Stop stigmatizing divorce

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have split and made front line news amongst the UNGA and the India-Pakistan tiff. They were a power couple; no financial woes; a joint love for adopting babies and helping the less fortunate and no shortage of phenotypic symmetry called sex appeal.

Yet, we find, there can still be things can that anger you about a man. What I find strange is that the world is making a scandal of it in two ways. They are enjoying the blood sport of a wrecked marriage and they are pitting Angelina Jolie against Jennifer Aniston, Pitt’s ex girlfriend.

Their reaction leads to two conclusions: It’s so gloat-worthy when a woman can’t keep a prize like Brad Pitt in her control and also that somehow the cast away Aniston has lived to see a day she was waiting for, confirming that all women do all day is wait for women they hate to fall flat on their face.

The world, regardless of affluence, education or location loves to see women fail at homemaking of various versions and beats them down with vitriol and reconfirms the notion to claw women against each other.

Here in our part of the world this happens, of course it does, but only at a more gut-wrenching scale. Women have to routinely keep up with the wife beater, the marital rapist, the one with whom their pheromones don’t match, the obsessive addict, the one whose personal hygiene is more like a boar’s, the one who is emotionally abusive, the one who is a serial husband and the one with the insatiable desire to be codependent on his mother for duration of his life.

Why can’t these women leave? They can’t leave because they get treated worse than the Brangelina debacle. These women get taken down in the public arena where old wives talk as if they were men’s spokespeople, as if divorced women were not people but effigies – without feelings and without consent. Nobody is strong enough to rise above a loss of social status and equity. Years of evolution have made us possess an in-built mechanism of seeing approval from those who are self appointed tribe heads – the pundits, the opinion makers or the old wives.

Lets also examine why post-menopausal women are so bitter and revengeful and why they target young women who opt for divorce. Why they call those women fallen, rejected, incompetent and loathsomely, used. They buy into the notion that women have a use-by date; the older women tolerated the bad men in their lives and chose to stay; they see things through the eyes of their sons and husbands and they also are extremely fearful of the alternative of rejecting a man. It’s meant death for some.

There can be several reasons for divorce, which go both ways, yet it is the woman who is always made to be at fault. It is her who’s got to pick up the pieces of the wreckage with little or no support from family and friends. People inadvertently keep away from people whose luck and fortune wane.

The divorce laws in Pakistan may not be in the dumps entirely, but the culture of marriage is cloaked in hypocrisy, in secrecy and in haste, with hardly any input from the woman or any deliberation on how future decisions will be planned.

Unless otherwise specified, the right of delegated divorce (talaq-e- tafweez) is hardly given to the women who enter marriage in Pakistan. However Khula is a right available to women. Nevertheless for Khula women have to forfeit their haq-mahr, or dower. Our family law practice preys on women’s weakness, celebrates male bravado.

The best way to empower our daughters is to have them get into marriage with a clear exit policy. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t and here are the steps. When we tell our young nubile girls who have no clue about the viciousness of men, that they should only turn back to their father’s homes when they die, we are essentially getting them to jump off a cliff. Its brutal, its in human and it is certainly not grounded in the statistics of our land – 90 percent of our women are subjected to violence.




Getting our girls to raise chicken

I am not ashamed of taking some of my inspiration from Facebook memes. They are no New Yorker Magazine cartoons, granted, but they sometimes can be pretty astute. This particular one said: Women belong in the kitchen; men belong in the kitchen, we all belong in the kitchen – there is food in the kitchen.

Talk to any man in South Asia and he will equate the worth and love for a woman by how well she cooks. Sometimes it is about how well she cleans and other times about how well she manages the house, which means doing groceries and sometimes bills. A recent domestic violence case reported in the press states that a man threatened a woman with divorce because she wasn’t “winning hearts and minds at home.”

Ask the women and they will be so untiringly grateful if their husbands change a diaper once in a child’s lifetime or take their plate to the kitchen after dinner that obviously magically appears every day on the table.

