Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Name and shame

When members of the provincial assembly in Sindh recently turned to fisticuffs to defend the honour of a female counterpart who was being sexually harassed by an MPA from the ruling party, the high profile punch-up turned the spotlight on the routine harassment of women in all spheres of life. That women are harassed, brutalised and even murdered in Pakistan is not news nor is the fact that little is done by the government to curb the institutional and social repression of women.

Yet, every once in a while the juxtaposition of the abuse of women and the complicity of the state and society in that abuse is hard to ignore. Yesterday was one of those days in Peshawar. In the NWFP assembly a female member of the provincial government of the beards submitted an adjournment motion to suspend the regular proceedings of the house to discuss an important issue: renaming the province to give it an appropriately Islamic appellation. Meanwhile, in a lawyer's office yet another sorrowful tale of exploitation was being narrated. It has all the usual ingredients: an impoverished woman, a rich, licentious man, threats and intimidation, and elders willing to subordinate morality to a misogynistic culture.

That the unfortunate woman had to give an account of her suffering to a reporter while her democratic representative sought to adjourn the assembly's proceedings to discuss the 'urgent' matter of changing the province's name is an elegiac lament for a society that has lost its soul. More damningly, they are few mourners.

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