Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Change? What Change?

There is an anticipation of change in the air. Analysts, politicians, ordinary citizens, the old and the young are all certain that change is eminent. Expectations of a political reform are at an all time high. People have started to believe that there is a possibility of reclaiming their land from the clutches of corruption. But I wonder what will change for me and millions of women in this county? If the country was being run by people who put the country before their self-interest the result would be a stronger economy, more job opportunities, better health and education services and security for sure. But my question still remains what will change for the women?

We’ve had a woman Prime Minister twice – and nothing changed, we have women in the parliament – and nothing has changed. A bill, a legislation, a law has not helped so far and won’t in the future. We seem to be a nation in love with short-cuts and our eagerness to put a label on the cause of problem is unparalleled. Every problem this nation faces is categorized under 3 labels – corruption, poverty and lack of education. I agree that these are major contributing factors of most of our issues, but by jumping to these conclusions we close the door for further analysis. The 3 pet labels of Pakistan have become the carpet beneath which we brush all our problems.

Usually when we discuss national problems we start at the macro level and work our way down to the micro. But for a change let’s start at the micro level, let’s talk about the problem of women in the narrow band of population which I inhabit. There is no issue of a lack of education in this group of people nor do we have poverty. Yes corruption does exist here as well but for the moment let’s keep it aside for argument’s sake.

Rape, wife battering and other forms of physical violence are present but well hidden in this group but there is another issue which is quite common – the basic right of a woman to be an individual. This may seem mundane to some and you may think that this is just Feminist mumbo jumbo, but it cuts down to the heart of the matter. The overt physical abuse stems from this root problem.

If a woman decides to live her life on her own terms she is quickly labeled as a nut-job, when a man does so he is brave. When a woman in this group decides to stand by her own convictions and principles she is arrogant, when a man does the same he is confident. When a woman starts to wonder what her life is all about and what truly makes her happy she is depressed, when a man asks these questions it is maturity. When a woman passes a comment she is frivolous, when a man does so he is witty. When a woman says she doesn’t want children right now she is vain and irresponsible, when a man makes the same statement he is behaving responsibly. When a woman says she doesn’t want marriage she must be hiding a dark secret in her past, when a man states this intention he is merely eccentric. When a woman is all-of-the-above she is a great topic for discussion and ridicule, when a man is all-of-the-above he is someone to respect and learn from. The list is endless but truth is that the yardstick for men and women is different even amongst the educated and well off.

Better education and more financial security will not change this disparity and no political change will put an end to this. I agree that this is not an issue just localized to Pakistan, it is a global pandemic but its manifestations in our country have become intolerable. The rise in violence against women is an indication of how deep seated this problem has become in our country. If we are to bring a real change for women in this country then we need to get out of our comfort zones and discuss these issues in depth. We must get over our tendency to over simplify issues in order to put a neat label on them. To solve the problems of women men will have to bring a change in themselves and doing so is both painful as well as scary. It is easier to apportion blame on a faceless bogey rather than take a long hard look at ourselves. That is why although I am just excited at the prospect of change in the country I am not holding my breath for things to change for the women of Pakistan.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

For The Greater Good

Pakistan is a country which has rampant inflation, an energy crises incomprehensible in the 21st century, terrorism that looms paramount in everyone’s mind and a law and order situation which borders on anarchy. However the one thing this country is not is boring. When 2 Pakistanis meet we don’t have to look blankly at each other and make chit chat about the weather, our politicians and the establishment ensure that we have a constant supply of hot topics to discuss. We are perhaps the only country where the current affairs talk shows are considered high entertainment and the drama of the constantly breaking news puts any soap opera to shame. The challenge for journalists all over the world is to find a good story, the challenge for the Pakistani journalist is which one to pick.

Our government may not be able to govern or give its citizens the basic needs of life but it is fulfilling a much higher purpose - it is making its citizens the most resilient, the most optimistic nation on this planet. No matter what comes our way we simply shrug it off and look ahead towards an unclear future. Shame on us for complaining incessantly about their shortcomings, the truth is that their wisdom is beyond our comprehension.

The establishment rather unfairly gets blamed for all evil that befalls this nation. But actually they are misunderstood and they suffer in silence all the abuses which we hurl at them. Their convoluted policies, clandestine meetings, secret supports and U-turns keep all of us guessing which great conspiracy is being hatched, we wonder what will be the possible fallouts of a meeting, or we simply try to interpret the mixed signals coming from different quarters. All this is an exercise to sharpen our minds and develop our powers of deductive reasoning. Another noble objective.

Politicians whether in the government or the opposition play an extremely important role in our lives. A rally here, a protest there, an unbridled verbal torrent, a carefully crafted rhetorical statement, press conferences, telephonic speeches, out of control performances on talk shows, offensive statements, defensive statements – are all part of a hidden agenda. The purpose is to keep our minds occupied so that we don’t start thinking of the real problems of our lives and get depressed. It is therapy on a grand scale.

So you see our anger is misguided, our government, establishment, politicians are only thinking of our greater good. Someone once said that the only difference between a grave and a rut is it’s depth and by making sure that monotony does not come near Pakistani’s they ensure that this nation is alive – albeit kicking.