The Dawn: Mar 04, 2016

Punjab Notes: Woman: less or more than man

Mushtaq Soofi 

That human society, primitive and modern, is patriarchy based and thus male dominated needs no debate. What is constantly debated how can our society be at peace with itself by retaining the traditional status of woman through reforms which are mostly cosmetic. Such measures are generally flaunted by the ruling clique as their socio-cultural achievement and tolerated if not appreciated by orthodox sections of the population as necessary steps because they in no way pose any serious threat to the existing man-woman relationship that embodies male supremacy in private and public life. They in fact prove to be levers to cover up the fault lines in the existing sexual, social, political and economic spheres to the disadvantage of woman. The recent Punjab Assembly’s piece of legislation “Women Protection Act” seems to be an exception, rather revolutionary when we gauge the hostile reaction shown by the self-professed custodians of our morality, the robed clerics who in no way represent the will of the people. One of them, whose party leaders have at various occasions proudly said that they (their predecessors) have not been “accomplice in the sin of creating Pakistan”, tacitly, accepted his political impotence. He cried in his fury this week that though he was unable to form government but quite capable of “derailing the government”, a democratically elected and legitimate entity. The honourable “Maulana” is coalition partner of the federal government and threatens the Punjab Assembly to withdraw the law if it wants to be spared his wrath. It seems he wants to extract another ‘pound of flesh’ from the party in power. The law passed by the Punjab Assembly that is considered best by so many is in the opinion of our holy men a conspiracy to subvert our family life which perpetually sees women insulted, disgraced, thrashed, tortured and killed for the sake of putrid notion of family honour when any one of them dares to exercise her right of choice in the matters that can make or unmake her life.

Male in general and South Asian male in particular has a problematic notion of female handed down from generation to generation. It has paradoxical nature which exposes the complexity of the problem. Male conceives female in “either or” terms. She for male represents extremes. She is Devi (goddess), Houri or a temptress and a whore. She symbolises two contrary ends of spectrum. She is always something less or more. In most cases something less. She is never taken for what she is, human with all its failings and potential. Her very being invariably hints at surfeit of good or evil; real and imagined that is witnessed in the affairs of humans. Man’s notion of woman is atavistic and closely linked with dynamics of power that have physical nature. This phenomenon of physical power has its origins in the initial stages of human evolution when human survival depended to a large measure on physical strength which male in some way happened to possess more compared with woman. Woman as we all know becomes at a certain point in time weak and vulnerable due to her reproductive compulsion. The fault lies not with the biological structure but the social structure that is unable to evaluate the value of female reproductive power that ensures the continuity of human race.

Men who refuse to see women empowered or sharing some measure of power are in fact afraid of facing a perceived adversary who, though historically enervated and physically weaker, may prove too powerful. Since woman, asserts the orthodox male logic, is necessary evil, she must be kept under watchful eye with the rights that on the one hand just sustain family and on the other do not threaten male privileges born of authoritarian social order which has been accorded metaphysical sanction.

Women Protection Act is just a step in the right direction, not the panacea for the social ills that bedevil man-woman relationship with bearings on the overall sociocultural growth. Legislative endeavour needs to be complemented by sociocultural action aimed at enhancing gender sensitivity among the people at large. Law and awareness together can create conditions where our women feel safe in private and public space. The Punjab Assembly has done a commendable legislation which has popular support. It’s now time that the Assembly must defend its action which reflects people’s aspirations by snubbing the misogynists of all hues who have launched a relentless campaign against the Women Protection Act. —

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