International Women’s Day is celebrated in communities all over the world, receiving both positive and negative reception. Despite women being half of the world’s population, our civilizations and conditional thinking have been predominantly patriarchal. It was not until 1917 that women were allowed to vote in Canada. The “Me Too” movement has been in the news for a while and marks the scintilla of feminist reforms in the modern era.
In Canada, we are lucky to live in a free country. Not all countries around the globe are free — women in Saudi Arabia could be put behind bars by law for driving until a few months ago. Despite the law being in effect, the plight of women in Saudi Arabia is still questionable.
Even though women all around the globe are now indulging in campaigns that assert the growing participation of women in society and showcase their strong reaction to crimes against them more than ever before, I believe the distribution of women’s empowerment is unequal.
Far east, India is home to many female heroes like late Asma Jahangir, a human rights activist from Pakistan, who is inspiring millions of women around the globe, especially those from conservative societies by dedicating herself to the cause of Pakistani people. Growing up, I witnessed how highly emphasized gender roles are in certain societies, including the one I come from. Girls are taught from a very young age to be obedient, how to cook and clean, and to take care of the kids while never talking back to male figures in the family. Though we have had some remarkable women leaders from these parts of the world, the majority are advised to take conventional professions like health care, teaching, law, and becoming good wives.
To some of these women from conservative societies, the term “women’s empowerment” merely means acquiring basic rights. A strongheaded woman or “badly behaved” women are not very welcome by many individuals. Honour killings are rampant in Pakistan and areas of Northern India to this day, where women can be killed merely for looking at an individual of the opposite sex in the eye.
Qandeel Baloch, a late internet sensation in Pakistan, has put a face to thousands of Pakistani women who are killed for occurrences like this every year. She has always been someone whom I personally admire for her outspokenness in defying societal standards and calling out on hypocrites. Coming from a very poor household in south Punjab, Pakistan, Baloch always wanted to break barriers and be an earning hand for her family. After trying an unsuccessful hand at films, she resorted to the power of social media and soon became an internet sensation. Her selfies and posts were compared to that of Kim Kardashian, although they would be considered very tame according to Western standards.
She was strangled to death in 2016 by her own brother for bringing a “bad name” to the family. In Shah Sadar Din, her hometown, one would not typically see women out in public spaces, nevermind all over social media. She was known for posting provocative selfies and videos in revealing outfits. Her brother, M. Waseem, could not bear seeing his sister on social media spreading “vulgarity” (according to his statement). He thus strangled her to death in the name of honour. Unfortunately, this is an act not uncommon in Pakistan.
Initiatives like Punjab Commision on the status of women based in Multan, the district under which Qandeel’s hometown falls, aim to prevent harassment of women at the workplace, with the majority of complaints coming from the health sector. Political parties have the upliftment of articulated women as one of their imperative agendas. But we as citizens of this planet really need to evolve our mindset and accept “badly behaved” women like Baloch. After all, aren’t they one among us?
Image: Kayt Hint/The Cascade