What is the role of women in economic activities and social development of Gilgit-Baltistan’s society and what are the impediments in the way of emancipation and empowerment of women? These questions perplex me.
I don’t know about the past, but I have been trying to understand class structure, social relationship and status of women in the setting of a village like Jalalabad, one of the major towns of Gilgit capital district, where I was born and brought up.
It is very disappointing for me to see women, especially those belonging to the poor class not participating in any positive activity outside their homes such as cultural, social and religious gatherings. They are kept confined within the four walls of their homes just like a household item and are not permitted to go outside to enjoy entertainment.
Women have been doing all the essential works at home from dawn to dusk, they are neither acknowledged and nor given due respect
Some people think that if women are allowed to take part in the social and cultural activities, there will be extra burden on men to do work like pressing own clothes, making meal and other house chores. This is an outdated patriarchal mindset that women can’t do certain jobs which are done by men and that women have to perform certain chores only at homes. In developed and civilized societies these misconceptions have been proved wrong.
While women have been doing all the essential works at home from dawn to dusk, they are neither acknowledged and nor given due respect. In our patriarchal society, we have objectified women rather than consider them as a human being giving them equal respect and place in society.
The so-called ‘honour’ problem, patriarchy and cultural taboos have suffocated, stigmatized and suppressed women’s talent and feelings. In the context of Gilgit city, it is even worse as women are not allowed to participate in a single economic and cultural activity.
For instance, in my village Jalalabad, although women work day and night in harsh weather at home, at crop fields, fruits farms and pastures, they are not given equal share in properties, crops and other agriculture products. The proceeds received from sale of agriproduct is not divided, or shared with women equally. They always remain dependent on the male members of family.
Some people even exploit the poor families by allowing them to work at their farms on nominal wages. There are so many families in Jalalabad who are working on the farms of rich people but are paid pathetically low wage.
Most of the poor families who work on the rich people’s farms to earn livelihood belong to labourer class. Their dignity and respect are insignificant in the eyes of the rich. They are forced to perform any sort of work howsoever minion.
Male chauvinism and hypocrisy prevail in every stratum of life and in many layers in our society
In fact, in this whole exploitative system, women suffer the most and face the brunt of the situation, since their male members are not earning enough to feed the whole family. Therefore, they also have to go out to work on farms of the rich. This is a contradiction of the class-based society and patriarchal system. On the one hand women are not permitted to step out of the four walls of their home to participate in cultural activities. When it comes to earning livelihood, the ‘honour’ evaporates, and women are forced to work in open fields.
Male chauvinism and hypocrisy prevail in every stratum of life and in many layers in our society. It is very difficult to unmask or question them.
The elite class women have different parameters of ‘honour’ and status than the poor class women. The elite class women can enjoy luxuries of life, go outside their homes to attend social gatherings, marriage parties. They are especially invited to marriage parties where they can dance. Whereas the parameter of ‘liberty’ and ‘honour’ of a poor woman is to work in the farms of effluent people, eat three times a day and to help their male members of family in earning.
Religious orthodoxy has been a major stumbling block in the way of liberty and empowerment of women
Over dependence on male members and less involvement in the economic activities in a village like Jalalabad, shatters the dreams of young girls to choose their life partner. They remain unmarried throughout their life due to poverty and social backwardness. Even an illiterate young man desires an ‘educated’ and ‘pretty’ girl to be his life partner. A poor girl, howsoever beautiful or skilled she may be, is not considered worthwhile for marriage.
Similarly, religious orthodoxy has been a major stumbling block in the way of liberty and empowerment of women. The religious clerics play a major role in determining the fate of women in our society. They give sermons in mosques that a woman should not be allowed to go outside her house. No one dares to contest or question these societal taboos.
In today’s fast changing globalized world one cannot think of a balance society and progress without the equal participation in socio-economic and cultural activities and empowerment of women.
Hence the people of Jalalabad will have to think about the grave situation and challenges to their society that they will not be able to make progress and address social issues of women, especially the poor class, unless they are treated at par with men.
Shahzaib Hassan is a student of Forman Christian College, Lahore, studying political science and English literature. He hails from Jalalabad, Gilgit.