- By Aisha F. Sarwari
The cure to the exploitation and oppression of women is more freedom for them, not less. The Taliban do not agree. In fact, women factor in the equation as the ones to be eliminated, purged, removed from sight and safely under the claws of men who are mostly misogynists. All this killing and bloodshed is towards this one aim it seems. Among their demands from the government before any talks is that women do not wear denim. Arguably, we will be able to live in the system prescribed by sharia once they replace it with other materials such as jute, rubber or cellophane.
It is not clear what exactly women should do in a scenario where talks with the Taliban are successful, except that producing four pious Muslims to vouch for them after a rape will be the least of their worries. It is difficult to believe that the Pakistan where its founder walked side by side with his sister in his politics then went ahead to reduce women’s worth into divisible units when standing as a witness, when asking for a divorce and when demanding child custody against a character assassinating opposition. A girl child of nine was given up for vani in exchange for an honour feud in Multan on February 13, 2014. We should expect this to be institutionalised in a post-talks scenario.
Congratulations to our leadership for telling the perpetrators of violence that the freedom of women in Pakistan is negotiable. We can use it as leverage, a bargaining chip; we could compromise and cover them up in a naqab (face covering), just the way you like it. We can agree to their demand that these 90 million ‘whores’ will be mothers and mothers alone, taking a cue from the praise the Taliban lavished on film actress Veena Malik who is now a ‘born again’ Muslim relinquishing her old ways.
The problem is not only that we are placed into this asphyxiating binary; the problem is that we have a long way to go still in getting our rights secured. Sexual harassment is replete in our workplaces, and especially our universities where the scandals at Quaid-e-Azam or Islamic University are just the tip of the iceberg. The mass of ice itself is signified by the number of people who think educating a woman is a privilege and not a right — that once a woman steps out of her four walls she is fair game. That with her feet she has voted to be westernised, liberal, advocating equality, an error patriarchy will correct and is religiously ordained to correct.
What the Taliban are advocating for is entirely women-centred, representative of the same ideology that Urdu columnists like Orya Maqbool Jan or Ansar Abbasi advocate. With the hundreds of thousands reading their vitriol against a so-called morally corrupt system, many young men will gladly join the militant wing of these saviours. Dystopias can be created out of seeming normalcy overnight, as indicated by what went on in Afghanistan under Taliban rule: the flogging, control over fertility as if it were a commodity, the denial of movement, the denial of mental growth and other edicts.
We, as women of this country, have much to fear. This attempt to roll back our voices, hide our bodies and confine our identities may just be successful. The enemy is indiscriminate and without a code, our protectors are men. Our women heroes have now been reduced to shadows, assassinated or muted. They say there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Here is one: the women of Pakistan will not take this apathy lying down.
And its onus lies on women lawmakers, some of whom have known much privilege and must use that security to protect those no one is speaking out for. We will not, and cannot, accept a trade in exchange for our independence, our spirit of autonomy and dreams for our daughters. The way is forward, not backwards. There are enough women today who will fight this fight with us. As a renowned lawyer, a first among her field, said at the recent Karachi Literature Festival to all young women: “Lose the burqas, they were for your grandmothers and stop slouching, walk with your head held high.”