A Sine QuanonEconomic
Freedom for Women
By Amer Rizwan
Fetters of all kinds and degrees have always been the source of disgust for men and women. Human history is replete with sagas of violent efforts made for clinching freedom from the tyrants and despotic rulers. Together with the national freedom, individuals have also been striving to define and safeguard their personal freedom as well. But to define the nature and circumference of individual freedom has always been difficult for the simple reason that the definition of freedom varies from time to time and from place to place. Anyhow the social, religious and moral standard of a given society sets the limits of freedom for its individuals. In each age and every society, no matter how much modern, the limits of freedom differ for men and women; nay in some respects the nature and degree of these limits are just antithetical to each other. Again, traditionally speaking, economy has been regarded as the exclusive domain of men, but women have also played a vital role in economic affairs.
Modern is the age of Democracy and market economy, which entails liberty and equality for each and every citizen irrespective of colour, caste, religion or gender. Hence, freedom and equality are regarded as the corollaries of Democracy. However, I would condescend to add that they are the prerequisites of Democracy. Women¡¯s enfranchisement is crucial to socio-economic development – indeed a sine qua non. All the other forms of progress for which the reformers worked at messianic proportions, such as higher education and entrance into the professions, would have been meaningless had the women continued to be second-class citizens. True Democratic set up cannot be established without guaranteeing the freedom of individuals. And here lies the importance of economic freedom for women, as in Democracy a woman is considered as important as a man, and all kinds of freedom including economic freedom is guaranteed to her, so true spirit of Democracy is nonexistent without this freedom. The issue does not end here, when state treats her at par with men, then it automatically becomes obligatory on her part, to assertively exercise her right, so to become the effective part and parcel of the machinery of state and social structure.
Women constitute half of humanity. The successful utilization of their potential, skills and talents constitutes an important religious, social and development imperative. We must create the enabling environment for women to play a constructive role in our societies. In the modern age of competition and ever growing needs, more than ever the necessity and importance of economic freedom of women is being felt on the family level. Man and woman are but the two wheels of the carriage of life and as such both should be provided an equal opportunity to work for the betterment of their family as well as of their society.
Economic freedom for woman would also lessen the ratio of failed marriages and divorces, because most of the beautiful and talented women are married to goofy men because of economic compulsions. Further economically well off women, if unfortunately widowed earlier, can rear up their children with full care and concentration and more importantly with honour and dignity. The resultant sense of inferiority can thus be stopped from being developed in both these vulnerable groups of our society. It has its bearing on the society as well. Alongside the economic benefits which it would automatically accrue, the society would also reap its social fruits. Economically well off women are more inclined towards undertaking the social welfare projects. They may take upon themselves certain philanthropic activities i.e. setting up centers for homeless women and children, eradicating social evils, organizing walks against drugs, arranging Mina Bazaar or charity shows for poor and destitute people. Certainly this social awareness on the part of women is the fruit of economic freedom enjoyed by them in certain societies. Human history is replete with instances where women have excelled in the philanthropic activities. For instance the Nobel prizes in 2003 and 2004 were awarded to two women; Shirin Ebadi of Iran ¡°for her efforts for democracy and human rights especially the rights of women and children¡± and Wangari Maathai of Kenya for ¡°her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace¡± The purpose here is to highlight how economic freedom and self-sufficiency go a long way in inciting the softer emotions of the softer gender for the welfare of the fellow beings. Even otherwise the annals of history speak volumes with women legends that happen to be the icons on the firmament of humanity, nay their stature have defied the bounds of time and space. Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Maria Montessori, the 1991 Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi are but just a few names in this regard.
The successive Pakistani Governments claims to have transformed the participation of women in nation building over the recent years. According to Government sources,
¡®Today women make up 22 per cent of our Parliament, including seven ministers in the Federal Government. At the grassroots level, the country has elected 40,000 women Councilors, also as Mayors and Deputy Mayors. Some 27,000 of them have been promoted through a women¡¯s political participation project. National Commission on the status of women has been mandated to review all discriminatory laws. A major focus has been placed on economic and social empowerment of women through schemes like Micro Credit Programmes to fund income generation for women. Women in Pakistan are playing a major role in national development¡¯.
However, without effecting a systematic overhauling of our old social institutions, statements and claims of this nature seem baseless, hollow and unlikely to produce the desired results. The more daunting challenge is to make inroads into the centuries-old mindset, in the mostly feudalistic rural set-ups, where male is more powerful and socially resourceful, where the absurd paganic traditions have been clothed with the attire of religion, and where the fair-sex is subjected to the ugliest of rigours.
Economic freedom for woman is usually opposed by some of the circles of our society on religious and moral grounds. I do not understand this logic, because Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) never discouraged economic freedom for women. As a matter of fact, he always encouraged his wives to do something during their leisure for their economic well-being. In fact, Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) implicitly gave his approval to women¡¯s economic freedom by marrying Hazrat Khadija, a well-known businesswomen of her time. It has been very aptly pointed out in the Final Recommendations of the OIC Commission of Eminent Persons (CEP) held in Islamabad on 28-29 May 2005
¡°That Muslim females have equal rights as Muslim males and that both are required to pursue knowledge, be given equal opportunities to excel in their respective fields of specialization¡±
In short, we cannot imagine progress and prosperity without the full participation of the woman-folk and the same is impossible until and unless economic freedom is granted to them.
In order to be able to see the clearer picture of the prosperity of the human beings, we are to extricate ourselves of the web of taboos and dogmas. It is unadvisable to confine our Fifty percent of the population inside the four walls of the house for fear of moral degradation and social evils. It is, however, the lesson of experience that nearly everywhere in the world, moral degradation is caused by economic imbalance, and economic imbalance is created when half of the population is disallowed to be economically free for their well being. The future of living beings cannot be put at stake simply due to the whims of certain fanatics and religious bigots. Economic freedom for women is a sine qua non for the progress and prosperity, not only of our country, but also of the entire globe, and barring the fair sex from economic affairs would mean that progress would limp along on one leg, if at all it can. Only after giving economic freedom to women can we achieve progress and march forward in the comity of nations with pride and dignity. copyrights@amerrizwancopyrights@amerrizwan