Not a woman’s place

When I listened to Malala Yousufzai address the Canadian Parliament the previous day, I  felt nothing but respect for that girl. No, that woman. The way a nineteen year old woman could command the respect of the entire house, conservative and liberal was mesmerizing. I wished she spoke longer, I could listen for a long time perhaps with a Nazia Hassan tune playing in the background. She said she wanted to see more young ones sitting in the house of Parliament instead of many sitting there now, such was her appeal that even the oldest parliamentarians found themselves to be nodding.

I was quickly brought back to reality, the reality of pessimism and anger. My country folks don’t really let such moments pass easy, you see most people can’t tolerate strong independent women. There was a woman being honored by a house of parliament and yet she stood their telling them that they have not done enough to support a girl’s education across the globe, she told them that they need to do more. It pained me to watch so many of my own people accuse her for working on an ‘evil foreign’ agenda, obviously a girl’s right of education can only be something evil for the patriarchy.

1983 – Women’s Movement to protest against laws passed by military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq

Society on this side of the world, both sides of the border have internalized misogyny. It comes easy for them, they all feel threatened by a woman who can speak, who has her own voice. Be it the Fatima Jinnah daring to stand up to the dictator Ayub, standing up for the rights of the Bengali people or even the Sharmeen at the Academy Awards wanting to protect millions of other women from ending up like the girl in the river. Every female politician in this country has had to bear with misogynistic remarks, has had to face attacks such as not being fit to rule because of course she is a woman. Ms Bhutto paid with her life after all. Don’t take me in the wrong sense, I do not mean to say that women can not rise above all of this or that they haven’t been able to ever, but we need to understand the fact that just because that they do, does not mean that the problem does not exist. When a sitting Defence Minister can refer to a woman as a ‘tractor trolley’ to shut her up, to silence her voice, or when the leader of the opposition can crack a joke at the expense of women in a ‘light mood’, because it’s annoying when women speak, it’s obviously business only when men speak, It does help in bringing me back to this harsh reality.

For as long as Asma Jehangir’s refusal to compromise on principles means being ‘uptight’, for as long as Malala is just another foreign agent along with her partner in crime Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, as long as parents continue to stop their daughters from going out for an education, even in urban centres, and people continue to turn a blind eye we can not hope to progress. This battle is not and was not one to be fought alone by Ms Jinnah, Mehtab Rashdi or Nazia Hassan trying to break cultural norms, this is not just ‘a women problem’, this is a moral problem and we all must be a part of this movement, to break the patriarchy and to call out misogyny.

 

The iconic Dupatta burning protest by Pakistani Feminists in 1983 against the military dictator Zia, this later became a symbol for resistance and freedom

 

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Freedom? Not Really

Millions gather together at the same place, at the same time, they cheer, they jump. They stand all day in the sun, nothing but excitement and revolution in their hearts. They stand hours, just for a few second glance of the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. It doesn’t matter to them if her government was successful or corrupt, the intricacies of her agenda don’t matter to them. They believe in the woman with a loose white scarf on her head, they see the future with her. She is no more, but millions still can’t help but feel that they are betraying her sacrifice if they don’t vote for her ballot.  It is said that when Jinnah spoke at rallies, he usually spoke in English, most people did not know a word of English but still hung on to his every word, because they believed, they trusted. They saw freedom his voice, in his eyes, oh what a beautiful thing is freedom.

We are not free, we are constantly, throughout our lives put into shackles by society. Women are enslaved by the patriarchy, the poor enslaved by the owners of wealth, the rich enslaved by their status. Freedom means different things to different people, Pakistan meant freedom to the Muslims in India in 1947. Not a day goes by when the Kashmiris, Palestinians, the Kurds and millions of others don’t wake up as prisoners seeking freedom, to be able to call their land their home, to live and die in dignity.

We all go through different times in our lives, we all carry our chains with us, some with more, some with less. Everyone has their own unique struggle, unique battle to fight. Millions all over the world have it worse than many, that does not mean that the chains of one are any less important than that of another. We can not be free until there exists even one person in chains, allowing the enslaver to survive. Let there be no enslaver for there to be freedom. I write this as I am embroiled in turmoil as a student, I too am enslaved by this system of competitiveness of education as a brand versus another. The millions who seek to just steal a glance at the former Prime Minister, are not enslaved by her as they remain even when she is no more, they carry the chains of their belief and revolution. The leader is not the revolution, the millions in the crowd are the revolution. Theoretically it is not people from whom we have to seek freedom, it is the mindset.

The workers of the world did not lose their chains in 1917 or in 1959, they did have nothing to lose but their chains, but were they really prepared to lose their chains? Fayyaz Hashmi says that in this prison of time, there is life but only a few moments of freedom. We need to look for those few moments, we need to believe that such moments may exist or will exist, only then will we be prepared to lose our chains, only then will the spectre that surrounds us be within us.