Beyond Violence 

Gender Justice: A True Story

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Pakistani women attending session on women's rights

Over the years, the development world has seen a number of terms being used to express involvement of females in national policies. These terms have included gender equity, gender mainstreaming and gender responsiveness. A concern has grown over the years that these terms and expressions are rather innocuous. But they are being replaced with another political and potent term gender justice. Gender justice does not have a three/four word definition; it includes a major overhaul of policies with the aim of eliminating all kinds of individual, state and non-state biases and prejudices against females that hinder their access to justice because of their gender.

Pakistan has had a number of projects that aim at eradicating general violence against women, especially domestic violence, neutralising attitudes and perceptions that impede females’ access to jobs, economic activities and awareness. Some of these projects have emphasised the basic human right of women to give, or withhold, consent to marriage. Since son preference is the operating norm and the girls are thought to be an economic burden (that has to be passed on to another party through marriage sooner rather than later), their right to education is hardly realised. The story below is a true rendition of the struggle of a young woman who had to brave gross gender injustice in this regard.

“I am Tasmin, a girl student.

In my community, our families are against providing higher education to girls. Since my father lives in UAE and visits Pakistan every two or three years, my family has been exposed to outside world! Because of my love for education and because of the change it brings in our personal lives, I have decided to educate myself to the highest level possible!

There is a saying that happiness doesn’t last long. The last time my father came home, he brought the breaking news that he had fixed my marriage with one of his colleagues in UAE. We were also told that that man was already married. I was simply shocked to hear this news and I decided to discuss the issue with my parents. I tried to convince them that I wanted to continue my education and I was not at all interested in marriage. My father, like most fathers in the community, did not pay any attention to my words and fixed a date for our engagement. My father also forced me to leave my school. He was abusive and said I had to marry that person no matter what! If I didn’t, he threatened me with dire consequences.

Obviously, I was very disturbed. My mother was scared and upset as she had been threatened by my father not to interfere or else! As a result, when “that man” visited our house, I was engaged without my consent.

A few days later, a friend took me to the NGO working for women’s rights in our area, Haripur. There, I was able to attend some group meetings on gender justice and women’s rights. I requested the NGO volunteers and workers speak with my father. Through a process that involved discussion, disagreement and canvassing, my father finally understood the logic against forced marriages and the consequences of such marriages. My engagement was broken off and I am back to my studies, thanks to the dialogue and discussion that the NGO had with the community, my family and friends. I must say our home is now a much better place to live where a difference of opinion is understood and the right to disagree is upheld.”

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Written by Z. Hussein and published on 04-August-2014

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