I live in a country where women obey men. That is just the norm. That’s always been the norm. But that’s not to say that some Pakistanis do not believe in the betterment of women’s rights.
In 1947, along with the creation of Pakistan, women were granted suffrage. In 1956, women were extended the right to vote. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto became the first female Prime Minister, of a country that was built on the walls of patriarchy. These are all facts, but behind every fact, is a story.
Generations of women in Mohripur have lived under the word of the men in their lives. Their legal right to vote was taken away from them. They are the token domestic housewives; told to stay in their homes; told to cook and clean; told to speak only when spoken to. Women’s rights almost cease to exist. But not anymore. These women are defying the men in their lives. They are finally saying no to patriarchy, and yes to their rights. This is the first year that the women of Mohripur will try to vote in Pakistan’s general elections. And for me, even though I’m not from Mohripur, even though I have no ties to Mohripur, this means everything.
Rural Pakistan is plagued by monopolizing men, and the women of rural Pakistan are trapped by unspoken codes of honor. It’s disheartening to see the lengths people go to to keep a woman’s izzat (honor) safe, instead of honoring their rights. At the end of the day, the anti-honor killing bill won’t stop misogynist men high off of power, and women determined for the matriarchy to rise.
These are the women that are told that to leave their house on election day would be cause for dishonor.
And so, for an entire village of women to stand up against that patriarchal code is empowering. For a woman that is not allowed to choose her husband; for a woman that is not allowed to decide where to go when she wants to go; for a woman that is defined by her male counterpart – this means everything.
This is not to say that the fear is gone. These women live under a blanket of uncertainty as every move of theirs is measured. They may not be able to vote at all, because their lives are essentially at stake. Although the Women’s Protection Bill was passed in 2016, it has not been enforced, and in some places, it will not be because the “elders” of certain villages do not believe in the rule of law. However, these women are retaliating and facing that fear, or even beginning to acknowledge it, and this is a move forward in Pakistan’s struggle with women’s rights. The Election Commission of Pakistan declared that 10% of voters from each constituency must be female, and yes, this triggered a small movement.
As a Pakistani woman, I know it’s hard to get people to hear my voice, and for me, I’m fortunate to have that degree of freedom. Having the power the vote is empowering for women who don’t have any power over their lives – it means everything.
This year, 9.13 million women have registered to vote. That gives me confidence. Knowing that the women of Mohripur are fighting against all odds for the chance to vote gives me courage. It gives me hope for my women’s rights. To the strong women who are out there reading this, I hope it gives you strength as well. Strength to tackle what you fear, because your voice has merit and your rights matter. Don’t let the patriarchy stop you from doing your thing.
Here’s to seeing how these elections turn out, and how they will affect the women of Pakistan from here on out.