THE old stereotype of woman as the mother of generations and nations, as a junior partner of and a second fiddle to the more empowered man, is coming under increasing pressure. Above the worthy/unworthy, genuine/ condescending titles of honour bestowed upon her as nation-builder and homemaker, exposure and experience has emboldened her, as an individual, to assert her right to choice.
This change is reflected in the diversified topics of discussion chosen by various organisations for this year’s International Women’s Day that was observed yesterday. The UN’s theme this year was violence against women, but the day was used to discuss so much else. The woman as nation-builder was very much there, but proudly and confidently flanked by other women, such as the entrepreneur the bank is ready to trust with its loan. These images show that the argument which invokes the conventional model to deter and intimidate those who want to move forward is more determinedly countered today than ever before. Women all over are emerging out of their erstwhile supporting roles and acting as individuals who are setting standards, fixing objectives and leading the thrust for change.
These small victories have come after long, fierce battles. In Pakistan, in a tribute to the rights activists’ consistent efforts, parliament has in recent years taken up some serious legislation to benefit women. In a country where discrimination against women has over time been institutionalised in legal code, the recent laws have been described by some activists as a real leap. But if not a huge stride forward, these certainly signify progress. Whereas all forward looking legislation affects women, specifically, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 and the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 are two laws Pakistani women had long been fighting for. This shows that there was greater emphasis on women’s rights during the assemblies’ current term, though it actually reflected an accentuated expression of the tone set by the previous assembly that functioned from 2002 to early 2008. This must be interpreted as a sign of maturing of politics, tempered and nourished as it has been by the rights movement in the country. On the other hand the activists must also keep in mind the tendency of governments and legislators to appease intimidators at the expense of women as well as other ‘weak’ groups such as religious minorities. There is only one way for a society seeking change to counter such an approach, which in turn is also the route to greater freedoms: keep on moving forward.