“The slogan of every woman here must be Educate, Educate, Educate!”

PT, 14 August, 1950
The Pakistan Times, 14 August, 1950

This is a small section from a discussion on the problems and solution regarding women in Pakistan. It is a full page piece written in The Pakistan Times Supplement, there is no information on the writer, other than her name, Mrs M. Saied. It offers a detailed discussion/opinion on women in relation to education, purdah, tradition, customs, marriage, economic dependency and more.

THE PURDAH

One of the greatest enemies of womanhood in Pakistan is the rigid religious code that tradition seems to demand. There is no code or rule or law, ancient or modern which has been passed for the whim or amusement of those in authority. Necessity of some kind or the other has demanded the code and it has been given out as a law to be obeyed. The only trouble in Pakistan is that traditions which are not now necessary are still being followed. Take purdah the biggest bone of contention between the bearded maulvis and the “Europeanised” young men and women. Which Muslim country is observing purdah with the rigidity with which people in Pakistan do? Yet we acknowledge they are Muslim countries. When their men and women come here, we embrace them and hail them as our Islamic brothers. Yet if a Pakistani woman is without a burqa what pious hands of Ya Allah Tauba! are lifted to heaven and the women are told that they are not Muslims but Kaffirs. Why? Is the purdah a hukum for only Pakistani women? I would request all pro-Purdah people to remember that if a Turk, Irani, Iraqi, Arabian or Egyptian woman without a burqa is a Muslim, so is the Pakistani woman who goes with no veil. Whether to be in purdah or to be out of it, worries many women. For the future of womanhood in this country, the girls should be allowed to lead their lives unburdened by the burqa. This will teach them to face the world untrammelled by the handicaps that a woman brought up in burqa suffers from. The other solution is that those already out of burqa should behave in a modest manner. I do not mean that they should sit or walk with hesitant steps and downcast eyes. No, but rather a quiet gentle manner of speech and behaviour. During 1944 in Calcutta, a British Colonel, talking of the W.А.С.ls said to me, “The Indian (pre-partition days, remember) girls never seem to lose their dignity.

Even the eighteen-year old girls conduct themselves with a lady-like charm that I have not found in women of any other nation.” Our problem is the abolition of the burqa. The solution is that we show the world that we can be “gentle women” of modesty without enveloping ourselves in yards and yards of suffocating material. And if any young lad waxes too emphatic on the benefits of the burqa I would advise his mother to keep him in purdah for a week. It will cure him for ever of saying that women should go about covered in veils. For those girls who have to attend schools or colleges and who do not go in buses but have to walk there in groups of three or four; for those who might take an outing with other women neighbours and friends; for those who make up a picnic party or who decide to go to a cinema show there is the loathsome problem of goondaism. It fills me with horror, I feel as if I am touching something putrid when I have to talk of this. This is nevertheless a very present and definite problem for women in Pakistan.

Three girls of school age used to pass along a certain road every day. And every day a certain young man would call out to them, telling them. The girls would go along their way in silence. The third day of this occurrence, when the same young man began to pass remarks, the tallest of the girls turned round, snatched the cane which the young fellow was carrying and gave him the beating he was itching for! The passers-by collected; cries of “Shabash! Zindabad! Changa! Changa!” rang out on all sides. The boy was taken to the Police Station. The three girls still pass on that road on their way to school.

If the women have courage, they will in time get rid of these goonda elements. Let there be no secrecy, no false shame about these occurrences. They must all be brought to right. When public opinion condemns a thing or a person, it has to go. Pressure from all sides must be put on the Government that they should deal very harshly, mercilessly and with absolute justice when a goonda is caught in any act of molestation. Women here are just getting used to the outside world. They must be given adequate protection to step out and be as free to move as they require. Instead of this they are jeered at, their personal appearance and their garments are discussed, they are deliberately pushed and shoved.

Heads of male institutions should arrange for lectures on etiquette. By the help of posters and other publicity, every Pakistani should be taught how to behave in the presence of women. It is very sad that in Pakistan there are many so-called educated men who are ill-mannered. They must be punished if seen doing or saying anything unbecoming before a woman.

One problem which does not arise for every woman and is yet of vital importance to the womanhood of Pakistan is that of divorce. There are so many rights which belong to women and which are very clearly given to them by the Prophet himself. When a woman does not observe purdah there are so many who twist and misquote the Holy Quran to prove their point. But when it comes to anything favourable to women and the women themselves quote it, they are told, Oh No, that is not the meaning at all.”

I hold no brief for divorce. It should be the last resort for ending an unhappy married life; but under circumstances which must be judged by an unbiased tribunal, a woman must be given the right to ask for and to apply for a divorce. No stigma or stain should be attached to a woman who is granted a divorce after the case has been judged by Muslim judges. The only way by which women can get these rights is by becoming active in the political sphere. The slogan of every woman here must be Educate, Educate, Educate!”

Problems are solved by everyone concerned doing their bit. And certainly it will be only by raising the standard of the women that Pakistan will find her rightful place in the modern world.

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