Hail the Pakistani woman

IT is indeed a huge tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Pakistani woman that we continue to see her survive and thrive as an individual and a professional, given the obstacles in her path.

Just read a report this newspaper carried last Wednesday, which was accompanied by a photograph of the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar snapped with three stewardesses on board a PIA plane. The news item reported on a ‘light-hearted’ conversation between the chief justice and senior counsel Naeem Bokhari, who was appearing before him in the Supreme Court. Predictably, this exchange had to do with the chief justice being photographed with three women.

Mr Bokhari mock-threatened to lodge a complaint against the chief justice on account of the photo and the honourable chief justice said the counsel appeared to be jealous. The matter was settled when the chief justice explained that he could not say no when the stewardesses, who were like his daughters, asked for a photo. Naeem Bokhari agreed.

When I tweeted my unease that such an unnecessary conversation took place at all in this day and age, there were a number of ‘C’mon, be a sport’ type of responses. Believe me, I am a big sport and have no issues with light-hearted banter but does it have to focus on women as an object? How many jokes do we tell where roles are reversed? Not many, even for the biggest ‘sport’ among us, must be the honest answer. That lies at the core of the issue.

In the run-up to the polls, is it too much to expect political parties to sign up to a code where isolating women and attacking them is seen as repugnant and against the norms?

When the PML-N has given hundreds of reasons to its opponents to take it to task, what does the brightest new entrant in PTI ranks do? Amir Liaquat Hussain’s timeline on Twitter will let you see the precise words he used to attack Maryam Nawaz. Words that can’t be reproduced here. And, no, I don’t agree with those who say this is karma, while mentioning the then Nawaz Sharif-led opposition’s malicious personal attacks on PPP leaders Benazir Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Bhutto in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

What is wrong is wrong at any point in time and regardless of who the perpetrator is and who is/was being targeted. One need not be a rocket scientist to figure that out. Equally, despite his often self-righteous indignation at one and all, it is extremely repugnant to target Imran Khan’s spouse whatever the compelling (self-serving) reason advanced as some have recently.

Those in positions of power and authority need to set an example by treating women on a par with men, along with the need for a sensitisation programme involving the media to drive home the message.

The armed forces parade this last March 23 was another example where the commentator, demonstrably with the best of intentions, mentioned the women’s contingent as being ‘our mothers, sister, daughters’.

Again when someone objected to this on social media and drew criticism for always seeing things in a ‘negative’ light, someone else asked how many times have the all-male contingents taking part been bracketed as fathers, brothers and sons.

Why bracket women as such when men are not? Admittedly, the armed forces have taken a hugely positive decision to induct women in roles as varied as communications specialists to fighter pilots; it should be drummed in though that they are soldiers doing a job as are men.

When you still hear in the media major male players in all fields using phrases such as ‘crying like women’ how can attitudes change elsewhere when opinion moulders are so unaware of what is acceptable and what is not.

Earlier this week in these very pages, Asad Hashim clinically dissected the misogyny and other factors leading to some of the nastiest comments on Malala Yousafzai, one of Pakistan’s proudest daughters ever since she survived a Taliban bullet to her head and went on to earn global acclaim for being an iconic symbol of women’s right to education and equality.

A similar diatribe has been hurled at the late Asma Jahangir, a giant of a woman and an indefatigable torch-bearer for our fundamental rights. Frankly, I know no man who faced so much malice and slander with such fortitude for merely vowing to safeguard our collective freedoms and liberty.

Allow me to say that not just indiscretions by men but even their crimes are often papered over because they are men while lies are invented to mock women and deny them their hard-fought and well-earned place in their professions and in society at large.

It is indeed incredible that despite such bias, that so many of us aren’t even aware is so deeply ingrained and that we display at the drop of a hat, Pakistan has had a woman prime minister, speaker of parliament, leaders of opposition in both houses, generals in the military (even if so far only belonging to the Medical Corps), surgeons, professors, scholars, editors just to mention some in merely one breath.

Women have excelled in more areas as professionals than I can count. Yes, you could argue that most falling in this category largely come from privileged backgrounds. But let me ask you if you are aware of what contribution the unpaid woman makes to our agricultural output as she works alongside men in the fields?

As the pre-election battle heats up, would it be asking for the moon to expect all contesting political parties to sign up to a code where isolating women and attacking them is seen as repugnant and against the norms?

And this code must extend beyond the elections. After all, to progress we cannot continue to maintain the status quo. In any democratic order, equality must be the norm and discrimination of any kind should be frowned upon as unacceptable.

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