2015 essay contest winner



by Zoonia Tahir

11th grader, Beaconhouse School, Pakistan


"I wish she'd said something different, but patriarchy is as prevalent around the world as racism and xenophobia are. We can't hide from it, not even here."

--Raquel Cepeda, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina


Pakistan is well known for harboring an awfully patriarchal culture. Girls marry at a young age, have children and are expected to be dutiful wives and remain in seclusion. Only a handful of people believe these norms to be outdated and absurd, but they are truly a minority. Being suppressed by cultural norms and with the lack of education, women in Pakistan are unable to integrate well into the cities and gain admission into the work force. The patriarchal culture prevalent in Pakistan expects women to consider the effect their decisions, including career choices, may have on the family honor as defined by patriarchs. A woman knows that if she breaks these societal rules, she might endanger her family’s reputation.


Majority of the women in Pakistan cover up and are expected to remain docile and submissive. Despite wearing a burqa, many women fall victim to assault and molestation at the hands of sexually repressed men, as well as acid attacks on wives by husbands and their relatives. There are numerous stories of women being harassed in public markets or of those who have been attacked or molested by their servants, tuition teachers or relatives; mostly stepfathers and uncles. Instead of handling such situations with maturity and responsibility by bringing criminals into the light, parents are usually in a state of denial and choose to close the chapter by merely severing ties in hopes of preserving the honor and shame of their daughters and sons who may have suffered the dreadfulness of their childhood been turned upside down.


The presumption that women are subservient to their fathers and husbands is what is keeping women in Pakistan from speaking up and being heard. Women are crushed into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. Instead of standing up for their rights and fighting for when wrong has been done to them, women are being trained into self-­‐doubt and self-­‐limitation while men’s unsupported overconfidence increases. When culture trumps women’s rights, new forms of culture can help women in the struggle for equality. Culture and traditional values must be challenged and changed if they work to deny women freedom and equality. The constitution of Pakistan ensures equal opportunities for women, "there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone." The constitution guaranteed women full participation in all circles of life. However, in reality most of the women especially those belong to middle and lower middle classes suffer from social injustice and gender discrimination. In the labor sector, she works hard, but paid less. Even a well-­‐educated woman has less chances of promotion than male colleague has. Hence, just passing laws is not enough. They need to be enforced and attitudes are key to this. There needs to be more awareness and education about women rights and freedom from patriarchy so that women in Pakistan may be able to break free from the cultural and societal norms suppressing them.


Our society is capable of producing child prodigies like Sitara Akbar, who managed to pass her ‘O’ Levels at the age of 11 as well as Malala Yousafzai, who is the youngest-­‐ever Nobel Prize winner. Moreover, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won an Academy Award for her documentary, Saving Face in 2012, being lauded as Pakistan’s first Oscar winner by the press and government. Such examples show that the women of Pakistan hold immense potential to excel in whatever they set out to do.


Women are slowly becoming bolder and valiant. We know more about the ignored spectrums of our society through the advent of social media. People cannot be silenced for long and the momentum is stirring within the youth. Youth, that needs to be brought up and cared for by educated, loving and peaceful mothers so that future generations are successful in spreading the message of love, not hate. Men need to be taught that women are not a source of shame but utilitarian and spirited members of society, wanting to give so much and asking for equality, respect and opportunity in return. With more education and awareness, people of Pakistan will be able to adopt a positive attitude towards fundamental women rights and will be able to break free from patriarchy and suppression by cultural norms.