Why the murder of a Pakstani minster is bad for women everywhere

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Salman Taseer

Today Pakistan is on high alert. The murder of liberal politician Salman Taseer yesterday has shocked the world – shot by one of this own bodyguards for being against the country’s blasphemy laws. Terrifyingly, 500 scholars later praised the killer and told their followers not to grieve or they would suffer the same fate. They warned that there “should be no expression of grief or sympathy for ….those who support blasphemy”.

The liberal elite in the country is small and the radical mullahs draw a large support base – not least based on fear and intimidation, using violence as a tool to silence equal values. Taseer argued that Islam did not attack minority groups, but protected human rights. Interpreting Muslim values can be a risky thing to do in a country where conservative religious values hold heavy sway. The thousands who gathered to mourn him at his funeral today have made a bold, brave stand for justice at the risk of their own lives.

His death is bad news for liberalism in Pakistan – and it is very, very bad news for women. Religious extremism and the annihilation of women’s right go hand in hand.

 Taseer had championed the cause of Asia Biba, the Christian woman sentenced to death and visited her in prison with his own wife and daughter to show support. He had made a stand over improving the status of women in Pakistan, where there is much work to be done. He had argued for allowing them equal status in a country where many still consider rape to be a woman’s fault.  The Women’s Protection Bill of 2006, for example, was undermined by fierce criticism for offering women the tiniest amount of protection against rape and forced marriage. The law was brought in originally to try and amend the Hudood Ordinances laws, which meant among other measures that a woman who had been raped was liable to prosecution for adultery if she could not produce four male witnesses to the assault. That gives some idea of the uphill struggle facing liberals in Pakistan.

Tributes from some Pakistani women were made today as they feared his death would equal steps backwards for women’s empowerment. Shehla Akram, president of Punjab’s Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “He was one of the most progressive leaders of Pakistan and one who was wholly committed to improving conditions for women in the country.”

 Today we mourn the death of Salman Taseer as a tragic loss in the fight to promote equality and fair treatment for women worldwide.

What motivates a female suicide bomber?

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

 What makes a man want to kill himself and as many others in the process? Religious extremism perhaps? Community pressure? The promise of a virgin-filled Paradise after death? The belief in a holy war?           

Getty Images: A mother of two from Gaza City makes a video statement for Hamas days before blowing herself up, killing four Israelis and wounding seven others.

And, if these are a few of the reasons – what are the motivations more specifically for a female suicide bomber?

On Saturday – Christmas Day – a female suicide bomber killed more than 40 people after detonating an explosives-laden vest in an aid distribution centre in North-western Pakistan
This is thought to be the first woman acting as a suicide bomber in Pakistan. The right wing press have had a field day with this story because the murderer was dressed in a burkha.

The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility. It is thought to be a protest over the handling of the nearby border with Afghanistan by the Pakistani authorities.In the case of suicide bombing – the majority of which are committed by men, the very vast majority – the martyr is fueled by a belief in a holy war, and the honour of dying for this cause, and for the promise of better to come. It is a very male based ideology – 72 sumptuous virgins waiting to deliver “everlasting happiness”.

But the Taliban is no friend to women.

After all, if in Islam female sexuality is something to be respected – the Taliban take this ideology a step further to be something to be feared, repressed, punishable. Women are to cover their faces because “the face of woman is a source of corruption”. Under Taliban rules, women are not to be educated, and face public flogging and execution if they break their rules. So, affiliation with the Taliban appears on the face of it an unlikely motive for a female suicide bomber. And yet the bomber on Saturday is believed to have been acting for the Taliban. 

AP: The Christmas DAy Pakistan bombing

 In researching this post, the study “Female Suicide Bombers”by Debra D Zedalis starts with a rather suprising quote from Hiba, a mother of five- and a suicide bomber trainee.

