A Brief Report
On March 7, 2013, I was asked by The Humanities & Social Sciences Network LUMS to speak as part of a panel on women’s rights at LUMS, titled “Gender as a social construct”. Other panelists comprised the following distinguished names:
Dr. Anjum Alvi (HSS), Dr. Nida Kirmani (HSS), Dr. Mariam Durrani (HSS), Dr. Lukas Werth (HSS), Dr. Muhammad Tariq (SSE), Prof. Abid Hussain Imam (Law), Prof. Saad Rasool (Law). Junaid Ahmad of the Law Faculty was the moderator.
What I had to say was fundamentally the following:
1. Gender is a legal and religious construct because law and religion are obsessed with property and inheritance. Therefore gender roles are defined and limited.
2. There can be no equality between men and women under any religious system. Unless the state separated religion from itself, it would continue to go in circles on interpretation. To this end, I quoted the example of Article 17 of the Qanun-e-Shahadat Ordinance, 1984 which provides for 2 women witnesses and one man witness in financial transactions. This being widely accepted as a Quranic injunction, was unlikely to be overturned in a constitutionally Islamic state.
3. I stated that a modern state in the 21st century we had some international obligations under the various covenants we have ratified. Giving women an inferior status to that of men in law, is a violation of our international obligations.
My comments elicited quite a response from the audience. One young lady was particularly offended that I was making it a “religious issue” when “women in Pakistan were safer than the US”. Of course when I pointed out to her the obvious untruth in this statement by quoting some very well known examples in Pakistan she retreated from this position.
Another young man asked why I was so insistent on following western models. He stated that women got haq mahar in case of divorce and that balanced out the inheritance discrimination. When I pointed out to him, that under law a woman had to forego her haq mahar if she was the one seeking “Khula” from her husband, he was flabbergasted. His final answer was that there ought to have been a religious scholar to determine the veracity of this statement.
Yet another young man was upset that I was imposing western capitalism on everyone. I told him that dividing humanity into East and West was an idea that had been exploded. I said that civilization was one and universal and that we were all marching towards it, with some ahead of us.
Over all though I was very impressed with the audience which turned out. The level of panelist debate was almost as good as any I have encountered at Rutgers or other places in the west. Credit goes to The Humanities & Social Sciences Network LUMS i.e. Aimen and her team over at SHSS LUMS.
(Pictures coming soon).