Till General Zia-ul-Haq came to the scene in 1980s, Pakistan had made great strides for the uplift of women. Since the mobilization of women had been instrumental to the creation of Pakistan , especially in All India Muslim League’s election campaigns and the civil disobedience campaign in Punjab and NWFP through out the 1940s (during which no less a religious personage than Pir of Manki in NWFP endorsed women coming out without the veil as perfectly Islamic), the fondest hopes of women politicians like Mumtaz Shahnawaz and Shaista Ikramullah was complete equality regardless of gender and in those first few decades, they had managed to clinch that legally. (Click here to read more about Pakistan’s founding mothers. )
The high point of the women’s movement was the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 and then Fatima Jinnah’s candidacy – endorsed unanimously by leftists, centrists and right wingers- as president of Pakistan. These two events turned the gender landscape of Pakistan on its head. The first of these was important because it made polygamy virtually impossible and practicable only after a gruelling arbitration process in front of an arbitration council- which was designed to create maximum hurdles for the would-be bigamist. This law was designed by none other than the famous Muslim Modernist and rationalist Allama Pervez- who was inspired by Iqbalian notions of Ijtehad.
It is this law that was recently brought into limelight when a rather rotund PML-Q MPA Samina Khawar Hayat – whose politics is based on the fact that her father in law was a legislator as well- declared that she would willingly give permission to her husband to marry twice, thrice or even a fourth time. Consequently she has faced universal condemnation from all sides – especially liberal women legislators from her own party like Kashmala Tariq- leading to infighting not just between women of different parties but within the PML-Q as well. Ultimately party leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi had to call up Samina Khawar Hayat to tell her to shut up, which she did but not before she had made a mockery of the political system on many TV programmes.
Samina Khawar Hayat is a member on women’s reserved seat. The way it works is that reserved seats are distributed amongst the top parties according to their seat percentage on general constituencies. Samina Khawar Hayat is three hundred pounds of a massive valid reason as to why this system ought to be re-considered. Instead the reserved seats should be filled by allowing women an additional vote for the reserved seats (the same system ought to be followed for reserved seats for minorities as well).
There is need to sit down and figure out a better way of doing things than this because so long as idiots are allowed to come up and further worsen women’s lot in this country, we shall remain a laughing stock in the world.
POST SCRIPT: Eligible women interested in becoming second, third or fourth wives of Mr. Khawar Hayat can find Mrs. Khawar Hayat’s contact details here. Interested parties only.