“I have to tell the world that if they do not defend us, then we have to defend ourselves with the only thing we have, our bodies. Our bodies are the only fighting means at our disposal”

 This rings surprising sounds of Femen, the activist group based in the Ukraine, which argues that they have to use their bodies because it is all they have to protest with. This idea of physical-based protest, of women being rendered so powerless that their bodies are the only tool they have to protest does not sound particularly likely in this case, since suicide bombing is a tactic used predominantly by men.

Some reports suggest that the enforced female attire is the biggest help for women working with the Taliban – after all the shapeless burqa is a perfect hiding place and male police are forbidden to touch or search women. Incidentally, see this story on a father who killed his own daughter who he claimed had been joining a suicide mission with al-Qaeda.   

 Perhaps it’s wrong to try and seperate motivations between men and women taking such drastic actions. It does strike me as sadly ironic that allowing women to take part in such acts of protest could be seen a sign of rising status for women in the Arab world. Hamas, for example, issued a fatwa that women could participate in suicide missions – but has still banned women from smoking water pipes, or having their hair cut by male hairdressers, for example. 

Should we be celebrating the inclusion of women in extremist politics and actions as in some dark way a step forward for Islamic women?

Related Articles

Female suicide bomber kills 43 at Pakistan food aid center (capitolhillblue.com)

Villagers fear hunger after Pakistan bombing (abclocal.go.com)

Najim al-Anbaky, Iraqi, Kills Daughter Recruited As Al-Qaida Bomber (huffingtonpost.com)

The Pakistani rape victim who fought back

December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

An interesting feature in the newspapers this week. Kainat Soomra, the Pakistani girl who was gang-raped and horrifically assualted at the age of 13, is still paying the price four years later.

Her family have had to move. Her brother has been killed. The stigma about rape is such that two of her sisters have lost their husbands or boyfriends through being associated with Kainat. This story is a stark reminder of how, in many communities, the rape victim is punished again, and again, and again. For something for which she was entirely blamless.

This case should make every woman feel humble. It’s easy to deplore this scenario and the circumstances which surround it. To shudder at any community that treats a woman’s life with such disregard, and seeks to punish her for being brave enough to stand up to her attackers – and let us remember she was only 13.

But to hear the recriminations this girl is going through for being so brave should make us feel humble, and full of admiration. Her story deserves to be read – it’s the least we can do.

Pakistani baby reaches fame at just 40 days old

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sara, the little Pakistani baby at the centre of a £700 offer from James Caan

ITV: Sara, the Pakistani baby

This little girl has been one of the most recognisable faces in the media in the last week. This is the Pakistani baby, only 40 days old, who was the subject of a £700 offer from entrepreneur James Caan. Her village was destroyed in the Pakistan floods and Caan offered her family money to give her a “better life”.

 Amid deserved outrage, Caan has apologised. He said he was being lead with his heart, and not his head. But what is “a better life”? This baby must be among the poorest people in the world. She doesn’t even have a home, and was born directly into the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters recorded. She lives a poverty that most of us can only imagine. 

And the money offered for her was also a very large amount for people struggling, hungry, homeless. In terms of Caan giving her a better life – she would certainly have a richer life – but then, money doesn’t buy happiness.

Not having money however is a sure-fire route to unhappiness, and this girl will have less access to education, travel, technology, the arts and a wealth of other resources that Caan’s brother (for whom he was hoping to give Sara – the little girl – to) would surely have been able to give her. So was it selfish of her parents to want to keep her? To deny her those experiences? Or does the bigger fault lie with Caan for assuming he is in position of enough superiority to be able to offer to buy her in the first place? 

The trouble with this story is that it is almost a pre-emptive admission of failure. Caan was in Pakistan to work with a range of charities and rebuild Sara’s village. The £250,000 project will build 150 new brick houses in the hope that should another disaster strike, the village with withstand the challenges.  Caan’s attempt to take the child out of that community is an expectation that things are not going to get better for the villagers. With the weight of international media and donations bearing down on it, the village of Jan Lunda is in a better position than many communities in Pakistan in terms of reconstruction.

 And yet, despite all this, he still thinks she would have a better life away from her family and her community. It’s not a ringing endorsement.

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