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
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.