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‘Geographical divides, education system reinforce gender stereotypes’

‘Geographical divides, education system reinforce gender stereotypes’

ISLAMABAD: A seminar on ‘Pakistan’s Struggle to Redefine the Status of Women’ was held on Wednesday in order to discuss why laws are not making a difference, what is needed to challenge the patriarchal mindset and the role of the media.

The event was hosted by White Ribbon Pakistan, the National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW) and Global Village Space.

The panel included Federal Secretary for Human Rights Rabia Javeri, White Ribbon CEO Omer Aftab, International Islamic University Dean Sharia Department Ziaul Haq, member NCSW Sohail Warraich, senior journalist Ziauddin and MNA Maiza Hameed. The discussion was moderated by Dunya News anchor Moeen Pirzada.

“Our geographical divides - rural, urban, tribal, feudal, provincial, ethnic and linguistic - together with our education system, reinforces stereotypes, particularly gender stereotypes,” said White Ribbon’s Omer Aftab.

He said the same stereotypes are also reinforced by religious leaders as well as in dramas, advertisements and the news media.

“We need to see the situation holistically and explore how religion and the media can be used positively,” he added.

Ms Javeri said Pakistan is possibly one of the most heavily legislated countries in the world and also has a lot of legislation for gender equality.

“Despite laws, conventions and institutions, Pakistan ranks very low on the gender equality index. We need to determine what we are doing wrong,” she said.

“The women of Pakistan can only seek redress through the laws that exist if they know about them and they can only empower themselves if they have the skills and resources that allow them to move ahead,” she added.

NSCW’s Sohail Warriach said, “As an advocate for laws I have serious reservations when people say the laws exist, the issue is the implementation. Laws raise issues express the State’s commitment to deal with them but there are contradictions here. Our Penal Code has a chapter called Anti-Women Practices but the way we perceive certain issues in legal texts is flawed, even where the language of the law is clear.

“These offences have been made non-cognizable offences and the burden of proof is placed on the complainant woman and the State becomes absent. Enabling mechanisms and an enabling environment are both missing.”

Dr Ziaul Haq said: “It is understood in many areas of the world including in Muslim countries mistakenly, that it is Islam which is the reason for discrimination against women. This misunderstanding is further strengthened by people working in the name of religion.”

Mr Pirzada observed that 1,100 years before the French Revolution, Islam was the ideology that mandated that women can own property and conduct transactions in their own right.

For 1,100 years it was not possible elsewhere for a woman to conduct a transaction or hold property or conduct business in her own name. But where the rest of the world has changed, we have not.

He said: “Under Pakistani law, if you do not have sons, other family members have a claim to your property after your death. Look at the contradiction in this situation; whereas 1,100 years before the French Revolution, Islam appears as the foremost philosophy and for the past 500 years, Islam and Muslim societies have not produced any forward looking ideas.”

Mr Ziauddin said: “The media’s role is critical especially in our society. But the problem is that until about 2001 we had only print media. The problem with this country has always been massive illiteracy. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why the media could not reach the target audience as far as this issue is concerned.

“Media is the sturdiest instrument to change the mind set of society. If we want to change the narrative of population of almost 200 million, a series of strategic and uniformed interventions are required where the media plays the role of opinion leaders.”

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017

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