March 8 marks a day of recognition that women around the world are still fighting for basic rights and equality. In Asia two Bangladesh and Pakistan – two countries that till 1971 were one nation are at diametrically opposite ends when it comes to the status of women.
On the other hand, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in the last 50 years since its liberation in improving the lives of women and girls. Maternal mortality rates are falling, fertility rate is declining, and there is greater gender parity in school enrolment. Problems of gender-based violence, child marriage the government in Bangladesh is committed to addressing many of the challenges facing women. Women’s participation in the workforce has been continuously rising. Three million Bangladeshi women are employed in the lucrative ready-made garment sector, which is Bangladesh’s largest export industry. Increasing numbers of women are involved in small and medium enterprises.
For years, women in Pakistan have been severely disadvantaged anddiscriminated against. They have been denied the enjoyment of a wholerange of rights – economic, social, civil, and political rights and oftendeprivation in one of these areas has entailed discrimination in another.Much of Pakistani society lives under the patriarchal, outdated code of so-called “honour” that systemizes the oppression of women by preventing them from, for example, choosing their own husband or working outside the home.
The Denial of Basic Rights for Women in Pakistan
The current legal status of women in Pakistan was shaped largely by the military regime of Zia ul-Haq, which began in 1977 and lasted until 1987. Under his regime a series of repressive and regressive laws were passed, which dealt specifically with the treatment of women-attempting to strengthen imaginary distinctions between the public and private spheres.
These laws represented a diversion from the past commitment of the Pakistani state to “secular values.” They included the Hudood Ordinance, which applies selected conservative interpretations of Islamic law in order to decide issues in the sphere of “family law” and sexual practices. Violence against women and girls—including rape, so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remains a serious problem.
There are an estimated 1,000 honor killings each year in Pakistan, according to a 2019 report by Human Rights Watch. The murder of 19-year-old Mahwish Arshad in 2018 Faisalabad district, Punjab, for refusing a marriage proposal gained national attention. But there are no official statistics around them, as they often go unreported or are logged as a suicide or natural death by family members. The passage of the 2016 bill, by which hono killings now carry a life sentence has made little difference. According to the Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), “Antiquated — and lethal — notions that ‘honor’ resides in women’s bodies and actions still prevail across Pakistan, and it will take far more than laws to effect a change when perpetrators of ‘honor’ crimes continue to act with impunity.”
Women from religious minority communities remain particularly vulnerable to abuse. A report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan found that at least 1,000 girls belonging to Christian and Hindu communities are forced to marry Muslim men every year. The government has done little to stop such forced marriages.Early marriage remains a serious problem, with 21 percent of girls in Pakistan marrying before the age of 18, and 3 percent marrying before age 15.The Taliban and affiliated armed groups continued to attack schools and use children in suicide bombings in 2018. In August, militants attacked and burned down at least 12 schools in Diamer district of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region. At least half were girls’ schools. Pakistan has not banned the use of schools for military purposes, or endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration as recommended by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2017.
The Harassment of Female Journalists in Pakistan
“For women in Pakistan, there is no safe space,” contends Gharidah Farooqi, a popular current affairs talk show host on NewsOne,
Over the years, Pakistan has earned a reputation of being a hard country for female journalists. While attacks on male journalists, the nature of the attacks on women journalists, amplified by the ingrained misogyny of a patriarchal social structure, is very different. On Aug 12, 2020 a group of women journalists issued a statement against government-affiliated social media accounts and supporters. “Vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for us to carry out our professional duties,” the statement said, adding: “In what is certainly a well-defined and coordinated campaign, personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public. To further discredit, frighten and intimidate us, we are referred to as peddlers of ‘fake news’, ‘enemy of the people’ and accused of taking bribes (often termed as ‘paid’ journalists or lifafas).”
Many women journalists alledge that whenever they write a political story or even tweet an opinion deemed unfavourable to the PTI or the other parties, the security establishment or the corporate sector, they are mercilessly trolled.
Following the deadly attack on two Christchurch mosques in New Zealand, there were reports that the killer had earlier travelled to Pakistan. When Gharidah Farooqi tweeted a CNN story about this, a storm of abuse rained down on her, calling her traitor and demanding she be tried for treason. she was the first female journalist in Pakistan to file a complaint of cybercrime with the FIA. accounts associated with PTI ran troll campaign against her.
An independent journalist and documentary filmmaker, Sabin Agha has been at the receiving end of threats from non-state actors due to her reporting in Balochistan. She and her fixers are both on the agencies’ radar.
Ailia Zehra, a Lahore-based journalist and managing editor of Naya Daur, a web-based news portal, opines that the likelihood of online physical and sexual threats translating into real-time events is very high for female reporters.
