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OPINION

The ‘other’ side of women’s empowerment

It’s not new in Pakistan to point fingers on women, whether on their dress code or their marital status, their social activities or simply, for no reason at all.

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Aurat March in Pakistan was a rage. As women came out in big numbers and blasted the country’s patriarchal system with a loud and no bars held attitude, they were in turn lambasted predictably by men and sadly, by some women. The critics felt that women in Pakistan have become too liberal and are crossing the limits.

Moving on with their fierce criticism, some suggested that women are using their newly found empowerment in a negative way and implied that this attitude proves the existence of an ‘other’ side of women’s empowerment.

It’s not new in Pakistan to point fingers on women, whether on their dress code or their marital status, their social activities or simply, for no reason at all. It is also almost a tradition to downplay all feminist movements: they didn’t even spare #Metoo! But to suggest that empowered women spread negativity, seems a curious idea.

Intrigued, I tried to dig out the suppositions from which this belief stems and attempted to understand what may be this ‘other’ side to women’s empowerment.

A detailed research paper titled Historical Background of Women Empowerment traces back the use of the term ‘Women Empowerment’ to the 1980s in the feminist and development literature related to women and poverty issues. The paper argues that “half of humanity – women, has been suffering from disability, discrimination, injustice and inequality all over the world for many centuries……The notion of ‘biological difference’ is often used to justify discriminatory beliefs about women and men’s relative intelligence, emotional behaviour or suitability to certain jobs”.

The refusal to accept such discriminatory beliefs supports the basic idea of gender equality, which says that a woman should not be denied a work opportunity just because she is a woman. If she possesses the required qualification, merit and experience, she should be given the opportunity. The struggle for equality by women is based on the belief that cerebral excellence is not a domain of man. With the right education, conducive environment and encouraging policies, women have been known to excel in various fields and if not commonly, exceptionally even in fields requiring physical strength.

Springing from this is the concept of gender parity. If a woman justifies a role as well as a man, why should she be paid less? If there is a choice in moving up the corporate ladder between a man and a woman, who both qualify equally, why should a man be given preference just because the other contestant was a woman?

“Women Empowerment involves giving women back their ability to make decisions without being affected by patriarchal norms and prejudices, for example, the undervaluing of a woman to the point that she is less likely to get a promotion than her male colleagues,” says Zeina Toriq-Azad, a member of Pax Femina, an online coalition of feminist writers and activists.

So when the movement aims to strengthen the status of women, is it possible that there is an other side to it?

“The term ‘other side’ implies negativity, but there is no negative to empowering women,” says Tehmina Khan, a Pakistani-Canadian author. “While, it might be true, that some women when empowered, use their power to hurt other women, it is also true that certain men do the same. So then should we strip power from everyone. Should we render all human being helpless, in order to prevent some individuals from abusing power?” Khan questions.

While surely, as Tehmina Khan puts forth, abuse of power by some can not justify limiting its use to certain individuals, there are others who, in extremity, believe that women use the concept of empowerment to actually overpower other men and women. Surprisingly, such beliefs have been propagated by women as well. In the 70s, The Manipulated Man, a book published in the United States became a best seller around the world. The author of this book, where it has been argued that “Men have been trained and conditioned by women, not unlike the way Pavlov conditioned his dogs, into becoming their slaves,” was not an ‘oppressed’ man but a woman, Esther Vilar. So biased and one sided were her arguments generalising the entire female population of the world (which ironically, also included herself!) that she was termed “not only sexist, but fascist” by prominent feminists of the age.

Such myths, where women are accused of manipulating and overpowering others through self empowerment have been appropriately addressed in women’s literature. “So we can say that women moving to position of power does not mean that they are going to abuse power; to ill-treat and exploit men. Women empowerment in reality is to empower themselves and not to overpower men,” explains the research paper quoted earlier.

Some situations, however, are harder to explain.

Perhaps, the strongest allegation on women is that they use their physical charms and appeals to achieve success. If a woman goes up the corporate ladder, in almost every case, few people would suggest the proverbial ‘casting couch’ as the facilitation. Although this can surely not be generalised, especially in the appalling way Vilar suggested nearly half a century ago, unfortunately the instances do take place. And these instances, maligning the movement of women’s empowerment pave way for strong criticism.

