The philosophy of feminism is understood through different approaches. Few explain it as a set of beliefs and ideas whereas the other consider it as a revolutionary movement. In simple words, feminism is set of ideas and beliefs which invoked resistance against male domination and deprivation of women from their basic rights, in the global society. These revolutionary sentiments intended to eliminate discriminatory policies and marginalization of women in various walks of life.
The ideas transformed into a massive movement in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It was initiated in Europe and America. It was called the First Wave of Feminism. Several protests were carried out by women, and even men, who supported the idea of resistance against suppression of females. As a result, women were allowed to vote and run elections for government offices. The Second wave of feminism aimed to get women access to education and employment. It started form 1960’s to 1970’s. It also shed light on gender discrimination in workplaces, educational institutes, payment of salaries, and other facilities. The contemporary feminism has originated from the Third wave. Along with its demands for equality, inclusivity and pluralism; the Third Wave criticized First and Second waves for not addressing oppression and discrimination amongst women based on religion, caste, color, race and etc.
The feminist thought did not remain confined to American and European boundaries but has spread throughout the world. Though it has brought revolutionary changes and constitutional amendments in American and European societies but the same cannot be assumed for the rest of the world. There are many states which tried to adopt the feminist trends in one way or the other but failed to make impactful structural changes. Pakistan has been one of them.
Every year Pakistan celebrates International Women’s Day on 8th March. Different NGOs collaborate to conduct a peaceful protest called “Aurat March” for women, including many influential personalities, actors, politicians, and women rights activists. The whole event is conducted on a large scale. The main aim behind the whole process is to demand equality, rights and social justice for women. It also depicts resistance against the patriarchal society. Different NGOs are working for causes including access to education, child marriage, domestic violence against women and children, social and property rights of women, etc. According to a report published by Sustainable Social Development Organization, called ‘State of Violence Against Women & Children in Pakistan: District Wise Analysis’, 27,273 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2021. 177 kidnapping cases of women were reported in Islamabad. As per the statistics recorded by an NGO called Sahil, working for child protection in Islamabad, 119 cases of child marriages were reported in 2020. Another report by Unicef claims that 21 percent of girls in Pakistan are married by 18 years of age, and 3 percent before becoming 15. These are few official statistics based on cases which were reported or highlighted by media. Unfortunately, many grave crimes, especially against women and children are not even reported. Pakistani law has not criminalized domestic violence yet. Bill against domestic violence was presented in front of the parliament by ex-Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari in 2020. At that time, few representatives of religious and political parties made certain reservations on its clauses. The bill was passed on to the Council of Islamic Ideology for consideration and review. Many members of Islamic Ideology Council objected the bill as well. They claimed that many clauses in the bill are a threat to Islamic family values and systems as they have many broad meanings.
Experts and human rights activists have widely criticized the lack of seriousness among the policy-makers and women representation in Islamic Ideology Council in this matter. Still no final verdict has been issued. The above-mentioned statistics of domestic violence cases show how much the authorities have prioritized this matter. Albeit the presence of laws, women and children are still being raped, killed in the name of honor, girls are married to men of double their age, subjected to domestic violence if they do not abide by the rules of their patriarch. Few of the women are able to call for justice whereas many of them are silenced, either by killing or forceful incarcerations.
Civil society has played a significant role in pressurizing policy-makers to make special legislations for the protection and security of women. Following the marches and campaigns, different laws were introduced for this purpose. Like Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006, The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011 (Called Criminal Law (Second) Amendment Act, 2011), Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011 (Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act, 2011). These laws aim to ensure justice for the victim and strict punishments for the perpetrators. These laws discourage the social practices of wanni and swara by declaring them as strictly punishable crimes. Rape, acid attacks and harassment against women at workplaces are also indictable. Special Units were made consisting of female police officers for dealing with crimes related to women. Despite the number of structural and constitutional amendments crimes against women have not seen any significant decline.
Though Pakistan has modernized to a great extent, but women are still attacked and lynched publically, beaten or killed by their patriarchs, murdered in the name of honor. Such crimes are also committed, at times, taking Islam as shield to justify it. Often times, honor killing is done in the name of religion. Husbands are not restrained to hit their female counter parts, as it is their domestic matter. This portrays that social and executive situation in Pakistan regarding women’s rights and protection is more linked to attitude and social conditioning. Women are assigned certain roles and locations. Those societal roles are based on social constructs, with respect to historical and cultural contexts. When women tend to break these societal norms, continued for centuries, they are punished.
Witnessing all such circumstances, it is evident that western feminist trends have not created any prominent impact on Pakistani society. It requires deliberate concern and consideration for transforming it on the ground level. Certain structural changes cannot transform the deeply rooted and insane patriarchal mindset, neither can media campaigns against men or marching with placards and candles. Until the mindset is not changed, nothing can be changed. And for this purpose, the matter should be prioritized. Legislators and politicians should not only use it as a mere slogan for political gains. It will take time and patience, but, gradually things will transform.