Curbing women’s rights in the name of traditions
Good omen for the women of Pakistan is that Sindh and Punjab assemblies passed laws for the protection of women from domestic violence.
Bad omen in this regard is that although Sindh assembly passed the law in 2013, it has not been implemented. The commission which had to be formed under this act has not been established, and the protection officers have not been appointed by the Sindh government. In Punjab the notification of the law was held back once the religious leaders objected and declare that it was against the religious and cultural traditions.
True that human rights bodies are disgusted that the provincial governments have not implemented the laws passed by their own assemblies. But there is a positive side to these developments which is that the two assemblies did passed the laws with the support of a large majority of the members. What does this show? It clearly indicates that change in the thinking of the majority of people that women rights are human rights. Why?
Today we know times are changing at a fast forward pace. In the post Second World War period technologically mankind has made much more progress than it did in the 5000 years before that. Particularly the inventions of Internet, optic fibre, satellites and aviation technology has made communications between far-flung continents, developed and developing countries easier and less expensive. Today we live in the post Google era where knowledge and information has been democratized. Globalisation whether we like it or not, has made the world village.
The culture of the societies is placed in a place and in time, and all societies are organic. A society grows and evolves with the development of science and technology, modes of communications, which gradually changes the relations of production and social relations. Attempts to preserve the mediaeval religious and cultural in the changing world of 21st-century are resulting in tension between the inevitable dying systems and the evolution of the new social and cultural values.
But still women’s political, economic and social and civil rights and legal rights are denied and the freedoms are curtailed in the name of culture and tradition. Such is the strong hang-over of these cultural and religious traditions which have existed for many centuries that most women suffer the denial of their rights quietly.
The patriarchal society has created a mindset where many women consider that they are supposed to follow the traditions and culture values even though this is at the cost of subjugating them. In many cases we have seen that in daily life women in a household become the custodian of the cultural values which suppress the women’s rights of their daughters and daughter-in-laws.
To protect the status quo the reactionary often take refuge in the theory of cultural relativism. They are the people who often cry that Western cultural values cannot be implemented in our society to deny women their universal human rights.
Of course there are differences among various cultures but this does not mean that some universally accepted norms and values can be overlooked which are directly linked with the human rights of the individuals. The equality of women with men is inviolable human right which is generally accepted the world over. Cultural customs and traditions which infringe the rights of the individual by have to be changed.
Many cultural and religious traditions have quietly changed in our society. These changes are dictated by the changing economic social and political structure of the country and also by the strong universal cultural values. Technology revolution has created widespread awareness about the women’s rights across the globe. That is the reason that we hear voices against the murder in the name of so-called honour even from the remote villages.
Advancement of technology has made the workplace conducive for women as the need for the brawn power is declining. Today we see a very high percentage of women in the universities around the world. This also shows the changing times and how the social relations in most societies are transforming giving more rights to women.
As the woman is getting economically emancipated the nature of her relations with man are also changing. They are no more the Chief servants of the household but are economically independent individuals having their own identity. All this is happening despite a resistance by the champions of the patriarchal society.
Take for instance the practices of slavery, polygamy, having sexual relations with the maids under your protection, marrying underage girls which were allowed in the religious traditions, are today looked down upon. Similarly, tribal and feudal cultural values of buying and selling brides, wife beating, and murder in the name of so-called honour are despised by the society. Those who want to retain these outdated cultural and religious traditions have been outvoted.
The good thing is that even in the developing societies there is a growing consciousness against the exploitative practices that target women. It is only the antiquated religious lobby which believes that they can sustain and implement the value system of the seventh century tribal society.
In spite of being conservative Muslims the people of Pakistan do not approve the practices of the Islamic State which has issued a fatwa on how to distribute the captured women in the war waged by them and who can have sex with whom. At the same time the society is not supporting underage marriages and wife beating despite the contention of the Council of Islamic ideology that Islamic traditions allow these practices.
There is a growing awareness and demand to accept that women’s rights are human rights. That means they have equal rights as human beings and should not be discriminated culturally and legally. Appropriate laws have been passed which is a great step forward, the struggle for the implementation of the law is now required.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org