What makes women use this path?

“Precisely because the patriarchy doesn’t allow it any other way,” laments Sabahat Zakariya, Deputy Editor of The News on Sunday and vlogger on feminist issues.

“It is the system to blame. It is also because power is concentrated in male hands so women have to get to it by hook or by crook,” Zakariya gives a perspective.

Still, many warn of a possibility where power could be misused by women when they fail to create a balance in their lives. “Have the women acquired substantial maturity to handle odds that they may have to face at their workplace?” ponders Safia Saeed, Member of Directive Staff of Lahore’s once famed Esena Foundation High School, now closed down. “Women empowered before attaining a certain level of maturity may get misled, because being overambitious and unmindful of their moral family values they may unknowingly compromise their dignity as a woman. There is every chance that with their personal empowerment, their priorities may change that may lead to domestic conflicts,” Saeed explains.

So are mishandling or abuse of power, unfair means to attain that power and a possibility of jeopardising domestic life by some, enough evidences to prove an existence of the ‘other’ side? On the down side, we have women who take advantage of their feminine traits to rise up the corporate ladder. We have female professionals who in their ambition to succeed put behind their personal lives and a lot of questions about their responsibilities at home. We have women, who become corrupted with power and become an obstacle even for other women to move forward.

But then, we have men who take advantage of their masculine traits to suppress and even exploit women on the side line of career. We have men, who undertake unfair means like bribes, terrorism and nepotism to move up in corporate circles. We have men, who feel that their role in domestic life ends after providing for the means of their family. Has the world ever questioned the professionalism of man? Has the society accused all men as preying female colleagues for sexual gratification? Has there ever been a debate apart from feminists groups that men overpower women in professional fields? Has there been a notion of an ‘other’ side to man’s success in workforce?

The truth is, man does not like to be questioned, while a woman, since time immemorial, has been forced to give explanations. And where many women today agree to answer as well as question myths and realities, sadly, other women succumb to a warped societal system, believing that it will remain patriarchal and thus snatching power by any means is fair.

For nearly a century, women have been demanding equal rights in terms of opportunities and remuneration, backing with intelligence, emotional capability and decision making skills, among others, which are no less than men. To stoop low by limiting power, accepting patriarchal values by pleasing men and salvaging position by creating hurdles for others negates the very concept of empowerment for women. However, there is no ‘other’ side to it – whatever is claimed to be as that, is outside the domain of this movement.

 

 

*A similar version of this article was published in a previous issue of South Asia magazine.

The writer is a broadcast journalist and freelance writer. She has keen interest in issues concerning women, religion and foreign affairs.

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OPINION

Mothers Seeking Careers Struggle to Maintain Identity

Career gives women a sense of being and purpose

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Mariam* reminisces of her hurriedly typed assignments with merely an hour’s deadline for submission. She has recently completed a 2 year program for a Masters in Human Resource Management. Being a student enrolled in a Virtual University, she had the facility to view lectures, submit assignments and attempt quizzes online using her laptop from home. However, married life with four kids made these tasks tedious for her. Always juggling between household work, parental duties and social responsibilities, Mariam struggled on a daily basis to complete her second Masters degree. “When I got married 20 years ago, I had already completed my Masters in Mass Communications with an interest in Public Relations and Advertising,” shares Mariam. “After marriage, we moved to a city which was not very modern. I also had a fear that my in laws may not like the idea of me working anywhere. It was a typical marriage, the life of an ordinary girl turning into a house maker followed by travels, charms, luxuries and motherhood. So the personality, if it ever existed, now revolves around home and kids.”

An Identity Crisis
Like Mariam, many other married women in Pakistan and around the world, tend to feel a loss of purpose in their lives when they are unable to perform tasks other than their daily household chores. In 1963, Betty Friedan, an American psychologist was perplexed by an unusual mental condition that she found was quite widespread, mostly among married women. They complained of depression, of being unable to focus on things, of bursting into tears without reason, sleeping a lot and feeling unusually tired. This feeling of unhappiness was there despite the women having secure marriages, children, financial security and social networks. In her book titled “The Feminine Mystique”, Freidan wrote that these women did not face any hormonal or psychological issue. She realised that the source of these women’s condition was an identity crisis. A woman told her that she had everything – a husband moving up in his career, a lovely home, yet when she woke up in the morning there was nothing to look forward to. One question summed up her feelings: Is this all there is in life?

