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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

Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan

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As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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CULTURE & ARTS

The Mystery Colour Pink Beholds

Colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values

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Pink has long been associated with girls, so where does this association come from?

Everything for a girl is pink, or will have at least a hint of pink. Starting from her nursery, toys, dresses to lunch box, school bag, pink is bombarded on girls.

There are a number of ways through which colours are imposed upon children. It begins when the baby is not even born. The phenomenal advancement in technology and prenatal testing, now makes it possible for parents to find out the sex of their still-not-born babies. This allows parents to decorate the nurseries in colours that they think are best suited with their newborn’s gender. It is the first step towards colour imposition.

It won’t be wrong to say that a baby girl is born in a pink world. It is this colour that she would find all around her after she opens her eyes for the first time. The room shading, dresses that she wears, toys she plays with and even birthday cakes she gets, are all pink. It’s not the parents only, this colour specification has become so real that new born gifts also comply with it. Visit a store for newborn accessories and the first question that is asked is about the gender of the baby. Even story books and children’s cartoons do their best to teach individuals gender specific behaviour . Barbie, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony n Friend are all girls’ favourite cartoons, painted in pink. Even the adventurous Dora wears a pink tee. Watching them, young girls associate themselves with the colour.

Marketing strategies that brands use further establish the colour identification for gender. It’s a psychological factor that brands exploit to leap their sales. They strictly follow with ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ rule and make sure their customers comply.

Studies show that after the age of two, children begin to understand gender specific roles and girls choose pink over other colours to identify theirs. Professor of Gender and Culture at the UK’s Leeds University, Ruth Holliday, states that “Even very young girls understand that pink things are for them. In experiments where guns were painted pink and My Little Ponies were painted black and made to look spiky, three-year-old children assumed the gun was a girls’ toy and the pony a boys’ one. The colour rather than the function determined gender appeal.”

Colour preference isn’t biological, it’s more of a human made marvel. Girls and boys are both born with the similar arrangement of biological composition, the only difference being X & Y chromosomes. It’s not that girls have a pink chromosome or a pink strand of DNA that compels them to like pink more. And if we look at historical perspective, the findings are interesting.

History suggests that before the 1900s, babies were usually dressed in white regardless of gender. There were no differentiation amongst them on the basis of their colour preferences. If there was any, it was quite opposite from what it is today. An article in the 1918 issue of Ladies Home Journal reads that “the generally accepted rule is pink for boys and blue for girls; the reason is that pink being a decided and stronger colour is more suitable for boys, while blue which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girls”. Then what brought the switch over?

Anya Helbert, a researcher at University of Newcastle, proposed that women prefer hues of red more because traditionally they have been more exposed to the colour by gathering fruits. Other studies regarding this topic cite some events that gave rise to the present colour enforcement. One such event is World War II, where due to the blue coloured uniform worn by soldiers, blue colour became associated with masculinity.

Similarly, in the 1940s, Think Movement tried to convince girls to embrace their feminism. This movement urged women to embrace their womanhood, with the name tag with pink, the colour naturally corresponding to women.

This colour coding creates a stereotype that stays entrenched in the minds of children even after they grow. They identify themselves with specific colour that not only limits their freedom but also bounds them to act in the ways society tells them to. This kills their imagination and creativity and limits their choices. One of the disastrous implications of this colour stereotyping is that it affects self-esteem. The very basic attributes of pink colour are that it’s pretty, polite, catchy and sensitive. When a girl is told throughout her lifetime that she has to be the manifestation of this colour to look more ‘girl like’, she tries to incorporate these attributes into her personality. The same is for boys, the tormenting and bullying that accompanies wearing pink is staggering to the point that boys, mostly avoid the colour even if they like it.

Angela Weyers, Style and Colour consultant comments that, pink is assumed as a sign of “weakness and a lack of intellectual rigour” and advises women to actually not wear it to work in the corporate world, as they are less likely to be taken seriously. This, along with other stigmas surrounding the color, make it a cliché.

Now when we have understood that colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values, we have to understand this as a societal issue. There is no such thing as real-man or real-woman. And pink has literally nothing to do with a woman. Both men and women are humans with no supernatural specifications and they should be treated that way. Parents, educational institutes and media can play their role in this regard. Rather than fabricating pink and blue norms they need to be responsible in raising individuals. Let pink and blue be treated as colours only.

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OPINION

Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.

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This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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