The moral challenge: A Pakistani woman’s fertility
Amongst the country’s grimmest realities is deeply entrenched gender discrimination. Nothing, it seems, can alter the widespread belief, prompted by a patriarchal set-up, that men are better than women, and their lives worth more. In more advanced countries the term translates to discrimination at workplaces or in professional development opportunities.
In Pakistan and other countries including India and Bangladesh, the lack of equal opportunity – indeed, the lack of societal recognition of men and women as equals – is often the difference between life lived in dignity and in abject misery. The crimes reported with distressing regularity where women are victimised on the basis of gender, such as female infanticide or abandonment, or girls used for dispute settlement, are evidence of this mindset. So is the fact that in households rich and poor, sons are often given precedence in terms of resources such as educational opportunity and even food.
That the discrimination starts right from birth was brought into stark focus in Faisalabad last week, when a boy and a girl were born at the same time to two women. Both families laid claim to the male child; neither wanted guardianship of the female. Although the hospital checked its records and sorted out the confusion, the two families continued to insist that their newborn was the boy. The argument escalated until the matter was referred to the facility’s medical superintendent, who directed the taking of blood samples for a DNA test. It is not difficult to imagine what the life of this girl will be like, if her family continues to believe that she was given to them in error. Yet that, unfortunately, is not too far-fetched a scenario. While parents may in theory love their children equally, the fact is that the dominant mindset, which greatly favours men over women, exercises a malignant influence. It is this entrenched gender preference that must be addressed if women are ever to enjoy their right to dignity. Pakistan has in recent years formulated legislation that specifically protects women; yet without a change in the societal mindset, the effectiveness of such measures will remain diluted.