Half a century later, the situation is still the same for many women today. With better social and education standards, the impact of modernity brings with it a new brand of identity crisis in the women. “I got a bit stuck in a question I ask myself again and again, that am I of any worth?” shares Mariam. “Can I be of some use apart from daily house chores?” she says.

Amna*, who has prior work experience in banking, advertising and electronic media, also felt a vacuum in her life, until recently being hired in a local school. “Initially I felt bad for not being able to go back to work or do something I was good at,” she says. “Later I realized it was not easy with three kids. Time has changed now, the news industry has evolved so much.” she laments. Nevertheless, she still feels happy that she would be able to utilise some time of her day in a useful manner, no matter that the work would not be associated with that of her prior experience.

The Time Factor
In the Asian culture, tradition remains strong and dictates many aspects of the society. Psychologists have observed that as young girls grow into adolescence and womanhood, they comply more and more with the feminine roles demanded of them. Some studies even suggested that women are subtly conditioned to feel that over-achievement is an “unfeminine” trait. Those who do become part of the workforce, face difficulties in moving up the corporate ladder, especially if they are married.

Surprisingly, women may face a similar situation even in the West, where despite a more liberal approach being practiced towards life, they may still be expected to eventually contribute to raising a family. In 2017,New Zealand’s current prime minister Jacinda Ardern was drawn into a sexism row when she was the opposition leader. She was asked if having a baby would affect her chances of becoming a prime minister. “It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace,” Arden had then responded, saying it was a dilemma lots of working women faced. Jacinda went on to become the prime minister of her nation and became the second woman to give birth to a child while holding that office.

According to the Denver Women’s Commission, most women who work outside their homes are still the primary caregivers for their young children as well as elderly relatives. For some, the option of hiring a nanny or a close relative taking care of offsprings is available, for others it is either not there or not preferred, hence the burden falling on the woman. Consequently, many women can only pursue their careers on a part-time basis, resulting in fewer promotion opportunities. They consider the ages of their children and the amount of time they have available before they decide to pursue a career path. “I wanted to join the corporate world so badly but a 9-5 job was not a workable option for me,“ says Uzma*, an MBA degree holder with a major in Marketing and now a mother of two. “I didn’t want to waste my studies, so I opted to join a school which was an 8-2 job.”

Not Losing Hope
Taking out lesser time from their household routine still does not deter women from pursuing a career. Although many of them would still not be satisfied until they can fully participate in a working field and are eager to reach a top position, most feel that as long as there is an outlet for them to experience creativity, management skills and independence, working for fewer hours is actually not that bad. “Apart from teaching, I also started a small scale home based baking business and later on, started an event management business along with two friends,” says Uzma. “I was able to give time to my family as well and was a working woman side by side. It was easy to balance both sides due to less working hours.” she explains.

Amna always pursued a career option. “I’m very busy with my 3 kids and honestly I’m loving it,” she responds. “But sometimes you want to do something extra with your life. As I see my kids growing, they need my time and attention more then ever, but it is not very difficult to start working again. A lot of my friends are working moms and they are doing a great job. Nothing is difficult if you know the art of time management,” expresses Amna. She now looks forward to her new job starting late in summer.

What Friedan argued in the 60s is that women be allowed and facilitated to pursue activities that enhance their identity. For many women, a career is what gives them a sense of being and purpose. With this in mind, Mariam hopes that since she has

completed her studies, she may one day be able to join a higher educational institution as a lecturer. “Some still laugh at me and I also question myself what’s the use after all these years,” she admits. “ But then I say that just for the sake of myself, I have to do something.”

*Names of case studies have been changed to protect identities.

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OPINION

Has Technology Disrupted the Essence of Journalism?

Traditional journalism is set to fade in the digital era

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There was a time when there would be a 24-hour period of gap before the next newspaper would get published from any established news source. But the digital form of news story-telling today has suddenly changed the dynamics of everything – a transition many of us did not see coming.

Digital or Online Journalism, is a contemporary form of journalism where editorial content is distributed via the Internet, as opposed to publishing via print or broadcast. Digital news has inevitably stepped in with the surge in smartphone users and content consumption through portable screens like laptops, tablets, phones.

