Violence against Women
By Dr Syed Ehtisham
Violence against women has been a universal phenomenon in the East and the West. In the West measures have been taken against it. They have met a certain degree of success.
The list of violent acts is long - wife beating, marital and other rape, sale and exchange of women, bride burning, nose slashing, forced and child marriage, and finally murder of women in the name of honor.
Two major schools of thought offer an explanation of women's subordination:
a) Idealist school holds that inferior status of women is natural, trans-historical and immutable.
b) Materialist theory holds that oppression of women is social, historical and an alterable phenomenon. .
The materialist approach offers that surplus value gave birth to private property which accumulated in the hands of men, who wanted their legitimate issue to inherit the property.
Structure and culture make unequal laws for men and women. Honor/Passion crimes are tri-dimensional and involve all the three actors - personal, familial and cultural. Violence is committed by individuals facilitated by religious, legal, social and political institutions.
Reporting crimes against women is a recent phenomenon. Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian scholar states that "a man's honor remains safe as long as the female members of the family keep their hymens intact".
Lama Abu-Odeh, an Arab scholar makes a clear distinction between honor and passion crimes.
1999 saw coverage of honor-passion crimes by international media-BBC, CNN, NBC, NY Times, Washington Post and Guardian of London (90 % of such crimes are reported from Muslim countries).
The most "celebrated" case was that of the "death of a princess," a BBC documentary of the execution of a Saudi princess and her lover, with a trial in a Sharia court.
Even among educated families a bride is expected to be a virgin. If not, they get gynecologists to perform surgical restoration of the hymen.
In Iran, the situation has worsened since the advent of theocratic state in 1979.
In March 2000, BBC aired a documentary on honor killings and followed up with interviews of Muslims. The general impression given by the interviewees was that honor killing was permissible in Islam. Moulvi Ghafoor, Naib (deputy) Amir of Jamaat Islami, the leading religious party of Pakistan, told a press conference that honor killing was Islamic.
Daughters and sisters of expatriates in European countries have been murdered for wanting to marry a man of their choice and for rejecting arranged marriages.
The informants prefer to remain anonymous.
Fatima Mernissi, a social scientist from Morocco, was physically assaulted by a male "scholar" from Pakistan in a conference in Malaysia.
Veiling as a device of social exclusion of women emerged in the latter period of Umayyad rule (AD 661-750). It was due to increasing profligacy, rampant polygamy, and ownership of concubines, which led to male jealousy and prudery in concealing their women from the eyes of other men.
Honor related violence among non-Muslims:
Such violence among Hindus is related to caste system, which is ordained by religion. Feminists have traced historic roots of culture of virginity in Hindu religion - one should marry a virgin, younger than himself.
Australian penal code allows sexual provocation as a cultural defense to murder. In Latin America it is related to machismo (manliness) and verguenza (sexual purity of women). In Cuba, it is used as defense against mixed race marriages. In Spain pure blood and sexual purity of women are important notions in theological, literary and legal texts.
M. Asano-Tamanoi studied the concept of shame, family and state in Japan. The state constructs a moral universe with family and households as its center.
Passion and Honor:
According to Dr Tahira Khan, honor and shame are dialectical terms; both are male attributes and by remaining silent and obedient a woman maintains a state of honor
Mothers in the East play overt/covert role in the oppression of their daughters, either because they are afraid or because they have been so socialized.
One never hears of a father/mother killing a son. Older women become enforcers. To keep property in the family, feudal families in Pakistan marry females to the Qur’an.
Religious roots of sexuality:
Islam continued most of the socio-legal disciplinary tools of the society it was born in, with some modifications; female sexuality is considered very strong. It is considered weak, passive and abhorrent in Judeo-Christian tradition.
But historical roots of misogyny existed before Christianity. In Biblical times a Jewish wife, sometimes one of many, could be put away at the wish of her husband. Women are supposed to keep silent in churches. If they want to learn anything they should ask their husbands.
Under Mosaic Law, divorce was initially permissible though only the husband could give it.
Stoning to death as punishment for loss of virginity predates Islam. Veiling and proper dress code for upper class women long predates Islam as well and was practiced in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism .
Coole quotes St Paul: Women but not men should cover their heads in church as a sign of submission.
