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December 27, 2018

Daughters of the east


December 27, 2018

The East is where the sun rises every day, giving the world a new morning and fresh hope. But for the majority of daughters born here, each dawn is a harbinger of tough challenges that they have to cope with throughout their lives.

For many women, it means no education; no economic independence; no control over important decisions; total subjugation to men in their families; and a life of absolute thankless servitude. Their birth is rarely celebrated.

In this bleak scenario, women who defy all norms that are duly supported by their guardians and emerge as women of substance deserve appreciation. The time, energy and efforts involved in rearing, educating, grooming and transforming girls and boys into accomplished individuals are priceless. Hard work, sleepless nights and financial sacrifices are involved in getting an education, which doesn’t just involve one person but at times also includes entire households, teachers and institutions.

It is quite easy to live a life of leisure where a person does nothing more than satisfy his primal instincts, with no concern for intellectual pursuits. But life is tough, perhaps even tougher for women who are keen to improve their situation.

The loss of human lives at the hands of murderers or terrorists is bad in itself, but when the deceased happens to be talented and accomplished – an intellectual, a teacher or a social activist – the whole nation is made to suffer an insurmountable loss. When those who have the capacity to bring about positive change are eliminated, what is left behind can only be described as negativity.

Benazir Bhutto was one such woman of substance. She came from a privileged background that gave her easy access to the best educational institutions and perfect guidance to achieve an enviable distinction. As the first female prime minister who was elected in 1988, Benazir resolved to change the destiny of women in Pakistan. “As a woman leader, I thought I brought a different kind of leadership,” she is quoted to have said. “I was interested in women’s issues, in bringing down the population growth rate…as a woman I entered politics with an additional dimension – that of a mother.”

Now, the question is: did she succeed in her commitment to alter the fate of women in her country during her two incomplete terms in power? Maybe not in the way she would have desired. Consequently, Pakistan’s population has experienced a substantial increase and there hasn’t been much of an improvement in the misogynistic outlook held by many people in society.

According to Benazir, one of the factors that contributed to this is the way men have interpreted religion and prevented women from taking on the reins of leadership. Although Benazir managed to become premier twice, she had to face opposition from the so-called extremist elements who resented her secularist and modern agenda. She was forced into self-imposed exile and had to live in Dubai for many years.

But throughout this turbulent period, Benazir emerged as leader with sound political acumen and wisdom, qualities that could only come from her unique experiences. Losing a person of her calibre was akin to reducing a treasure trove of wealth to dust. While many may not agree about her credentials as a leader, no one can deny the fact that she did have immense scholastic achievements to her credit. It is quite unfortunate that her followers were forced to bear the untimely loss of their leader when she had reached her prime and was fully geared to take on all her political and ideological adversaries.

She returned to Pakistan in October 2007, with renewed determination to make Pakistan an outstanding country. But in a matter of weeks, all these aspirations were shattered with just one bullet, leaving everyone in a state of shock – even those who didn’t consider her to be a competent leader.

Her loss dealt a critical blow to the dreams of those daughters of the East who looked up to her to remove them from the shackles of centuries-old traditions that denied them rights as human beings. For them, Benazir was a source of inspiration and hope who bore qualities of both knowledge and leadership that few men can boast.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and is on the adjunct faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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