Pakistani women – Marching in March
Pakistani women have chosen International Women’s Day in Pakistan to reclaim their space in society, speak up for their rights, and demand justice from the system that has failed them because of patriarchal structures. Pakistan’s Aurat March (“aurat” means “women” in Urdu) saw its debut on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018. Every year on March 8 women across cities in Pakistan come out in large numbers to protest against and demand for more accountability for violence against women, and to support for women who experience violence and harassment at the hands of security forces, in public spaces, at home, and at the workplace.
These protests across Pakistan, have taken the form of marches, public art displays and performances highlighting challenges faced by women. And the shame is that every year radical Islamists pelt stones, shoes and sticks at the Aurat March participants. This year, the Aurat March (Women’s March) protests also focused on the damage caused by the COVID-19 outbreak in Pakistan. Calling it a “Pandemic of Patriarchy,” the protesters demanded the government increase the health budget to 5 per cent of GDP so that women may get better healthcare. Among the issues the protests drew attention to was the significant increase in domestic violence and child abuse as families were confined to their homes during the pandemic.
Women’s awareness of their rights, thanks to manifold efforts by Pakistani women’s rights groups, along with women’s greater participation in the workforce and attendant exposure to the rights movement, appears to have somewhat increased which ironically itself may have contributed to the increasingly violent backlash they are exposed to.
Bangladeshi Feminist movements
While protest marches marked International Women’s Day in Pakistan, breaking glass ceilings and paving a new path, a transgender started her journey as a news anchor in Bangladesh on the same day. Tashnuva Anan Shishir debuted on air on March 8, presenting all with late afternoon news bulletin for a private news channel. What marks women’s movement inBangladesh is their diverse and vibrant nature. Feministactivists and women’s rights organizations, despitetheir smaller numbers, have made their presencefelt through their engagements in various socialmovements, development activities, and protests againstfundamentalism, violence against women and staterepressions during Pakistani authoritarian rule. Undeniably, the women’s movement actors in Bangladeshhave gained significant advantages in attaining gender justice by challenging gender discrimination in political,social and economic spheres. The demands for changehas led to significant shift in state policies.
Progressionof Women’s Rights inBangladesh:
Since achieving independence in 1971, the Bangladesh government while tirelessly working to develop economically, it has also been fighting another battle for women’s rights in Bangladesh.Despite a patriarchal social framework, Bengali women have held the right to vote since 1947, and the country elected its first female Prime Minister in 1991. Women fought for their country in Bangladesh’s Liberation War, and the constitution that the country subsequently adopted promised equal opportunities for women in all areas.
The government has enacted numerous policies over the past decade focused on women’s rights in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has increased allowances for widows, eased the burden on lactating mothers in urban areas and provided job training in fields such as agriculture and electronics. The National Women Development Policy of 2011 aimed to establish equal rights for men and women but also included specific goals such as assistance for female entrepreneurs. To oversee the implementation of the development policy, the government formed a 50-member National Women and Child Development Council chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hasina has also vocally supported women’s empowerment in global forums such as the UN.
In Bangladesh, many women occupy real leadership roles. The majority society In Bangladesh supports women’s political and civic participation, cultivating women’s leadership roles in areas such elections and political processes. The number of women winning seats in mainstream party leadership committees is in hundreds. The proportion of women in parliament has continued to rise over the past decade and women hold seats in 12,000 local political offices. The country is setting an example in encouraging women workers to engage and create a stronger social network, advocating for their rights in local communities and connecting them to resources through community groups.
Recognizing the significant potential of women-owned businesses to accelerate economic growth in Bangladesh, government has helped organize women’s business forums across the country to expand loan opportunities. These efforts resulted in commitments from the Bangladesh Bank and several commercial banks to provide collateral-free loans for women entrepreneurs at concessional interestrates. In other sectors too women the number of women workers are gradually rising. Young female graduates are increasingly joining Bangladesh’s media industry. Wahida Zaman, for example, recently joined United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent wire service, as an apprentice sub-editor.
During the past decades, Bangladesh has improved its education policies; and the access of girls to education has increased and since the 1990s, girls’ enrolment in primary school has increased rapidly.
In 2010, Bangladesh enacted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010 and resultantly violence towards women, committed by men, has decreased significantly and is considerably low compared to south Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.
The country is internationally recognized for its good progress on a number of gender indicators. These include gender parity in primary and secondary education and maternal mortality that has declined by 66 per cent over last few decades, estimated at a rate of 5.5 per cent every year. Bangladesh ranks highest in the Gender Gap Index in South Asia achieving 47th among 144 countries in the world.