Essentially everything domesticated is a woman’s domain. That is what society perpetrates. Which is pathetic, but forgivable. We are learning to civilize and are finding our feet. However, it is not forgivable when the government puts domestication of women in the curriculum.

In what seems to be a move borne out of sheer madness, the Punjab Government has launched a program for girls in 1,000 primary schools. This program will give girls four hens, one cock and a cage. No, this is not an Onion article. Has the government gone coocoo? (Pun intended)

Did they go to a foreign training in Tora Bora and get a certification in how to enforce gender stereotypes? It gets worse when, head of the Punjab government’s livestock department, told Agence France-Presse that the aim was to promote poultry and educate children about nutrition. I don’t see how children will get educated about nutrition when its only girls who are being taught how to raise chicken.

When in most Pakistani households the last piece of protein always ends up in the male child’s plate, it’s the mindset that needs to change. Not drilling down of the notion that the women cultivate, prepare and serve food while the men, observe, indulge and rate it.

If there was any hope that the new generation of girls in our country would be saved from the learned subservient behaviors of their mothers, government programs like these confirm that they will continue for another few generations.

He went on to say, “We preferred girls’ schools for this project to boys because girls, mostly, have to deal with the kitchen and they are more responsible and caring than boys.” Next you know they’ll be launching a free hammock giveaway program for boys’ schools because boys are usually the ones doing all the recreation and rest, studies show.

It is social conditioning not biology that forces girls to the bidding of the family’s food and comfort needs. If we want to seriously challenge domestic violence we have to re-look at the absurdities in our politics of housework.

The amount of effort and work that goes into the maintenance of a house, its food and nutrition needs and its semblance of peace is so gargantuan, redundant, repetitive and often unrewarding that it is terribly unfair that it only falls on the woman. Not just on women who are at home but even those women who work find that they can cross over into the male domain of financial independence but the man will find it beneath him to cross over into the domestic. Women are tired. They are tired and exhausted to the bone – all the time.

My message to the Punjab Livestock Department: Girls need chicken, boys need chicken, we all need chicken – there is food in chicken.





To Burkini or Not to Burkini

Remember that dream where you wake up in a cold sweat because you are naked in public? It is just as horrific when someone is trying to cloak you with so many clothes that you are invisible. You are so sexualized that the mere show of your skin or hair would be claimed responsible for public harm. There are hoards of Muslim Feminists who have argued that the veil is a rejection of progressive values – values that they adhere to Islam. There are those women in many countries that have shed the veil as a symbolic show of liberation.

That being exposed in public nightmare – I would imagine that the Muslim woman on a French beach wearing a burkini (a more conservative version of a diving suit) felt the same terror when she was asked to remove it on a public beach. Yes, right there and then, among jeers of other onlookers and harassers. This act of unclothing her by police is plain despotic. A Salem witch hunt except of burkini women who just want to exercise a will in how much skin they want to show for whatever reason – cultural oppression; a path to spiritual freedom or just to avoid a sun tan.

The Indian vigilantes are doing it to anyone suspect of disrespecting or eating a cow. As we know cows are holy in Hindu tradition. The Modi government is looking the other way and some of their ministers are applauding the murder of Muslims falsely accused of it. In the Philippines the government is calling a mass flood of murders for anyone suspected to be involved in a drug trade. It’s a license to kill with zero oversight and due process.

Wait, wasn’t France the same country that protected secularism so to-each-his-own could be birthed as a philosophy and the state would have no say in individual freedoms? How is it beginning to sound like those countries with a human rights track record of a machete-armed Boko Haram soldier?

It is a fallacy to think that stripping someone of their sense of dignity is anything short of an attack on liberty, and by extension, even on life. What is a life worth if not lived to its own definition of what is honorable. In a world reeling from terrorism and intolerance, it may seem only logical to lash out at the symbols that define the other. It is perhaps the worst thing to do because it makes that one thing suspect that would restore order: trust.