This online, social-media driven era of journalism has enormous benefits. With superior access to information, technology has revolutionised the way journalists gather data. A simple Google search can result in a plethora of rich text, information, and sources on the topic of interest.

Another value addition to journalism is how digital technology has allowed for creative and powerful visual content to complement stories. Graphics, animations, and top notch visuals are being easily created now.

Then there is the opportunity to discuss, engage, and debate with the audience too. Traditional journalism was a one-way communication channel. But now the channel is two-way which allows for immediate feedback. Anyone from the public can now give his or her opinion on the same platforms as the news sources. The digital age has contributed immensely to the emergence and development of ‘citizen’ journalism. This concept helps the public play an active role in the news dissemination process and includes online sharing of news-worthy content, spreading opinions, and using social media to gather and pass on news.

However, the challenges are also great in the digital arena, and in some ways are a threat to the traditional newsroom, and the dynamics of the profession of journalism.

Technology has made journalism so fast-paced that the newsroom now does not take the standard 24 hours to publish next morning’s paper. News is given out like wildfire; updated every minute. It can be posted anytime, anywhere and in most instances, is reported as soon as the word goes out. This generally results in verification and authenticity taking a back seat. The competition to get the word out there ‘faster than the others’ has changed the pace of storytelling and the impact of this fast pace is seen on the content which means it becomes more hurried and urgent. This also results in fake news – a globally reported consequence of the digital age of journalism.

According to a 2018 research by the Pew Research Centre, over two-thirds of US adults use some form of social media for their news consumption, “even if they don’t believe it.” About 43 percent use Facebook, 21 percent YouTube, 12 percent Twitter, 8 percent Instagram, 6 percent LinkedIn, 5 percent Reddit, 5 percent Snapchat, 2 percent WhatsApp and 1 percent Tumblr. The same survey also revealed that 57 percent of the people using social media for news expect it to be inaccurate but despite this mistrust, still continue to use the platforms.

Many media ventures are popping up, and getting successful because of their creative, snappy content that steals the limelight with click-bait headlines. These digital news organisations run ahead in time to give out the same news, with less effort, absence of reporters, and no accountability. Algorithm driven and social-media based news consumption has made truth less crucial.

Traditional journalism was more about intricately woven pieces of stories – taking time to gather information, to talk to as many sources possible, verifying information for credibility before a final piece was published. However, the news reporter does not go out to gather information anymore. The reporter has become a multi-faceted worker for a news organisation who gathers the story, captures audio, images, and videos. And with the help of modern easy to use tools; smartphones, go-pros, 360 degree feature and endless possibilities, the result is quick and fascinating.

With so much competition in todays’ digitally revolutionised age, advertising revenue has become harder to obtain. Without advertising, the journalism business model begins to fail. The industry has seen as a decline globally because of the difficulty in funding it. The Guardian, a British daily newspaper at one time lost 100 journalistic employees. A similar pattern is beginning to follow in Pakistan as the problem is the same for the whole industry.

One solution to this is a paywall – and organisations are beginning to use it to generate their revenue. Paid subscriptions to view news online are getting common. However even this goes against the essence of news, which is a ‘public-interest’ commodity. Charging people for content also means that the content must now be shaped ‘for’ the consumers. The true essence of journalism is to provide news stories that are authentic, objective, and unbiased completely. Now the challenge would be to provide such stories whilst making consumers feel that the content is worth their cash.

News organisations are now looking at the trending topics, and trying to give the audience what they want. The challenge here is for the editor to strike a balance and also provide news that have journalistic value and public importance too. Publications are shifting to less text-based and more engaging content using animations, videos, and pictures. The newsrooms are realising what is needed to keep the audiences’ attention intact and so they are designing content accordingly. Brand integration is another popular tool being used for advertising and has a lot of potential for revenue, even for news organisations.

Traditional journalism is set to fade as the digital era is taking over and more people are now consuming news through their screens, rather than papers or television. However, with the right ethics and professional values, quality control and good content creation, the essence of journalism can be kept intact in this shift towards a digital revolution.

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CULTURE & ARTS

The delights of reading!

Reading in print VS e-reading

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When nestled in a couch near a window, with a favourite book in one hand and an expresso in the other, there is a heavenly feeling that all book lovers can connect themselves with. And there is a likelihood that this moment is amongst their best minutes ever. But does it feel the same with words blinking on a screen?

