Feminism is a Janus-faced concept as it is, on the one hand, the most over-used notion in the twenty-first century, and the least understood one, on the other. Its celebration comes from understandings such as women movement and freeing women from the long-standing patriarchy of men. It is an elephant-in-the-room-like myth that it is a women missionary working against vices of patriarchy, violence, abuse, suppression and subjugation. In fact, the truth for the overzealous, and the misinformed as well, is that feminism is at its minimum best a social, political, legal and personal commitment to stand up against societal structures that desensitize or un-address issues pertaining to women. And, at its best, it is a fruitful collective effort to minimize or eliminate prejudices and misconceptions about women and their sufferings from a given society.
Liberal feminism and its influence on Pakistan
There is no disagreement that women have always been the centre-stage of feminism and their emancipation has always been the top-notch priority of feminist schools. The early stages of feminism that began with Mary Wollstonecraft’s and John Stuart Mill’s focus on liberating women from private spheres, and bringing them into public domain so that their participation could be felt in the corners outside homes. To this end, Mill, in particular, suggested the economic freedom of women, which is a provision for them to make money and be part of the labour market so that their life choices are better. Given their new entry into a field of equality by asking for men like right to work, it was conceivable that there would be laws that will preclude women from enjoying equal wage for equal work.
Feminism has had many variants in Western world that are taking their premature and haphazard shape in Pakistan too. But, the real essence of feminism will be actualised if it is rightly defined, its far-stretched and misguided notions are depleted and measures such as the creation of women help centres with an aim to compile data on current roles of women, appreciation of their work and sensitisation of the society about these are taken. In this write-up, the author has discussed various aspects of the concept of feminism.
Therefore feminists from the first wave or liberal feminism argued for wage equality. Today, this wave of liberal feminism under the label of right to work is openly addressed by the working women and surreptitiously admired by stay-at-home women. In the context of Pakistan, by virtue of Article 25(2) of the country’s constitution, women are not to be “discriminated on the basis of sex” and by constitutional construction this implies freedom from unequal wage from equal work.
Radical feminism and its influence on Pakistan
But the story of feminism does not end here. As there were radical voices asking for emancipation of women in the sex market. To this end the champion of Catherine MacKinnon comes to fore with her reading of society as a division between the patriarch men and the suppressed women whereby the bodies of the women were exploited for commercial profits. She draws our attention to camouflaged exploitation of women in sex market and propagates legislation that bans pornography because it projects the membership of sex market as a choice of free and radical woman and aloof those from the protection of law that may have suffered injury in such markets. Under Chapter II of Constitution of Pakistan 1973 entitled principles of policy one such radical provision is found as Article 37(g) is dedicated to preventing ”prostitution, gambling and taking of injurious drugs, printing, publication, circulation and display of obscene literature and advertisements.” Furthermore, by virtue of Article 38, the same basic necessities are not to be denied to those who cannot make a livelihood because of unemployment. Arguably sex workers are within its ambits, particularly if they join prostitution on account of unemployment. The legal protection does not exhaust here. In fact, under section 292 of Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, obscenity is a punishable offence with an imprisonment of 1 to 7 years or fine from 1 to 5 lacs or both. Furthermore under sections 21 and 22 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, adult and child pornography are punishable offences with an imprisonment that can be extended to 5 years or a fine of Rs.5 million or both.
Cultural feminism and its influence on Pakistan
And then there are women like Carol Gilligan who try to teach people that the presumption that ideals of justice are best understood by men alone are falsified; Or that men and women reach different judgements (not shorthand for value-judgements) on similar issues is limited. This is because men and women can tell when and where justice has been compromised or upheld. Their point of divergence is that men work out justice through rights-ethic whereas women do the same through care-ethics. But importantly they reach the same conclusion, that an offence is found or an acquittal is maintained. On this logic, one can say that the wrong with the long-pertaining presumption in English law that women give consent to irreversible consent in marriage can be revisited. This is because such an approach perceives marriage in terms of contractual terms alone whereby a woman once bargained in cannot be freed or forfeited. Thus once the right of man over the mind, soul, body and emotion of the woman is established through marriage it is presumed to withstand, even if there is contrary evidence that the woman has given up emotionally. Thus, Gilligan’s cultural feminism invites men to consider the limitations of their sense of justice by looking at the care-ethics. In this vein, it invites them to not presume that their women have consented to proximity in marriage when they have categorically refused it. Perhaps it were approaches like these that convinced the English judiciary to question the presumption of irreversible consent in marriage and the presumption of rape by a stranger. It also shaped the mind of Pakistani judiciary perhaps to redefine marriage in feminine ideals such as a bond in love and mutual trust between consenting heterosexual adults for which the presence of a wali was not a prerequisite. It further sensitized the men of our society that for the dissolution of marriage (that is for a khula suit), it was enough for a woman to show her dislike for her spouse and she needed not go into establishing the traditional grounds found in Muslim Family Law Ordinance, 1961, for a successful suit. This is because what could not sustain in love and affection would not sustain through writing.
Postmodernism and way forward for Pakistan
There is another strand of feminism that draws distinction between sex and gender to empathize society to things over which one exerts no control such as being born as a male or female and those things over which one exerts autonomy such as deciding how to dress up and style oneself up. The aim of this is to discourage name-calling authoritative women as mini men and stereotyping them as men wana-be. As in a society like ours the clearest of ideas are likely to be misconstrued or tainted because of personal biases and gains; feminism should not be projected as an attack on the integrity of men neither should it be used as such a tool. Rather it should be used as an effective tool to make society which includes men, laws, government and civil society empathise with the situation of women by creating forums for women to develop them economically, socially, culturally and emotionally. Thus, there should be women centres across the country. At first, they should investigate the kinds of roles played by women in our society. Secondly, they should work out the social or political locations women are part of, or are excluded from. Thirdly, they should keep a record of the extent to which roles have been valued or devalued. Fourthly, they should figure out if the experiences or problems of women have been ignored or undervalued. Fifthly they should collect data on whether women have been denied equal respect for their differences. Once this data collection has been maintained, these centres should offer free courses for men and women to educate them about the ways in which women have been marginalized and how the co-operation of the two sexes can bridge the gap between the two.
Now supposedly if the women centres found out that the bulk of Pakistani society are home-makers then instead of raising a voice for empowering women through engaging them in workplaces, the next step should be to find out the extent to which their home-making role is valued and appreciated by society as a whole. On the other hand, if it is found out to undervalued, then its stimuli should be located before a suggestion for a shift to work on empowerment is endorsed. The same method should ensue if the centres found the contrary. This way a culture of respect for their existing or desirable roles will take foothold in our society and misconceptions about women issues will be minimized, if not totally eradicated.
In sum, it can be said that feminism has had many variants in Western world that are taking their premature and haphazard shape in Pakistan too, but the real essence of feminism will be actualised if feminism is rightly defined, its far-stretched and misguided notions are depleted and measures such as the creation of women help centres with the aim to compile data on current roles of women, appreciation of their work and sensitisation of the society about these is done.