These times call for more tolerance, not less. In French philosopher, Voltaire’s own words: What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.

If there is anyone counting on France to alienate its Muslims, it is the kind of people who carried out the Nice attack.

Women’s choice of clothing is not a decision for the collective, women are not to be sorted or categorized or taxonomized. They are just as varied as rich white males would be, definitely more. Making a choice to tie their hijab with a brooch is not any less empowering as wearing a bikini is an equalizer of the wage gap. These ought to be as benign in terms its effects on the state as the type of shoe size they wear.

It is bizarre in the truest sense to dictate what beach wear women can put on in France just as it is horrific to flog women for not wearing the burka in Afghanistan. The similarities are eerie: They are both telling women to do something to please a patriarchal structure and status quo. Unclothing a woman in her public space is not progressive, it is a denial of her fundamental human rights.

As for the debate of the veil being progressive or not, or being in the garb of Islam or not, it remains securely in the fold of anyone who has a uterus and defines herself as a Muslim. To resolve it, or to not resolve it, that fork of evolution needs time. Force didn’t help the practice of bloodletting nor will it help French authorities sleep better because the-Muslims-are-coming nightmare is at bay. We the women ought to be the authors of this script not the courts.

Whereas France’s paranoia is understandable, its chronic fear and loathing of Muslims means that it needs to go back to the French revolution to understand its most acute lesson: Fear never perpetrates peace, it begets anarchy.



Girls at Mosques

In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, women’s fingers were cut off if they wore nail colour. There was a ban on women riding motorbikes. They were publicly whipped if anyone could spot their ankles. In Pakistan, most Jumma khutbas (Friday sermons) may not outright call for women’s public stoning, but they do obsess repeatedly over the subject on what ‘your women’ can or cannot do. The listeners may not hear the caveats in the sermons. So how do they act the doctrine out?

In Rawalpindi, a stone’s throw away from this country’s capital, anunknown gang has stabbed over 30 women in public since February this year. This story has not even got its usual share of condemnation and outrage from the government, let alone a high-level committee to investigate the matter and dish out severe punishments to the perpetrators. In fact it seems like it is inconsequential that a nurse called Anum Naz from among these 30 women succumbed to her injuries and died; that many women who survived are unable to function or that many women in the city are crippled by fear and have been denied permission by their families to pursue education or employment.

Totalitarian states make it a priority to control women’s fertility by confining them to the private quarters. We are not totalitarian. Our women make it to the Olympics. In semi-totalitarian states, the government looks the other way when women are stabbed because, well, women are not powerful enough to hurt the government, that’s for sure, but also because women apparently ‘bring it upon themselves’. No one is breaking and entering a house of any woman on a prayer mat and killing her. So if you want to save your lungs from a puncture, you know what you’ve got to do.

Well, we want control. Over both our prayer schedules and the content men get to hear in sermons during their congregational prayers, especially when these pertain to women. It is time to challenge the notion that somehow interpreting and passing down God’s decrees is a male-only domain. We can at the very least ask the government for regulated content in mosque sermons. When it comes to religious content, there are two kinds: the woman-hating and the woman-empowering. We choose to believe in the latter and that is only fair.

We also want our time for play. We want to go visit a friend when she graduates. We would also like to go to the local parlour to shape our eyebrows. Standing on the terrace and putting clothes to dry is such a 1980s way to get hitched. We want the coffee shops and the wedding dances. So just stop stabbing us. You’re standing between us and a jolly good time.

Public places are generally designed for men in Pakistan. Women are typically harassed by groping, abuse or stares the moment they step out into a domain where commerce, entertainment or leisure are arranged in a male-centric manner. My contention is that everything about this stems from keeping women out of sacred places, like mosques, in the first place. It only follows that if it is justified to keep women out of mosques or any other place of worship for whatever reason, those reasons can very well expand to the public space in general because the same stakeholder controls that space too.

