“We learned at an early age that it was men’s interpretation of our religion that restricted women’s opportunities, not our religion itself. Islam in fact had been quite progressive toward women from its inception”—Benazir Bhutto, 11th and 13th Prime Minister of Pakistan who was assassinated on 27 December 2007.
The East is from where the sun rises every day giving the world a new morning, a new hope and a new meaning to life but alas, for the majority of daughters born here, each dawn is harbinger of tough challenges which they have to cope with throughout their lives. For many, it means no education, no economic independence, no say in important decisions of their lives, total subjugation to men in their families and a life of absolute thankless servitude with no holidays. Their birth is rarely celebrated, especially if in their place, a son was being prayed for. This state of affairs is prevalent in generally most of the eastern countries especially in their less developed areas, but is more disturbing for those that proclaim themselves as followers of Islam, a religion that has actually raised the status of women giving them unprecedented rights and reverence.
In this bleak scenario, females who defy all norms duly supported by their guardians and who emerge as women of substance deserve full kudos as well as appreciation. The time, energy and efforts involved in rearing, educating, grooming and transforming a girl or even a boy into an accomplished person, are priceless. A person has to undergo immense struggle in order to gain knowledge or learn skills. A lot of hard work, sleepless nights, financial sacrifices, and rigorous activities go into attaining education which does not involve just one person but at times the entire household, teachers and institutions. It is very easy to live a life of leisure where a person does nothing more than satisfy his animal instincts with no concern for intellectual pursuits but life is tough, perhaps even tougher for members of the fairer sex who are keen to improve themselves.
Loss of human lives at the hands of murderers or terrorists is bad in itself but when the deceased happen to be talented and accomplished, like an intellectual, a teacher or a social activist, the whole nation is made to suffer an insurmountable loss. When those who have the capacity to bring about positivity are eliminated, what is left behind can only be described as negativity. Even a short period of worship of a scholar has been given preference by the Al-Mighty, over long duration of worship of an ignorant person! Such is the importance of knowledge and losing anyone, let alone a female, can have very detrimental effects on the society and of course, quality of human beings.
One such woman of substance, Benazir Bhutto, who came from a privileged background which enabled her easy access to the best of educational institutions and perfect guidance for achieving an enviable distinction remarks: “Clearly it is not easy for women in modern society, no matter where they live. We still have to go the extra mile to prove that we are equal to men. We have to work longer hours and make more sacrifices. And we must emotionally protect ourselves from unfair, often vicious attacks made on us via the male members of our family.”
Having become the first female prime minister in 1988, Ms. Bhutto resolved to change the destiny of women of Pakistan as in her own words: “As a woman leader, I thought I brought a different kind of leadership. I was interested in women’s issues, in bringing down the population growth rate….as a woman I entered politics with an additional dimension—that of a mother.”
Now the question is that did she succeed in her commitment to turn around the fate of women of her country in her two (though incomplete) terms of premiership? Maybe, not in the way as she would have desired. Consequently, Pakistan’s population has experienced an explosive increase and unfortunately there is not much improvement in the misogynistic outlook of the society. One of the factors as pointed out by the lady herself is the men’s interpretation of the religion that prevents women from taking on the reins of leadership. Although Benazir managed to become premier twice, she had to face opposition from those so-called Islamists who resented her secularist and modern agenda. What ensued later is all history. She was forced into self-exile and had to make her abode in Dubai.
However, throughout this entire turbulent period there can be no two opinions about the fact that Benazir herself had emerged as a person of sound education, political acumen and wisdom which comes from experiences that were uniquely hers. Losing a person of her caliber meant reducing a treasure trove of wealth to dust. Many may not agree about her credentials as a leader but none would deny that she did have to her credit immense scholastic achievements. How unfortunate for her followers that they were forced to bear her loss when their leader had reached her prime and was fully geared to take head-on all her political and ideological adversaries!
Her return in October 2007 was with a new determination and a renewed resolve to make Pakistan an outstanding country. Alas! In a matter of a few weeks all these aspirations were shattered with just one bullet that snuffed out a knowledge bearing beacon leaving everyone in a state of shock, even those who never regarded her as a competent leader. Perhaps her loss came as a big blow to the dreams of those daughters of the East who were looking towards her to salvage them from the shackles of centuries old traditions because of which they were being denied their birth rights as human beings. For them, Benazir was a source of inspiration and hope who combined in her person qualities of both knowledge and leadership, few men can boast of and it is not every day that mothers give birth to such talented personalities. May her soul rest in eternal peace!
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)