Women Empowerment: Myths & Reality

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Today it is the thirteenth day of facing brutal verbal and physical abuse from her husband by Sajida. To her nothing matters more than her daughter’s (Shahzadi) chance to get her right to go to school. She is determined to face this onslaught but send her daughter to the newly opened private school in her vicinity than to take her along to Baji Sumaira’s place for working as a maid. Bless Baji Sumaira for financing Shahzadi’s schooling. She feels herself to be a soldier at war taking the battle face front, being injured and bleeding, yet not giving up to what she stands for. To her this violence from her husband is the early signs of defeat. She knows she will get her way eventually and to her, this resilience is her major strength.

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Before my doctoral research on ‘Women Empowerment’ I had a very simplified definition of an empowered female in my mind. To me if a female was educated, had a fair degree of control over her life, was earning and spending that money with her own free will, had some freedom of mobility in her life, she was definitely an empowered person. At that time I may have considered a battered uneducated house maid with little control over her own money and a drug addict husband to be not-empowered. However, during my research I had an opportunity to visit all 36 districts of Punjab and meet many inspiring and resilient females. During this ethnographic study of multiple participants many of the myths I had as an urban woman vanished in thin air.

We, especially, the polished, educated white collared people cannot possibly understand the complex and intricate nature of the empowerment process of majority of rural and poor, uneducated females. These brave ladies, yes I will call them brave, because they face all social, emotional, physical even sexual threats from their own families and yet survive day after day to fight for their dreams. Not many of them can actually achieve them, yet what matters most are their undying spirits. A woman in Pakistan is the one who sacrifices happily and quietly for her siblings, for her husband, her in-laws and mostly for her kids. She is the saving force which brings out hidden funds at the time of dire need of family. No one knows how many of her own needs did she sacrifice to collect those funds in the first place. She is the one facing all pressures become the backbone of her children, both emotionally and morally.

What pains me most is to see the lack of social security systems for women, total acceptance of domestic violence as a personal family matter, digestion of every acid and kerosene burn as yet another incidence to forget. In spite of many legal protection bills in favor of women, countless still remain unheard and alone. On issues like financial stress, infertility (which can be of male partner as well), lack of male heir, possession, jealousy and inferiority complex, males tend to throw acid, batter, and rape or even murder females in our country, many times even females are involved in disempowering their own kind. Question to ask ourselves here is don’t women know how to use acid or kerosene? Can’t they get these materials from the market as freely as men? Then why don’t we hear acid burning incidences of males? Why never a male dies even accidently in kerosene accidents at home or when he has gone to visit his in-laws?

There are dual answers to these questions. Our society in general is hypocrite. When a female marries someone younger she than her she is criticized, but when a man married someone younger than his own daughter, no one even blinks an eye. When a female marries late due to taking care of her family, she is taunted but when a male marries late, he is considered to be responsible. Males can do anything they are protected, not criticized and left alone eventually. But if a female commits a mistake, she has to face it throughout her life. However, an important aspect of the answer is that women are considerate, compassionate and forgiving in nature. They are emotionally far more empowered than men can even imagine. Agreed, that women should be empowered for their own sake and not with some social or developmental purpose. Agreed, that there is a lot of room for improvement in the condition of women empowerment in our society. Agreed, that we stand where we have not even begun to understand what true empowerment actually means. Yet for the very same reasons we need to understand five very basic aspects of empowerment debate. Empowerment is a subjective phenomenon and needs to be defined in local perspective before policy making begins.

We belong to a society where men are equally or even more disempowered as compared to our women, therefore we need to empower our people with holistic approach. Islamic principles of empowerment for a society are well defined and well suited for our particular needs; therefore we should research in their progression and adjustment instead of applying one-size-fit-all western definition of such multidimensional cultural spectacle. We need to recognize the intrinsic strength and resilience of our women and built upon it in positive direction. Rural, Urban divide in our society is very strong, rural women have their own strengths and urban have their own ones, therefore before policy making in depth participatory studies are needed to understand the exact nature and requirement of empowerment process. After understanding these five basic principles we can empower females like Sajida and others around them.

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