Pakistani Women In a Changing Society.
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Clearly there are a number of issues located here which invite systematic investigation. Home-based women workers, denied the freedom of movement and relative independence of their sisters employed in salaried jobs, rationalise their own predicament in ideological terms, through a self-image of their moral superiority. Frustrated by their increasingly straitened circumstances and lack of freedom, they are easily mobilised by their men against women who go out to word. They are even made to join public demonstrations, suitably enclosed in the chaddar or burqa (the all-enveloping women's overalls that covers them from head to foot). They parrot the complaints of their men that women's employment takes jobs away from men and undercuts their salaries and that, in any case, it is quite shameless and un-Islamic for women to go about the city and work in offices with men. In their own minds as well as in the minds of the men who control their lives, their confinement to their homes offers a gain in respectability. The life of lower middle class women in salaried employment is subject to rather different kinds of pressures. Her working day starts early, for she must feed her husband and children and send them off to school before she herself rushes off to work. Traveling to work is itself quite a battle, given the state of public transport in Pakistan cities, especially Karachi. In order to attract women workers whom they need, many large companies maintain fleets of minibuses to pick up their women employees in the morning and take them home after work. In the case of a woman who is the first to be picked up or the last to be dropped home this can add an hour, or even two, to the long day spent at work. She comes home tired. Whilst her husband relaxes with a cold drink under a fan, she has to rush straight into the kitchen to prepare the family evening meal.
Sadly, the eleven years of the so-called policy of 'Islamisation' under General Zia, have produced in Pakistan a culture of intolerance. This culture, above all, has persecuted women and subjected them to all kinds of humiliation and ill-treatment, not to speak of inhuman punishment under the Hudood Ordinances, as described above. The Government embarked upon a mass publicity campaign, through all the media, exhorting people to order their lives in accordance with Islam, but as interpreted by Zia and his bigoted mullahs. Far more mischievous was Zia's call to the 'people' to ensure that their 'neighbours' did likewise. This was a charter for the mischief-makers and the bigots who took upon themselves the task of chastising women, total strangers, and molesting them under that excuse. For example, Mumtaz and Shaheed quote an instance, which is by no means unique or isolated, when a woman who entered a bakery in an upper class Lahore neighbourhood, was slapped by a total stranger for not having her head covered ( Mumtaz and Shaheed, 1987: 71). A much publicised and quite horrendous case is that of a congregation leaving a mosque after Friday prayers who found a new born baby on a nearby rubbish dump. The mullah promptly concluded that it was an illegitimate child and, in accordance with the laws of Islam, as he understood them, led the congregation of the pious Muslims in stoning the child to death. Such outrageous conduct was the direct result of incitement by the propaganda of the Zia regime, which has created an atmosphere of bigotry and intolerance. It was hoped that the democratic Government of Benazir Bhutto would reverse this and, in particular, repeal the Hudood Ordinances (including the Zina Ordinance. But a year after it was put in office the Government has shown no inclination to change the laws. This is in part due to the paralysis of the Government, due to a complex set of political factors which we cannot go into here. Meanwhile the terrible legacy of the Zia regime lives on. Prospects before Pakistani women remain uncertain and threatening.
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