Status of women in Islam:
Al Razi as quoted by Haqq and Newton, "The male share is that of two females. ". 43. Tohaffa says "God established the superiority of men over women" (Q 4:34-44). "Get two witnesses, if there are not two men, then a man and two women" (Q 2:282). 45.
To ensure paternity of children within marriage there is a waiting period (Idda) for divorced or widowed woman during which they may not have sexual or social interaction with other men. Idda predates Islam. Traces can be found during Hammurabi and Roman periods.
Driven by changes of mode of production from feudal-agrarian to mercantile-capital industrial, shape and nature of societal superstructures also changed extensively. Slaves, serfs and women were de-propertied. Enlightenment which brought liberalism, capitalism, individualism and democracy, resulted in the birth of feminist movement.
Female sexuality was de-virginized.
Societal acceptance of co-habitation brought major changes in status of out-of-wedlock children. Wife's adultery is considered a breach of contract.
Changing global economic and political realities have caused Muslim elite and power brokers to react more conservatively and have enacted more misogynist legislation .
The two centuries of British colonization had an extremely adverse impact on gender relations among the Muslims.
Muslim masculinity had been defeated in political arena. It could only assert itself in private arena of the family.
Another reason for control of female sexuality was the rise of agricultural economy and growth of landed property. Muslim women's right to inheritance could reduce landed assets. One response was to get the widow to marry a brother of the deceased. Another response was the development of Kafa'a (socio-economic compatibility); consequently, women lost the right to marry according to their choice, a right Islam had guaranteed.
The situation did not change much for women in independent Pakistan.
Daughters of rural elite, educated or otherwise or of peasants can all face dire consequences if they try to assert their marital rights.
Public perception and media coverage of honor crimes:
Folk literature is replete with stories of romances of famous couples like Heer-Ranjha, Laila-Majnoon and Sohni-Mahival. In these stories girls are bold and defiant and leave a mark on young people. But they all end up in tragedy.
Karo-kari (Honor killing) is believed to have arrived in Baluchistan and NWFP with Muslim invaders from central Asia.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that in 2000, Karo-kari killings in Sindh aggregated 1410 and were on the rise, 432 in 1993 and 886 in 1999.
HR advocates harassed:
Prominent lawyers and activists like Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani are threatened frequently (Asma was beaten up by the police in an HR rally).
On April 9, 1999 Daily news reported that hundreds of Taliban led by leaders of JUI (an Islamist party) chanted slogans in a rally that Asma was an infidel serving Zionist interests and should be arrested and hanged.
Politico- religious groups:
In India, RSS and Shiv Sena went on a rampage on Valentin's Day in 2001 and looted gift shops. In Kanpur they burnt the effigy of St Valentine.
On August 8, 2001, the newspaper Indian Express reported that two lovers were hanged by their own families. The execution was approved by the village community.
In Pakistan a village woman, Mukhtaran Mai was gang-raped in a hut surrounded by villagers on the orders of the village council. Her younger brother had spurned the advances of the village chief.
Socialization mediated by Religion, tribe and kin:
Present social structure of Pakistan seems to shape, facilitate and perpetuate gender-based discrimination according to the specific dichotomous standards of masculinity and femininity.
Violence against women and the law:
The legal system favors perpetrators of violence by providing loopholes in the law. Due to vested political interests the British exploited the local power structure, made alliances with them and granted them vast powers. The unchecked power of local/rural elite became institutionalized in the Jirga system in all provinces of Pakistan, except in the Punjab where they have Punchayat (sort of village council except that what the chief says, goes).
Within years of the initiation of the system women were bought and sold and killed on the slightest "moral' pretext.
Link of politicians to vested interests:
Women's status has never been on the agenda of political parties in Pakistan except during election campaigns to draw female workers and voters to the polling station.
Musharraf established a permanent national commission on the status of women. In September 2000, the chair of the commission, Shaheen Ali, a professor of law in NWFP, recommended that Honor killings be considered an offense against the state. Not much came of it.
Dismiss violence as the propaganda of "Westernized, spoiled urban women". These groups are funded by political parties and Arab countries.
Secular vision of law:
Radhika Coomaraswamy (Human Rights of Women) argues, "Without equity in the family, it is argued, there will not be equity in society”.