Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pakistani women who try to assert their rights become targets for legal action by relatives


Foreign service writer Mary Jordan (along with Shaiq Hussain and Itmiaz Ali) has a front page story today in the Washington Post about the extreme patriarchal nature of much of Pakistani society. The name of the story is “Searching for freedom: chained by the law: As Pakistani women assert rights, families use legal means to get revenge,” link here.

The story takes place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, a depicted (with slides) a woman who had spent nine months in prison for adultery. The system treats women much harder than men for indiscretions, and regards female loyalty as a matter of “family honor.”

The Aurat Foundation is a major organization looking after the rights of women in Pakistan. When a woman leaves a bad marriage (on her own), male relatives often file complaints against her alleging sexual misconduct, according to the group.

Pakistan, in many areas, allows polygamy and men to have up to four wives. I wonder immediately, what happens to the “less competitive” men who have no wives? Conservative author George Gilder wrote back in the 1980s (“Men and Marriage”) that Arab men who can’t find wives are drawn to homosexuality, which is also punishable by death in radical Islam, but that nevertheless is practiced covertly.

In fact, the extreme focus on patriarchal values in tribal Islam seems to be an extension of the same value system among some religious “conservatives” in this country. Men feel that they need to have their values pandered to for them to remain interested in their wives and able to support their wives and children. Without such favoritism, there would be no point in marriage at all, it seems. That’s the trouble with religious morality, taken to its extreme. In fairness, however, enforcing monogamy, “one to a customer” as Gilder put it in his book, would mean that every man has an “equal” chance to become a family provider.

The story presents women in poor areas as becoming conscious of the idea of rights, because cell phones and Internet technology now move into the poorest tribal areas. (That would help the military track terrorists, but that doesn’t seem to happen easily.)

In the U.S. (in New York, Washington, Dallas and Minneapolis) I have long worked with men who had come from Pakistan as far back as the 1970s. I never ran into any expression of radical religious views. One said that back in the 1970s there were hundreds of applicants for every computer programming job, and that workers were very careful about how many tests and how much computer time it took to get an application working!

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