Side-effect: Our girls -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Side-effect: Our girls

Harris Khalique

The film had a young girl in school uniform. In a mellifluous Sindhi accent, she was struggling to speak chaste Urdu in front of the camera. Her cute little hands had traces of henna and her hair rolled into a tight braid. She said, “When I grow up I want to be a pilot. Most of my classmates want to be doctors or teachers. But I want to fly planes. I have never travelled on a plane but I am fascinated when I see them flying.”

Sadiqa Salahuddin, a dedicated campaigner for the rights of the marginalized and my mentor in community development, runs Indus Resource Centre for the past many years. Besides other work, the Centre helps 8000 children, two-thirds of which are girls, get decent schooling. The girl came from one of the schools they are supporting in a village outside Khairpur Mirs.

After decades of unrelenting struggle, Sadiqa’s tone had a tinge of helplessness. It doesn’t weaken her resolve but makes her sad. She said, “I wish her dreams come true and she flies a plane like some middle class or elite Pakistani women can. I seriously doubt that she ever would but even if one girl is able to break the shackles of poverty and ignorance and get such opportunity, she will be the only one out of millions.

Things won’t change unless our power elite pays heed to our needs and are committed to real progress and prosperity for all. It is not poverty alone, social norms in the name of culture and religion become a huge hindrance in the growth of these girls.”

Spartans of this world have a long struggle ahead, which is even longer for their womenfolk. Muslims constitute almost half of the third world. Their societies are faced by even more grave challenges. In Pakistan, hundreds of girl schools were blown up in recent years. Discriminatory laws against women stay in law books. In other Muslim societies or countries with significant Muslim population, things are not rosy either.

The Aceh province of the largest Muslim country Indonesia has Shariah policewomen who stop teenagers going to college and ask them not to wear jeans even if they have their heads covered with scarves. Malaysia is considered modern and enlightened by many. Sisters in Islam, a vocal organization there, raised serious concerns over caning of three women for the so-called Shariah offences.

Egyptian women are protesting against judges who voted by majority to bar women from ruling in influential courts. Iran arrested the sister of Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Laureate human rights campaigner, for she couldn’t stop her sister from what she says. In the second decade of the twenty first century, a prominent Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa calling for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation laws to be put to death if they refuse to give up on their heretic ideas.

Somehow they always forget that Hajj, the most of significant and sacred of Islamic rituals, has seen no segregation of sexes in 1400 years. It is still debated in that country whether women should be allowed to drive cars or not. For details on the debate, see Shirkatgah’s Newsheet, published from Lahore in March this year.

What is happening to Muslim women is not only primitive but amounts to a great disservice to Islam. Women can’t make it unless we as men do not learn from our mistakes and compel the male-dominated state structures to support their cause.

The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email:
Source: The News