a paradoxical situation where social change is happening, but it has not yet been translated into an institutional actual policy at the state level.”

She says there is little discourse in what feminism actually is, even within the women’s movement and women’s NGOs. “Few, if any, would recognise the iconic names of the feminist movement such as Judith Butler or Simone de Beauvoir, or even Pakistani feminist icons such as Tahira Mazhar Ali, Nighat Saeed Khan, Nigar Ahmed, Shahla Zia or Farida Shaheed,” says Lari. She adds that it is a pity that we do not institutionally focus enough on the ideology and choose to focus more on finishing projects.

On a more upbeat note, Rumi observes that within the dynastic framework, another woman leader – Maryam Nawaz – is emerging within the PML-N, which has been known for its conservatism.

Maryam Nawaz. PHOTO: FILE

With a narrative building around feminism being taken seriously, Pakistan has a rising number of men who identify as male feminists, like Anthony Permal, a marketer by profession. “Male feminism, to me, is about standing alongside women in their daily existence, not ahead or behind and certainly not ‘for’. Women, like men, are their own masters.”

Yet, Permal recognises that leave alone male feminists, even women in Pakistan sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to the term, seeing it as a borrowed Western concept. “Our deeply patriarchal society has so pressed misogyny into the bare bones of the populace that even many women are anti-feminist, allowing their religio-cultural dogmas to supersede the support of their own gender,” says Permal.

HerStory

Fortunately, women like Suniya Sadullah are blazing the trail for others. In Suniya’s family, the only professions considered respectable were becoming doctors or teachers. But she had other ideas when, at the age of 12, she watched her first ever motor race on TV. Her aim in life there onwards became to be a part of a Formula 1 team. She has succeeded in pushing the boundaries of the norms of a traditional Pathan family and realised her dream: this motorsport engineer is the first female Pakistani to have worked for the Williams Formula 1 team. “I’ve had an unconventional career route for a girl from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” she tells The Express Tribune.

Suniya Sadullah. PHOTO: twitter/ Suniya Sadullah Khan

Suniya shares how her support has been the men in her life but her role models have been women. Her mother wanted to put her in a co-education school, a decision her father supported. “I was one of the first girls in my family to study in such a school,” says Suniya. After working with Williams for some three years, she is presently pursuing a PhD in Aerospace in Pakistan. “My husband has been extremely supportive. We actually had a long distance marriage for about eight months while I decided whether to continue working in Formula 1 or pursue my next goal, which was a PhD.”

According to Rumi, the real change taking place in Pakistan is within the higher education sector. “Nearly half of public sector universities comprise women [in the] student body. Their entrance into such places happens due to increased mobility as well as superior performance in academics.”

Globally, too, the importance of bringing men on board for empowerment of women has gained momentum, and though feminism started out as a movement by women for women, men are now seen as part of the synergy. “HeForShe”, a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women, popularised the thought further.

End violence against women: ‘We all stand to gain from empowering women’

PHOTO: FILE

HeForShe started a campaign with the goal of engaging one million men and boys by July 2015. They may have failed to meet the goal, but supportive men are not as rare as they once were.