As we all know, March 8th was International Women’s Day. For those that take an interest in learning about and contributing to the progressive advancement of human rights, specifically focusing on women’s rights, this day was no doubt filled with showing love and support for the cause. It was also a very good opportunity for many women around the world to spread awareness and provide guidance for others in need by sharing their personal stories, knowledge, and wisdom with the rest of the world. One such article that circulated the web around this time was that of Samra Zafar, titled, “The Good Wife”. To quickly summarize it, this article told the story of Samra and how she was forced to get married against her will at just 16, the abuse she faced afterwards, her struggle to get educated and finally her escape to freedom. Samra’s story resonated with me because we share the same nationality, making her just a little bit more relatable. I spent 8 years of my childhood in Pakistan, and although my motherland has a rich and vibrant culture, an amazing sense of community and an endless supply of good food, there is a huge missing link: respectful treatment of women.
There is no sugar-coating it. The majority of the women in Pakistan do not share the same rights, freedom or privileges relative to their male counterparts. They’re raised to be flawless, with too much emphasis on upholding the family’s honour, and are constantly being forced to comply with unrealistic high expectations. This continues after the be-all and end-all marriage takes place (in many cases directly or indirectly against the free will of the bride) and if problems arise, the women are told to cope under false pretenses of religious obligations. Albeit with some exceptions, most of these scenarios are reserved for the inner workings of ‘civilized’ households, and do not include the rape, honour killings, abductions and countless other silent cases of abuse against women that plague the country. With domestic drudge, mental and often physical abuse awaiting most women in Pakistan, it is no wonder that the very fabric of this nation is falling apart. For a country with 51% of its population made up of women, does it sound like an environment promoting self-growth and love? No. Absolutely not.
Many times I’ve wondered why there is such a disconnect in my Pakistan regarding the importance of respecting women. I’ve wondered because the stories aren’t just another set of statistics for me. I’ve personally seen and experienced different degrees of this behaviour taking place. Fortunately, I am in a position to stand up for myself and offer my support to those that need it as well. However, for Pakistan being a country that claims to be an Islamic Republic, I find that the true teachings of Islam seem to have been replaced with hypocritical and egotistical vices arising from male dominance. The true teachings of Islam place such a high emphasis on respect for women that they leave no room for any sort of inequality. It’s important that this should be mentioned because culture is often confused with religion, which is why there are so many misunderstandings surrounding Islam.
Muhammad: The Liberator of Women (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), written by Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad (peace be upon him) is a great book that discusses in depth the rights that the women in Islam are entitled to.
Women in Pakistan, and women all over the world going through such hardships can help create a safe and healthy environment for themselves and the coming generations by uniting together, educating themselves and others,and most importantly spreading awareness. For instance, I recently attended a Peace Conference organized and hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Women’s Association in Vaughan. Similar peace conferences took place at the same time in Ottawa and Calgary. This was a national event, and female leaders in promoting peace and tolerance from many different faiths were present. The speeches were very personal, equally amazing, and the feeling of unity was present through and through. It was so refreshing to hear about all of the lives these women have changed, and all of the progress they’ve made just by being proactive.
When women unite together, social issues become personal, and striving towards equality becomes necessary. Therefore, rather than hiding away in a corner hoping someone else will come along and fix our problems, all of us need to work together. We need to be aware of our surroundings, offer our help whenever we can, and constantly spread peace, love and awareness. Doing just this much in our personal spheres is not hard at all, but our actions as a whole can create a better life for women all over the world.