The Real Enemy Of Pakistani Women Is Not Men

Refusing to accept the posters as sly humor, the critics accused the marchers of obscenity and vulgarity — another familiar objection that raises its head whenever Pakistani women demand their rights.

The march organizers have now entered talks with Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency to identify and prosecute the users of some 22 social media accounts that the marchers say have violated a law against posting hateful threats. But nobody in the government has expressed support for the organizers of the march, except for a vague tweet from one of the federal cabinet’s three female ministers that threats of violence are unacceptable. (In the past, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said feminism “weakens motherhood.”)

The furor over this year’s march illustrates a complex dynamic of misogyny that is deeply rooted in Pakistani society. At its center is an unwillingness to change toward a progressive vision of a nation that protects the constitutional rights of women — rights enshrined in the Constitution of 1973, which says “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.”

Many Pakistanis admit that women face huge obstacles, and that improving their status would help move the entire nation out of poverty and away from injustice. But critics argue that women seeking too much freedom “in the wrong way” violate the limitations of Islam, Pakistani culture and society. Instead, they say, women should be more “mature and balanced,” when asking for their rights. In short, they should accept whatever is granted to them, conditional on their good behavior, by Pakistani men.

The rise of the women’s movement, in which women are growing aware of their rights and mobilizing to pursue them, indicates a seminal moment in Pakistani history — the beginning of a cultural shift in the younger generation’s attitudes toward women and their role in modern Pakistani society. Sixty-five percent of the population is under 30, and younger Pakistanis are more idealistic and hungry for change.

We hope our movement will mature and grow, spreading awareness that women deserve better treatment and more rights than have been grudgingly meted out so far. What happened after this year’s Aurat March shows that for Pakistani women, the enemy is not men; the real enemy is society’s acceptance of patriarchy. And the possibility that next year’s Aurat March may bring even worse violence indicates that the struggle for the rights of Pakistani women has never been so urgent as it is now.

So, did the march fail? No. Pakistani women are in crisis, but at last their status has become part of the national conversation.

Bina Shah is an essayist and novelist whose latest book is “Before She Sleeps,” a feminist dystopia.

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