By the LOTP team and Sana Shahzad
"Women are supposed to be ‘less than’, not ‘too much.'"
– Mona Eltahawy
Patriarchy, defined to be “a society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantage,” is a huge aspect of the world's cultural landscape. Gender inequality, thriving off of the patriarchy entrenched into our mindsets and institutions, has led to a world where 'Women are supposed to be 'less than', not too much.'" In the case of Pakistan, we too have embraced an outdated hierarchy, failing to recognise women and their talents as an asset to society, instead seeing the rise of a woman as a threat to our very existence.
This misogynistic hierarchy, often disguised as an inevitable natural system means that roles of authority across various stratospheres is limited to the dominant gender, not only preventing progression, but also preventing the perspective of half the world's population from ever reaching the table of discussion.
While the cultural limitations placed on Pakistani women are already a significant player in their ability to contribute to both their own and society's growth, the recent rise in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has brought a new dimension to an already hugely complex issue. Our consistent emphasis on age-old paradigms and our refusal to grow and change towards a better, more equal society not only stunts our development, but is also a contradiction of our core values: unity, faith and discipline. As a society, we refuse to see the elements of unity, faith and discipline that do not suit our own interests, and in our own blind pursuit of success, refuse to allow the people around us - equally and often more capable - from supporting us in our journey to success.
This month's interviewee, Sana Shahzad is a J.D. candidate at Columbia Law School, having completed her Bachelors in Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is one of the many women who inspire all at LOTP. She has used both her poetry and her practice of Law to try and minimize the disparities between people and their experiences within and between borders, and sees both writing and the justice system as vehicles for change and progression. In our discussion, Sana explains how Asma Jehangir - a true fighter for equality and justice - inspired her to pursue law and how as she progresses through her career, she sees her perspectives change and shift alongside her goals. Her work at the Pak-US Coalition, particularly in the form of the Rahbar Initiative, aligned with her efforts to counteract the concentration of resources people face, especially across Pakistan, when applying to college. Sana also highlights how, as a child, the helplessness she felt towards things she saw happen around her inspired her writing, giving her a voice to express her hopes and frustrations. Find below Sana's incredible 'Womanhood', a poem celebrating all that women are and can be:
By Sana Shahzad
Girls cannot be both beautiful and smart. A boy told me this in middle school.
I wasn't sure which category he thought I fell in. All I knew was that in that moment I cared much more about what was on my face then I did about what was in my brain.
I didn't even think to disagree with him or tell him that he was wrong that No. Women are so much more than that. We are beautiful and we are smart but we are also resilient as hell.
That story sticks out to me because it was the first time someone tried to tell me what womanhood is meant to be. How we can only ever be one of two things. How men perceive us is more important than how we perceive ourselves.
I was twelve years old when the men in my life started policing what I could and could not wear.
You are told that if you abide by society's standards, if You just listen to the men in your life, if you don't dress a certain way then you will be shielded from the male gaze. While I can't speak for everyone, I know my dupatta never did the trick, but hey maybe I'm doing it wrong.
It's my fault. It has to be?
You see, it is the men who decide. Which women are respectable, and which ones aren't?
They convince you that it is those other women who are your enemy. Just don't be like them, we'll protect you.
I say this especially to the well-intentioned men. You are not protecting her when you force her to quit her job when the men at work won't quit cat-calling. You are not protecting her when you tell her saat bajai ke baad ghar se nai nikalna.
You are caging her. You are teaching her that to be a woman is somehow less than.
Womanhood is different and means different things to all of us, but every woman I know has a story. It means I am afraid every time I walk alone at night or worse take an Uber and risk getting harassed by the man driving it.
I am tired of asking for respect. I am tired of asking to feel safe. I am so tired of the Me Too's.
I am tired of a world which pushes us down, crumbling, and then asks to get back on our feet only to compete with the so-called 'other' women. It takes some of a lifetime to learn one very simple lesson, other women are not your enemy.
They are your strongest allies and biggest cheerleaders.
To the girl reading this,
You are both beautiful and smart.
And to hell with anyone who says otherwise.
What can we do to fight the patriarchy?
The Aurat March, which began in 2018, is organised annually on International Women’s Day, aiming to challenge the established order of patriarchal power in Pakistan and highlight issues for women within the country. The March was featured by Google's Year in Review for 2020, and is representative of a Pakistan that wants to move forward.
Pakistan has also allowed women to vote since 1956, yet it ranks among the last in the world in female election participation. While legislatively, women are granted rights and opportunities as outlined by Islam, we, as a society, have often failed to give our women all that we promise them. Pakistan’s 2018 elections showed progress, however, with an increase of 3.8 million newly registered women voters, showing a rise in women’s voices, particularly also among marginalised, rural and tribal community areas.
Education and Research
Research, based on facts, statistics and real, unbiased data that allows us to curate policy that truly addresses issues women face from the grassroots-level is absolutely imperative in bringing real, pronounced change.
The primary step to creating a safer society for women, is to teach our newer generations gender equity, focus on providing women with equal opportunities, and eradicate misogynistic ideologies. Nothing stimulates change quite like conversation, and that is one thing we will always encourage.
(Some great wider reads!)
It’s Not About the Burqa
Cut from the same Cloth
The things I would tell you
My past is a foreign country
Our special thanks to Sana Shahzad for bringing us her insights and perspective!
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