There is a fantastic movement by the name of Girls at Dhabas that encourages women to stop by at local teashops to sip some chai. We need a similar initiative for places that make it their business to regulate women’s lives. Women’s divorce from the spiritual realm is at the root of the segregation of the sexes, which is in fact at the root of all discrimination and oppression. If the women Islam holds in high esteem have been involved in businesses, wars and migrations, then it’s only befitting that we can approach an imam with a list of questions about our status in society and have a discussion about it.

It was often said that women in the West were unprotected by the honour codes of our society, hence their need for pepper sprays and the panic buttons on their smart watches. All honour is fake honour. It never worked for them; it’ll never work for us.

No second chances

The murder of Samia Shahid, a Bradford resident who had a second marriage against her family’s will, is like being in a repetitive nightmare. It seems so familiarly eerie and without escape. Punjab Police, lead by a watchful committee summoned by the Chief Minister, now say her death in Pandori, Punjab was not a natural one like they first said it was. They say Samia was asphyxiated and the bruise on her neck shows signs of strangulation. Naz Shah a Bradford West MP who is personally pursuing the case and has written to the Prime Minister about it wants Samia’s body, which had a swift burial, exhumed and investigated fully.

What will be discovered after the autopsy is something everyone knows: Her family who are suspected to have killed her; her first husband who is at large; her second husband who has also got death threats and all Pakistanis. Like I said, this is familiar and inescapable. Everything points to this being an honor killing.

The state is interested in making sure it doesn’t embarrass itself with such high profile cases. What is does to prevent this is soft peddle around the famous cases, such as this one, then go back to being complacent for the small fish. The reason these murders keep happening is because the state fails at its measure of force. There is no muscle flexed to whip the wrong doers into line so no one ever tries it again. The problem is that they don’t follow the doctrine of no second chances.

In a Pakistan where no second chances are allowed, male lawmakers would not call their female lawmakers sexist names and continue to sit in parliament. In such a Pakistan the mob that burned to death a young teacher in Muree for rejecting a suitor, would not be at large. In such a Pakistan over 1000 honor-killings would not be reported on average every year. We shudder to think of the unreported numbers.

In a society where all freedoms, authorities and laws make men comfortable, anytime women define their will, it is considered an aggression – however micro. The reactionary murders of women, burnings or cuts and scrapes are then easily rationalized. This is a country that celebrates the valor of the brother who killed social media celebrity Qandeel Balooch. This is a country where educated young graduates celebrated the father who attempted to murder his daughter in Sharmeen Obaid’s film – A Girl in the River. How do we go from crowning murderers to empowering women without the state giving all offenders a clear message that wrongs against women are wrongs against the state?

We don’t. Instead the onus is said to rest on women. Why don’t change their state? Let’s just say that women are petrified. Not much transformation happens when self-preservation is a constant state of mind. The bolder women are eaten up, devoured by the hyenas this state protects. So we hide in corners, speak in monosyllables and look the other way when men oppress other women in our families, in our workplaces and in our parliaments. Sometimes we even join them in the oppression.

Last few weeks, Pakistanis have been rejoicing over the fact that a mocha-skinned native of this country who adopted America as his home showed Donald Trump some daylight stars. Khizar Khan who’s Pakistani-American son served in the US army, waved a pocket sized US Constitution to Trump and asked him to read it. We need a Pakistani Khizar Khan to wave the Pakistani constitution to its premier.

There are guarantees of equality in Article 25, 26 and 27. There are promises of no discrimination based on gender. Lets face it. If a Khizer Khan were to wave such a pocket edition of the Pakistani constitution, he’d be booed out, ostracized and worse, ignored.

The only way for people to snap out of the recurrent nightmare of honor killings is for the state to behave as it is under contract with its citizens to behave – give no second chances to murderers – To treat killing as killing. To severe the invisible but strong tie of women’s right to be individuals with the need for men to determine some shifty social status.