As one of the youngest girls in my family, I’ve always been encouraged to spread my wings and change the idea of what a woman is in society. Of course, on the road towards fulfilling my dreams, whatever they were at that specific moment since as children we go through many phases, namely wanting to be president, I too faced the obstacle of society’s unending bias towards women. The hopeless degradation of women in magazines, online, and in the streets continually disgusted me. Just a day ago, when I was walking on the streets to meet a friend two men yelled “Hang on, hang on beautiful! Where do you think you’re going? Stop!” as if that was their version of flattery. But no matter how disgusted I was, I forced myself to keep walking and tune them out.
In my Pakistani family full of strong female role models who had endured sacrifice and never conformed to any stereotypical oppressive ideas of women “subjugated” to domesticity, I sometimes felt inadequate because I always wanted to prove to people that I was strong, just like my aunts, and my cousins and my mother. As my mother puts it, “Be strong, be bold, be confident, stand tall.” That mantra rings in my ears, but is definitely hard to follow at times. In Pakistan, sexism is definitely an issue and there is a hugely disproportionate gender ratio between girls and boys in literacy, schooling, and job employment. Malala Yousafzai is one young girl who fought all the odds against her and strived as a young person to educate the world about the importance of education for girls. Her message was that we must pick up our books and our pens, as they are our weapons against violence and tools instrumental in painting a vision of world peace.
I would see girls wearing hijabs in my school being whispered about, hearing that they are “oppressed” even when the hijab is indeed a symbol of feminism in its way of promoting self choice and expression of freedom in the form of modesty. I always admired my friends who stood proudly and confidently even in the midst of the talk. In Pakistan I would see my family members wearing scarfs and covering themselves and that to me was a sign of beauty; one of beauty, freedom, and nothing that needed explanation or justification. Women do not need justification or explanation; they need to be supported and have voices to speak out about their experiences, goals, and dreams. The statistics speak for themselves. Only 34 % of urban women and 6 % of rural women are educated, and female factory workers work for around 30 dollars per month. In their lives, these women will be susceptible to maltreatment often in their own homes as signs of domestic violence by a spouse or family member, or on the streets as they will be harassed and teased. So, when will the vicious cycle end? And why are these statistics not changing?
To remedy the gender divide, and to silence these statistics there needs to be more support and vocational groups that advocate for women’s rights and growth in society. The Women Workers Help Line established in Lahore aims to generate change by creating more awareness about the lack of women’s rights. The group organizes workshops, and meetings to discuss these issues and let women know that they can change their “fate.” Hundreds of women attend these meetings open to the public. They discuss issues like women’s participation in politics, which is clearly lacking, and necessary for women to gain more rights. In the past, legislation has been passed that women would not be allowed to contest in elections or cast votes. The Help Line is a group that, with more recognition and support, can help remedy this significant issue among others.
Women deserve a voice, just as all citizens do regardless of gender, or race. If women have voices, then they can stand up for the women who are suffering from atrocities, whether in their workplace, their home, or their school. Education and literacy is the first step in making sure young girls know they have the power to create change in spite of what society says. Let’s make sure that no more girls have to suffer to gain an education, and let’s make sure that no more girls have to say that they were abused or did not receive adequate pay because of simply their gender. Because as active global citizens, we can all sympathize with each other, join hands, and be the change we want to see in the world.