Fayyaz Ul Hassan Chohan from the party of our hopes, PTI went on television on March 13th 2014 and when asked to comment on polygamy answered by telling a ludicrous joke about a man and his two wives. These women bickered. They were first threatened and eventually controlled by their husband. Not only was it not funny, it was tragically painful for any woman who cares about her rights and her voice in society. The obsession of our people with the concept of one man and multiple women competing for his attention falls back on the concept brought to civilization at the advent of agriculture where you buy fidelity of a woman or various women in exchange for security. Security from what, one may ask. Security from a patriarchal society where women are commodified, degraded, put on national TV in the form of jokes. It all really comes a full circle.
While commenting on the women’s cricket team, Shahid Afridi, the man responsible for raising the Pakistani flag high after many victorious matches found it important to emphasize that women had a talent in their hands that was well suited for cooking. It is no small mercy that this man is not in charge of anything that pertains to the economics of this country and that his opinions are not binding, but still it is a roaring insanity that a person with that level of influence should box up women based on only what their hands are good for: serving. Women do not belong in a kitchen any more than men do: There is food there, everyone belongs in it. Our women’s cricket team probably does more for our women’s rights than many such caused organizations put together because it is colossally empowering to see a woman use her talent, her discipline, and her strong body unabashedly for something public and above all representing the country. What nerve to reduce these warriors into makers of chicken karhais. Not every woman dreams of disappearing into the cloak of a dark and dingy kitchen. That is probably just a male fantasy coming from the same place the joke did.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) which could be said to be like the moon-sighting committee for eid and just as limited in its abilities and tools, has also found it important to issue an opinion on, yes, you guessed right, women. And yes, this council, although was supposed to have a women representative, has none. So again, we have men talking about what women should do and not do. Women have no say in their husband’s second, third or fourth marriage, says CII. When you have no opinion you might as well be invisible.
Is that however what our egalitarian and equity based faith teaches us? Does it tell us that the first word divinely revealed, read, was only revealed for men, or can women too, read and determine their own path to the Almighty? These questions, which every Muslim woman will ask herself and her society will have a long awkward silence because the people who have been nominated to decide their faith are completely at odds with our founding fathers vision. Allama Iqbal believed in Islamic modernism and in his interpretations, polygamy was both outdated from the context were it existed and also against the grain of the need for the faith to evolve in order to be eternal.
Another founding father the CII has insulted is Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The CII did this when they opined that underage marriages are permissible. Jinnah worked tirelessly to pass the Child Marriages Restraint Act, one of his many steps towards empowering women of this region. It is no surprise that the very same lot who opposed Jinnah have now become the leaders of the movement that is hell bent on turning us to the dark ages. Illustratively, Pakistan’s teen girls die in the thousands while giving birth, because not only is their age not a consideration when marrying them off, neither is the need to space children out. According to UNICEF 17% of women have children before the age of 18. Considering the population of Pakistan these numbers are swollen and catastrophic. On whose heads do these deaths lie?
The least we can do is not give this barbaric practice religious sanction.
It is 2014, Pakistani women are soaring the skies in F16s, conquering the Everest, winning the Oscars and by large numbers outdoing their counterparts in standardized examinations. In rural Pakistan they have supported the economy in agriculture and in the homes, bringing up children at the same time. They are not voiceless beings to be marginalized at birth. Be aware of the time they avenge the burdens that society has put on them for eons.
For a merciful future, stop speaking on their behalf.
Published in Daily Times on March 16, 2014