The main purpose of this article is to pay tribute and homage to all the brave women who fought for women rights and to the great leader of this country Muhammad Ali Jinnah who throughout his life advocated the women rights and equality. Many women in this country fought for democracy, economic, political and social rights to realise the vision of great Jinnah.
When the women in Pakistan celebrating the international women day, it is important to look at the vision of the founding father of the nation regarding the status and role of the women. It is important because on that basis, we can judge whether Pakistani women enjoying the status envisioned by the father of the nation or not. Unfortunately, we have failed to make Pakistan a better place for women according to the vision and principles of Quaid e Azam.
That is what founding father of the nation Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said in 1944 regarding his vision about women rights. “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless their women are side by side with them…It is crime against humanity that our women are shut up with in the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live”.
As a man of principals, he stood firmly on his ideas and believes throughout his entire life. He never made compromise on his principled position on women rights. As a leader of All India Muslim League AIML) before the partition, he opened the doors of party for the young Muslim women activists. He practically showed that how the women should be treated in a political party and movement. He was a true champion of women rights and cause.
Miss Agatha Harrison, one of the speakers at a memorial meeting for the great Jinnah in London, on September 14, 1948, narrated, “When Jinnah was a student in London, the suffragette movement was gathering momentum; …young Jinnah always came to our meetings and spoke in defence of the vote for women. Even then he was not afraid of championing an unpopular cause.”
During his long parliamentary career, Jinnah consistently and religiously stood against every sort and shade of discrimination against women and other unprivileged classes. Thus, he stoutly supported Bhupendranath Basu’s Special Marriage Amendment Bill, which provided for legal cover to marriages falling outside the Hindu and Muslim laws, although it caused unrestrained consternation among vast sections of the vocal Muslim strata.
He materially helped in the passage of the controversial Sarda Act, prohibiting child marriage, which again, was stoutly opposed by the predominantly conservative segments of the Indian society. But he never compromised his principals for political gains and consideration.
He encouraged Muslim women to join the Muslim league and to take positions at every level. He took keen interest in the mobilisation of Muslim women in the freedom struggle and Pakistan movement. He was an enlightened and progressive leader who never compromised on women rights and equal status of women.
In December 1938, at the AIML session at Patna, Jinnah went a step further. He appointed a Central Women’s Committee, with Fatima Jinnah as convener, for the specific purpose of drafting a programme for the social, economic and cultural uplift of women, and, among other things, to organise provincial and district sub-committees under the Provincial and Districts Muslim League.
Meantime, at Jinnah’s insistence, the Muslim Women Students Federation and the Women National Guards were launched, both of them designed to mobilise the womenfolk alongside the men in the struggle for Pakistan. The Federation could be a closed-door gathering, but not the National Guards who, by their very avocation, had to work in the open, discarding the purdah and the traditional women’s role. Surely, a revolutionary step for the early 1940s, and a big leap forward towards women’s emancipation and empowerment, towards realising their potential, towards engendering gender equality.
Thus, within a brief spell of ten years (1937-47), the apathetic and timid, home-bound, purdah-clad, and superstition-prone Muslim women had been able to transform themselves radically. They were turned into a pro-active, vocal, highly motivated and mobilised group — supremely conscious of their latent potential for political and social action.
When the question of purdah (veil) was raised by a section at Patna, Jinnah effectively intervened, arguing, “It is absolutely essential for us to give every opportunity to our women to participate in our struggle for life and death. Women can do a good deal within their homes, even with purdah.”
On another occasion, Jinnah pled, “Man must be made to understand and made to feel that woman is his equal and that woman is his friend and comrade and [that] they together can build up homes, families and the nation.” Another famous quote which rightly emphasised his concern for gender equality was, “No nation achieves anything unless the women go side by side with men — even to the battlefield.”
On his part, Jinnah always took his sister, Fatima, along with him almost everywhere, and she walked shoulder to shoulder — not behind him. Clearly, this was meant to proclaim a message, loud and clear, for everyone within reach the ennobling message of gender equality.
Quad e Azam made it clear that women will enjoy equal status and rights in Pakistan. He had the clarity of mind regarding the role and status of women. Quad made it clear that women participation in nation building is must. Women should not be confined to the four walls of the houses. He encouraged the women to get education play active role in the economic and social development. Quad stressed the need to break the shackles of ill traditions and customs which prohibits the women to play their due role.
When a women activist asked him about the status of women in Pakistan, the great leader abruptly replied in those words. “Tell your young girls, I am a progressive Muslim leader. I, therefore, take my sister along with me to areas like Balochistan and NWFP and she also attends the sessions of the All India Muslim League and other public meetings. Insha Allah, Pakistan will be a progressive country in the building of which women will be seen working shoulder to shoulder with men in every walk of life.”
We clearly ignored the vision and commitment shown by the founder of the nation regarding the women rights. That is why we are the second worst country on the face of planet earth as far as gender equality is concerned. According to the Global Gender Gap Index, which shows the gap between men and women based on various socioeconomic indicators, Pakistan is ranked 143 out of 144 countries in 2017.
The index is used to depict gender equality in a particular country. Our poor ranking clearly depicts a vast difference in the economic and social status of men and women. A closer analysis of the index also reveals an unequal distribution of opportunities and resources between men and women. Access to education and healthcare facilities and barriers in the workplace has a role to play in this respect.
Founding father’s vision and women rights
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17 November, 2019