By Arshad Abbasi

“Nobody leaves the kitchen until mom leaves the kitchen”. Any guess who might have said this? Considering the person who has uttered this in a recent TV interview in India with NDTV it could at best be only a wild guess. It was Melinda Bill gates wife of Bill gates the billionaire of the world. She said that what used to happen at her home that after finishing meals she would be the only one left in the kitchen doing the dishes. But imbued with the spirit of gender equality, to be more focused women uplift she made a rule at home that everybody will do the dishes in the kitchen including her husband.

Now contrast it with the situation of women and belief system about them in the third world. The same goes for Pakistan’s backward areas. Here the focus is on South Punjab which has not been singled out because discrimination against women is endemic to this part of the country; rather it has been selected as specimen of a phenomenon that is widespread and deep-rooted in Pakistani society.

The participation of women is necessary for the sustainable development of any society. Pakistan being the signatory of the UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Goals-SDGs successor to Millennium Development Goals-MDGs is obliged to take steps which could end the discrimination against women resulting from skewed interpretation of religion and sanctioned by the patriarchal society. Women population in Pakistan accounts for more than 48% of its total population. The participation of them in different walks of life is the key to the societal development of Pakistan.

But it is not is the case in reality. Pakistan is ranked 82 out of 93 countries in terms of the gender empowerment measurements. The situation is critical in the whole country but South Punjab is on the top of the list in terms of the inhumane treatment meted out to women. Women have to cope with domestic violence and social pressures on a daily basis in one way or the other.

This kind of treatment is considered as the part and parcel of a feudal society which is the signature feature of South Punjab. It is not given even due consideration of violence as its definition and sensitization is different here. The common type of inhumane treatment includes sexual abuse, forced marriages, marriage for marriage, Vani, rape, kidnappings, acid attacks and women harassment in the property matters.

The society of South Punjab is multi-dimensional with very little awareness available to the women who spend their whole lives in the homes and courtyards going outside of home only with the permission of their men. Pakistan ranked the third most dangerous country for women in a Thomson Reuter’s Foundation Expert poll in 2011. The figure is relevant here as there has been no magical wand to turn around the situation of women in the intervening years since the survey was published.

The socio cultural and political dynamics of the South Punjab society awards men with an unlimited authority and control over women which exceeds the rights and responsibilities owed to them by religion and the basic sense of humanity. The gender based violence not only affects the lives of the women in particular but of the society in general.

The compact societal structure makes sure that women get no access to the awareness campaigns for their rights. In spite of the present media hype and the issue coverage, the incidents of honor killing, gang rape and other physical abuses for women have not been overcome.

It was the unfortunate incident of Mukhtara Mai that the issue of gang rape came to the light. The worse part of the whole episode was that it was a punishment handed down the Jirga roughly translated as the council of elders. In these scenarios, a woman has to offer herself for the ill deeds of her male family members.

Punjab Assembly passed the”Protection of Women against Violence bill 2016”, providing that the victimized women be facilitated for the quest of justice. A year is about to pass since the bill has been passed but the implementation of the bill still presents a gloomy picture.

The subsequent debate to the passing of the bill revealed the prevalent male bias against women driven by male chauvinism. Women of South Punjab in the first place need to be sensitized about their rights and privileges.

Here the issue is that who can undertake this uphill task given the control of machismo male population over the sources of information and avenues of awareness. But the silver lining in this despondent atmosphere is that the information revolution fueled by digitalization is eroding the high walls of information denial.

As a result, the women of South Punjab and their fellows in the length and breadth of Pakistan would be able to realise their true potential as human beings shoulder to shoulder with men.