Nasira Javaid is a feminist, but her powers will be limited as president

Justice Nasira Javaid is now retired as an icon of women rebels. She had a mother who was a legendary philanthropist and a force in the Pakistan independence movement. It was going to be unlikely that a woman with a women role model like her mother, Justice Nasira Javaid would be anything other than a change-maker for women in Pakistan. Elevated to the Supreme Court by Benazir Bhutto’s government she drafted the bill against domestic violence in 2008; made a legal framework for women’s right to land and when she speaks, her voice echoes authenticity of all women’s struggle across the class. She said: “A woman has to work twice as hard as a man to achieve half as much.”

Despite a ruckus about the possibility of Pakistan’s first women president, at the end of the year when a largely muted Mamnoon Hussain leaves his term, there must be a few realistic expectations of what this ceremonial position will bring to Pakistan. After the 18th amendment, this position essentially is a glorified benchwarmer and occasional royal waver with a delicate palm. A role far more dumbed down for a firebrand like her.

Justice Nasira Javaid said, “It is a big mistake when women allow proxy decisions to control their conduct.” Although she said this in a 2012 interview, she may need to re-learn this statement.

Imran Khan has been vehemently anti-feminist in the run-up to elections, during and even after. In his victory speech, he talked about the importance of women in his agenda by omitting them entirely. He didn’t even have an agenda for women, except sneaking in some women-wing talking points into the party manifesto like our society throws in an inshallah at the end of a sentence they are personally not committed to.

Justice Nasira Javaid is the daughter-in-law of poet-philosopher Mohammad Iqbal. Whereas I see this of no consequence, the fear is that people who retrospectively envision Iqbal to have philosophized an exclusivist Pakistan are rejoicing and their joy is scary. Justice Nasira Javaid is a woman in her own right, progressive, intense and completely independent of the family or in-laws that most of society wants to give her status from.

She was the elected president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. She is now a vibrant 77-year-old woman who has a full life of contributing to the moth-holed pluralism of our justice system because of the strength of her truth. These strong convictions once put side by side by what has been said about good women by the PM-elect, there is no doubt that there will be a clash between menism or hate speech against women vs. feminism. This great woman has battled decades of cultural misogyny in Pakistan, and she must school the government every chance she gets.

As a Harvard Law School graduate; a mother, wife, Supreme Court judge, teacher, social worker and human rights activist Justice Nasira Javaid is the epitome of the woman that Prime Minister elect is gravitating away from when he describes the ideal woman to news channels. He describes them disabled by dress, limited to the kitchen, committed to lifetime child-rearing even when children grow gray; limited in her access to public life and employment and one who is bound by local custom and its formula of happiness. What he describes here is an obsession with patriarchal dissent. Then, interestingly the same type of thought-leaders complain that women are burdensome. Misogynists exist in all political parties in Pakistan, without exception. Only here it is disconcerting because an Oxford graduate having lived off a full life of liberal democratic perks wants medievalism for others, seemingly.

Justice Nasira Javaid is only burdensome to those who constrain her thought into a box. She represents all women who want to live as people and not a pincushion.

There have been such proposals before too. In the early part of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s premiership in the 70s there was a nomination of Begum Shahnawaz the president. She too was one of Pakistan’s founding mothers. Justice Nasira Javaid is undoubtedly a great fit, but I fear that this nomination could be eyewash. When secular India, while conducting Muslim persecution, makes Muslim presidents as tokens, this could be our move to cover-up Pakistan’s gender apartheid.

What happens next depends on Justice Nasira Javaid allowing a man to be her “proxy” or not.

It also depends, if she will honor her personal and professional journey to reject the silencing. More than anything, it depends on the country moving beyond optics into real transformation for women.

 

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