With the coming of the advanced world, the notion of reading has greatly changed. There have been various discussions with respect to print reading and digital reading, and it has not been distinguished as yet since both have plenty of reasons to motivate their roles.

The traditional reading, that is, reading from the print, takes the crown for readers of the old school of thought, for a number of reasons. The first relates to the physical feature. Holding a book, turning the crispy pages, inhaling the smell of the book and actually seeing the reading progress with pages remaining less to the right-side are all possible with a printed book only. And for some this smell is no less than an intoxication, as American author Ray Bradbury has appropriately expressed in one of his axioms:

“A computer does not smell … if a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better… And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.”

Secondly, reading isn’t merely a recreation moment if you ask a book freak. It’s an addiction, that involves cautiously crafted steps. The giddy feeling of stepping into a bookshop, sensing the musty scent of paper, running hands over the beautifully decorated bookshelves, glancing at the titles and carrying books back into your room to add to your collection, is a happiness that a bookworm looks forward to constantly. E-reading, on the other hand, would leave one deprived of this ecstasy.

‘Books are a great companion’, isn’t just a phrase. One is never alone if he or she has a book in hand. One can turn a page and immerse oneself into a tirade of emotions, adventures and perspectives. That’s how books have the power to keep the reader hostage for hours. Reading digital, on the other hand, is an alienated experience. Tell me if a screen can be hugged tightly after a good read with the feeling as intense as that of a paper book.

The list doesn’t end here, printed books have been considered to be friendly on eyes and give a genuine feeling of serenity. Digital reading only adds strains to the already drained mind with burning eyes. It has also been proved that looking at a gleaming screen before bed takes away sleep. If one reads for the sake of relaxation, digital reading surely doesn’t serve that purpose.

There is yet another custom in the worlds of bookworms. There is no doubt that books make the perfect present, and easily affordable to be more specific. So the next time readers are hit with an unplanned invitation, they don’t doubt to snag one good book from the nearest store. You can’t say this about e-book, however.

A more fascinating reason to champion paper books is the retention capability that scores high with printed books. As reported by The Guardian, a study by lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University found that stories read on e-readers were not remembered as well as when they were read on a more traditional medium. In the same way, print reading is a more in-depth experience. Ziming Liu of San Jose State University conducted a study in the year 2005 where he found out that when people read using screens they spent more time scanning and jumping around to look for keywords and get as much information as they could in the least amount of time. This provided the evidence which proved that reading on screens was a less immersive experience as compared to reading print.

On the contrary, there are many reasons that have made digital reading a reality today. The most agreed reason would be that of accessibility. One can open up an e-book anywhere at any time, be it delay of a flight or waiting for friends in a restaurant. Unlike paper book, it doesn’t have to be carried along. Likewise, it spares readers from deciding which book to take on a trip. One can take a library long with no weight at all. Similarly, there comes a time when your favourite book isn’t available in stores. E-book can save you from that agony as you can download one in literally seconds. This point holds water for a country like Pakistan where about 97 percent of the population doesn’t have access to library.

In addition, digital reading is cost effective. Paper books are pricey, given the cost of publishing and distribution. E-books are affordable in comparison and can be obtained free of cost from various online platforms.

We cannot also ignore the fact that digital reading is eco-accommodating. Reading online saves the environment of the cost of papers that are overwhelmingly used to print books. According to statistics, global consumption of paper has grown 400 percent in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees or 35 percent of the total trees cut around the world are used in paper industries on every continent. That equates to about 2.47 million trees cut down every day. With global warming soaring and our planet at the brink of destruction, digital reading provides an applauding option.

Undeniably, reading now has become more interesting and with different platforms like Good Reads, readers can connect to a network, where they can discuss their favourite books and authors. There are apps that can help one keep track of the number of books one reads. These consequently add some flavour to the reading experience.

During a time when technology is inescapable, adhering purely to print would be naive. A balance between both could be the right option. Nonetheless, both hardcore and digital books have noticeable dominance in the realm of reading. What matters most is a reader’s preference. Whether you like the convenience that comes with digital reading or are obsessed with printed book, never give up the habit of reading because it’s one of the few things that make this world beautiful.

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