Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A call to arms for women’s rights

A call to arms for women’s rights

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An activist of the Aurat March hold placards during a rally to mark International Women’s Day in Karachi on March 8. Those who stoned the women participating in the march are aware of the implications of the activism displayed by the girls and women. AFP

A call to arms for women’s rights

Let's not kid ourselves: ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ (my body, my choice) is not a mere slogan. It is a call to arms.

Those thugs who stoned the women participating in the Aurat March in Islamabad recently are aware of the implications of the activism displayed by the girls and women who marched. They want to seal off the contagion of free choice before it enters their homes and infects their wives, sisters and daughters.

This battle between the sexes has been fought for millennia, and mostly, it has been contested across the bodies of women. It is only in the last century that women in the West have gained a measure of equality. Apart from a handful of small matriarchal societies, men have called the shots around the world.

Women demanding equality in Muslim countries are routinely told that their religion gave them unprecedented rights when it was first revealed. This is true. But no society and no rules can remain frozen. Just as slavery was once acceptable but is now discarded, so, too, do our women need to move on with the rest of the world. The reality is that we cannot make meaningful progress while half our population is marginalised.

Even within the Islamic world, there are wide variations in women’s rights. When Islam swept out of the Arabian peninsula, it encountered and conquered many societies and regions with totally different traditions and practices. From Kosovo to Kabul, while oppression was common, women participated in society to varying degrees. In Afghanistan and Arabia, they were always forced to cover themselves.

For centuries, oppressive attitudes have prevailed under the garb of religious sanction. And while Muslim women watch most of their non-Muslim sisters progress socially, they mostly remain stuck in the past, at the mercy of their men, with few economic or educational opportunities.

In Pakistan, women are worse off than virtually every country in the world. According to the latest Global Gender Gap Index issued by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan sits virtually at the bottom (151st out of 153 countries listed), having risen from 112th in 2006. In terms of economic participation, we are down to 150, and score a miserable 143 in educational attainment. But we score well in honour killings and domestic violence.

The men who tried to violently block the Aurat March in Islamabad are unconcerned with progress and education. They know they will get left behind, but want to ensure that they retain control at home, free to beat their wives and daughters, and force them to do domestic chores for the rest of their lives.

Being a man, I obviously have no direct experience of the daily humiliations and pain women endure every day of their lives. Even my indirect anecdotal knowledge is limited as my father had just one brother. I was one of five brothers, and my only son has two lovely young boys. So clearly, there was a severe shortage of females for me to learn from in my life.

This changed when I encountered my four free-spirited English stepdaughters who put me on a steep learning curve. They enjoyed their visits to Pakistan, although the youngest complained about all the restrictions she had to endure. Now they are older, they have no time to come, and the violence of a few years ago has put them off.

This is the kind of freedom most Pakistani men fear. Their impression of the West comes mostly from cheap soft porn movies that depict a decadent culture where women sleep around, and men often play second fiddle. And yet, in the index I have just cited, women (and men, for that matter) fare much better in the very societies we criticise for their supposed licentiousness.

But Pakistanis (and Muslims from other countries) spend a fortune trying to reach Western countries by hook or by crook. And if the whole family can’t make it, young men are put on dangerous paths at the mercy of people smugglers. If and when they finally make it, they encounter the temptations of the West. Obviously, they cannot allow their sisters to emulate this lifestyle, but many of the men themselves indulge in criminal sexual activity.

These double standards are widely prevalent across the Muslim world. To impose them, men use legal means and dubious dogma. Women, mostly uneducated, often accept the status quo as a religious norm.

In Pakistan, as well as in most Muslim countries, educated urban women have made some progress in terms of jobs in government departments and the corporate sector. Others with supportive parents have been able to go abroad to study. But almost all of them conform to the demands of conservative societies in terms of family responsibilities. Until we men learn to do our share, little will change for women or our backward societies.



  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports