Pakistan: Women’s struggle for their rights

The contemporary socio-political and economic discourses in Pakistan are restrained strictly in the paradigm of patriarchy and capitalism. The slogan of change and revolution has been shouted out loud by some, but they are riding on the same old horses who have won in the past by the virtue of their venality to the mighty forces of status-quo, that is, the military establishment of Pakistan. There is not a single mainstream political party including PTI which questions larger socio-economic questions, i.e. patriarchy, capitalism etc. Change does not mean replacing old faces with new ones; in fact in the case of PTI they don’t even bother to bring new faces, they are so brazen that they have brought old faces with their new make-up artist. Those who have studied revolutionary movements of the past know for the fact that change occurs by uprooting the old rotten socio-politico, cultural and economic structures by the new ones. Albeit, not a single mainstream political party in Pakistan takes economics earnestly, but at least they do mention here and there about their economic agenda, and it resembles resembles very much with our present one. Ironically, there is not even a debate on the lines of gender-equality, that is, why a woman is still unable to attain her individual identity as a human being independent of her patriarchs? Why the role of a woman is still highly restrictive and limited to the four walls of her home?

It is a taboo to encompass gender inequalities, and class differences in to political discourse. The participants of mainstream socio-political debacles are either incapable of comprehending and addressing these contradictions, or doing so might contradict to their political or economic interests, henceforth; they are not doing so. Politics in Pakistan is generally considered a domain of men, and usually men of older age. When it comes to women, only female parliamentarians, and most of them come from ruling political families, and their politics is purely a ruling class power politics. While, rest of the girls/women have been alienated from the political system. In such scenario, where the most downtrodden and oppressed sects of the society (i.e. majority of the women) show little or no interest in politics, then, how on earth any positive change will come their way? I will strongly argue that it is tantamount to delusionary thinking that elites will bring a positive change for the oppressed and exploited gender and classes.

Furthermore, women in Pakistan are frustrated and upset with their contemporary living conditions, ever-lasting quarrel between saas (mother in law)  and baahu (daughter in law) is basically a rebellion against patriarchy by women, but instead of fighting their common enemy, that is, patriarchal structure, they fight each other, hence, as we all know, there is never a winner in this quarrel.

Gender is one of the organizing principles of the Pakistani society.  Home has been defined as a woman’s legitimate ideological and physical space where she performs her reproductive role as a mother and wife, while a man dominates the world outside the home and performs his productive role as a breadwinner. Men and women are conceptually segregated into two distinct worlds. The household resources are allocated in the favor of sons (male members of the family). Education for boys is prioritized vis-à-vis girls, because it is perceived that boys must be equipped with educational skills to compete for resources in public arena, while girls have to specialize in domestic skills to be good mothers and wives, hence, it is assumed that education is not as important for girls, as it is for boys. Gender disparity in education is relatively lower in urban places vis-à-vis rural areas. One of the possible explanations of this pattern is comparatively stronger dominance of tribal, feudal, and patriarchal traditions in rural areas vis-à-vis urban city centers.

Gender division of labor enforces women to primarily specialize in unpaid care work as mothers and wives at home, whereas men perform paid work. Why it is a problem? It has led to a low level of resource investment in girls’ education, not only by their families, but also by the state. This low investment in women’s human capital, compounded by negative social biases and cultural practices, restrictions on women’s mobility and the internalization of patriarchy by women themselves, becomes the basis for gender discrimination and disparities. Moreover, social and cultural restrictions limit women’s chances to compete for resources in a world outside the four walls of their homes. It translates in to social and economic dependency of women on men.


Then, another core question arises, what is the correlation of patriarchy with the economic system? In my understanding, patriarchy and capitalism go hand in hand in Pakistan, they provide conditions of existence for each other, and hence, complete annihilation of patriarchy can only be realized by defeating capitalism. Albeit, I am acknowledging that even within capitalism, the manifestation of patriarchy can change from place to place depending on the stage of capitalist development, and living conditions of women can improve to a certain extent within the framework of capitalism. But, even the most advanced capitalist society has been unable to annihilate patriarchy to attain gender equality, in America woman gets 69 cents for every dollar man earns for exact same job.

In Pakistan, women cannot change these patriarchal realities of their lives in the contemporary societal structure. They are told to not prioritize their own self-interest, rather, think in the interest of their patriarchs, i.e. father, husband, brother, etc. Moreover, women are kept very apolitical due to hegemony of men over politics; hence, they are not in a position to prolong their interests via political pressure. But, once women are going to realize their collective power as an oppressed gender, then they will march shoulder to shoulder with their revolutionary working class brothers and comrades to acquire social and economic justice for themselves and for their society, and only then we will be able to build a true egalitarian society.

About Me: I am Student of Economics and International Studies at University of Utah, USA.

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