Who has the authority to grant permission? That depends on your culture and your perception of who’s in charge. Mostly in the West, when it comes to kids, parent(s) or the legal guardian has that power and right to justly care, manage and supervise another person in a fair and humane way, where rights are pretty much protected. Yet, in some Eastern cultures where men are traditionally in positions of power and authority have this right, not only over children but also over adult women. I don’t believe this is an equitable distribution of power, nor is it a helpful attitude in developing nations where many factors already put women and children at a disadvantage.
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In Pakistan, although women’s rights are largely defined (and derived) by religious and tribal customs, I think tribal customs or traditional practices are to blame for women’s inequality. It’s no secret according to the actual Islamic principles, not the ones interpreted by power-hungry men, that women have equal rights, but we will never be able to take advantage of those rights unless they are enforced social, politically and economically from the top down. What’s behind this power is the notion of the notion of namus (face/honor) is the single most important underlying factor driving their national behavior. It’s central to understanding
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Girls are raised according to these dimensions of culture with the expectation of a life that can seem like nothing more than a series of compromises. Yet, like many women around the world, while I’m personally comfortable with assuming the role of family caregiver, I also presume the rights and responsibilities that come with this position: Namely, the right to a just and humane existence along with personal sovereignty and dignity. Being a wife and mother should not be mutually exclusive of human rights.
The roots of this power play between men and women in Pakistan, especially in rural areas, goes back centuries. Women continue to be segregated from men (as in many Eastern cultures). They live in purdah, which means “curtain” in Urdu — completely separate from men. The only contact they have with men is with members of the immediate family. In these areas, everyday tasks which involve leaving the house, like shopping, are carried out by men. Women’s work involves staying behind to clean, cook and raise children. However, many Pakistani women go out to work these days and are increasingly experiencing more levels of equality with men. Life varies dramatically between regions of Pakistan. A more liberal middle class plays an important role in the big cities, where conditions differ greatly from those in rural areas, which are far more traditional. The area in the northwest, bordering Afghanistan, dominated by tribal customs, is extremely conservative and very traditional with a self-styled strict adherence to Islam favored by the Taliban.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, although women were previously forbidden from voting or being elected to political office,
The ongoing battle of the sexes is being played out in different stages in different cultures. Each one is working through deeply held-notions of who is in charge and why, by whose authority and at what price. It’s not so much the notion of independence (of women) that seems to be at issue with traditional cultures so much as the loss of face (by men) when the power shift happens. Santosh Kalwar said, “a strong gives forgiveness but weak gives permission.” My advice to the men who uphold traditional misogynistic practices that were created by and for them is to seek to be advisors, not grantors of permission. Therein lays your power.
It’s the kind of power reflected in the upcoming documentary,
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