The Goose doesn’t count!

Ti­tle: Au­thor: Pub­lisher: Pages: Price: ISBN-10: ISBN-13: Gen­der Equal­ity and Women’s Em­pow­er­ment in Pak­istan Rashida Pa­tel Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, Pak­istan (Au­gust, 2010) 308 pages, Hard­back PKR. 695 0-19-547881-9 978-0-19-547881-5

Southasia - - Book review - Re­viewed by Farah Iqbal

In the pa­tri­ar­chal Pak­istani so­ci­ety, where women are sup­posed to be pro­tected, they suf­fer vi­o­lence at the hands of their pro­tec­tors. In the name of tra­di­tion and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­li­gion, women are de­nied their rights.

‘Gen­der Equal­ity and Women’s Em­pow­er­ment in Pak­istan’ by the late Ad­vo­cate Rashida Pa­tel is both in­for­ma­tive and pre­scrip­tive. It is a com­pre­hen­sive study of the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tion of Pak­istani women. Hav­ing in-depth knowl­edge of the law, she is able to re­veal the many crimes be­ing com­mit­ted against women. Even though there are laws avail­able to pro­tect women, they are be­ing bought, sold, beaten and even killed.

An ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and an ac­tive mem­ber of the legal fra­ter­nity, Rashida Pa­tel has used her ex­pe­ri­ences to dis­cuss vi­o­lence against women. She has pro­vided a thor­ough anal­y­sis on a host of laws that af­fect women and has also made rec­om­men­da­tions for re­form.

In Pak­istan, where women are lead­ers, politi­cians, sci­en­tists, etc., they can also be killed for merely speak­ing to a man they are not re­lated to or not mar­ried to. Many women have no say in any as­pect of their lives, in­clud­ing mar­riage. Even the right of di­vorce is taken away from them since in most cases the sec­tion deal­ing with di­vorce in the nikah­nama was rou­tinely crossed out with­out con­sult­ing them, un­til women were granted the right by de­fault in the 1990s, though few man­age to ad­dress the is­sue un­der the changed law.

As an em­i­nent lawyer Pa­tel was well in­formed on the for­mu­la­tion of new laws and the amend­ments made to them, but what she points out is the lack of im­ple­men­ta­tion of these laws that are con­tin­u­ously over­looked in most cases deal­ing with women. The ex­am­ples quoted in the book, fo­cus on rape, rajm (ston­ing to death) and sex­ual ha­rass­ment and they give a clear pic­ture of how the rights of women are rou­tinely vi­o­lated. More­over, a large num­ber of women are also killed or maimed in the name of honor, known as karo kari in Sindh, kala kali in Pun­jab, tora tora in Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and siya kari in Balochis­tan.

The au­thor also ex­plains how the Zina Or­di­nance has con­trib­uted to the phe­nom­e­non of honor killing. She says it has cre­ated grounds for so­ci­ety to ques­tion the chastity of women. Pa­tel’s well-re­searched book in­cludes quotes from the Qu­ran to dis­pel the no­tion that women have been pro­claimed in­fe­rior to men in Is­lam. For in­stance, she says that the Ara­bic word ‘qawwam’ means provider as op­posed to mas­ter. Hence where men have been de­clared as strong by the Qu­ran, they have also been given the role of providers.

Dis­cussing is­sues such as di­vorce and re­pro­duc­tive rights, Pa­tel states that crimes are on an in­crease due to il­lit­er­acy which con­se­quently re­sults in the lack of aware­ness and there­fore lax­ity is shown to cul­prits by law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Pa­tel iden­ti­fies si­lence as one of the main causes that lead to in­jus­tice to­wards women. She says, “The de­pen­dent and in­fe­rior legal, so­cial and eco­nomic sta­tus of women in law and in prac­tice is one ma­jor fac­tor” for this. There are struc­tural rea­sons as well. She main­tains that it is of­ten dif­fi­cult for women to get easy ac­cess to coun­selling or legal ser­vices. This is widely due to the preva­lent dis­trust of the po­lice that dis­cour­ages women from ap­proach­ing them. Even when they do, the attitude of the po­lice per­son­nel to­wards cases of vi­o­lence against women is in­dif­fer­ent or sim­ply non-re­spon­sive. Pa­tel em­pha­sizes that ad­dress­ing these is­sues is vi­tal and the re­spon­si­bil­ity does not solely lie on the state, but also on non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Com­ment­ing on re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the law, she points out sev­eral ref­er­ences to laws that have been changed re­cently and im­pact women’s lives, in­clud­ing al­ter­ations to the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dure Code 1898 and the Pak­istan Pe­nal Code 1860, such as the in­tro­duc­tion of the death penalty for gang rape and restora­tion of Haq Me­har.

In her book, Pa­tel has also fo­cused on top­ics that are not widely dis­cussed such as mar­riage of pros­ti­tutes. She says, “The well-known rules of Mus­lim ju­rispru­dence are in fa­vor of le­git­imiz­ing mar­riage rather than stig­ma­tiz­ing in­di­vid­u­als.”

Pa­tel has em­pha­sized that the sit­u­a­tion can be al­tered if the law is force­fully ap­plied. She points out that con­sti­tu­tional rights are present against, for ex­am­ple, hu­man traf­fick­ing, yet Pak­istan is con­sid­ered to be a coun- try of ori­gin, des­ti­na­tion and transit of traf­ficked per­sons. Some NGOs es­ti­mate that nearly 200,000 per­sons, mostly women, are traf­ficked in the coun­try.

Pa­tel’s de­tailed ob­ser­va­tions re­gard­ing women em­pow­er­ment is not only lim­ited to the law but also in­clude leg­is­la­tors. She com­ments that “be­cause women elected on re­served seats owe their po­si­tion to the largesse of the party lead­er­ship, they have no op­tion but to toe the party line and have lit­tle say on is­sues dis­cussed in par­lia­ment. They are un­able to unite across party lines in sup­port of is­sues and laws that are specif­i­cally for the wel­fare and ben­e­fit of women un­less those is­sues have prior sanc­tion of their po­lit­i­cal mas­ters.”

Rashida Pa­tel gives sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence that a lot still needs to be ac­com­plished in or­der to pro­tect women, whether it is in terms of ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment, mar­riage, di­vorce or re­pro­duc­tive rights. She has used her ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence as a hu­man rights ac­tivist to re­veal the many weak­nesses that cur­rently ex­ist in the Pak­istani legal sys­tem.

In a coun­try where women live in a con­stant state of fear, where me­dia car­ries nu­mer­ous news items about atroc­i­ties against them, where they have rights but are un­aware of them and some­times can­not ac­quire them de­spite know­ing about them, this book is an eye-opener and a sig­nif­i­cant guid­ing force.

Rashida Pa­tel was the most con­sis­tent cam­paigner for the rights of women in Pak­istan un­til her death in 2009. Any­where else she would have been made much of, but in Pak­istan she strug­gled through tough Is­lami­sa­tion with­out get­ting no­ticed. The re­viewer is a PR pro­fes­sional and takes keen in­ter­est in so­cial is­sues.

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