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Islamization's Impact On Women In Pakistan
Wilfred Cantwell Smith
May 2012

Pakistan clearly has significant gender disparities, and economists are beginning to document the constraints these impose on economic growth. What is less clear is the impact of Islamization. To what extent have Islamization policies contributed to Pakistan's gender disparities? Gender roles are largely determined by culture, but Islamization plays a role in reinforcing traditional culture. Proponents of Islamization position their policies as being a positive force for women, emphasizing that they serve to protect women's dignity and honor. The main Islamic parties in Pakistan today are careful to put a �women friendly� face on their actions, stressing that they are not interested in a program of �Talibanization.� Instead, they focus on the perceived social benefits of maintaining a more traditional role for women in society as being profamily. Others see things differently. They label policies as reactionary and anti-female. Usually their focus is on the discriminatory legal environment stemming from Sharia's, but other policies catch their ire too, such as gender segregation and the Islamists' hostility towards family planning.

The tension between Sharia's and established human rights standards and women's right is well documented. In general, this literature focuses on how the restoration of Shari'a as public law in Muslim countries erodes the status and rights that women have achieved under secular law. Pakistan's Constitution guarantees women equal rights, and empowers the government to take affirmative action to protect and promote those rights. However, over the years, parallel Islamic legal systems have been promoted which undermine those rights. Like the Federal Shari'a 

Court (FSC) established by General Zia ul- Haq in 1980. The gender bias of Shari'a is undeniable. Women have unequal rights to inheritance, termination of marriage, minimum age of marriage, and natural guardianship of children. Polygamy is allowed, and there are grossly inadequate provisions for women's financial security after divorce. Pakistan's controversial Hudood Ordinances, particularly with regard to Zina (sex), are also discriminatory. By blurring the line between rape and adultery, the Zina Ordinance creates the possibility that a woman can be convicted of adultery if she cannot prove rape. �

Women's groups have campaigned strenuously against Islamization in general and specifically for �anti-female� bias of General Zia ul-Haq's Islamization policies a major theme of the 1988 national campaign. More recently, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) urged the government to repeal the Hudood laws in a much-publicized report in August 2003. The Commission noted that the Zina Ordinance in particular had been relentlessly used against women, particularly poor, illiterate rural women. Its final report asserted that as many as 88 percent of women in Pakistan's jails are there because of ambiguities in the Zina Ordinance. However, others believe these claims to be overstated. The MMA has rejected outright the findings of the NCSW regarding the Hudood laws. The Musharraf government has also distanced itself from the report in the wake of the MMA's support in late 2003 for the Legal Framework Order-a package of constitutional amendments legitimizing the military's political control.

The discriminatory nature of Islamic legal reforms for women in Pakistan is clear, but the extent of their impact is hard to measure. Human rights activists are correct to focus on specific cases of discrimination, even if the number of actual cases is relatively small. But it is misleading to conclude that the overall impact is marginal. Indeed, Islamic legal reforms and the Hudood laws in particular have served to reinforce male social control over women, limiting female bargaining power within the family and their control of resources. This has also contributed to an environment where violence against women is not sufficiently discouraged. The economic costs can be found in suboptimal resource allocation and lost female productivity.

Gender segregation is another area that makes modernists, secularists and women's groups anxious about Islamization. It is easy to dismiss some of the Islamists' recent actions toward women as frivolous: indeed, banning female mannequins and faces of women in advertisements might be high on rhetoric and low on impact. Enforcing restrictive dress codes and segregating higher education create more concerns, precisely because these policies reinforce traditional, conservative roles for women, particularly in rural settings where 70 percent of the population lives. 

[Source : (c) 2004 Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C. )]


Wilfred Cantwell Smith
July 21, 1916- February 7, 2000

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, was one of the past century's most influential contributors to interfaith dialogue and the comparative study of religion. 

He established an Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill, where he taught from 1949-63. He was involved in planning the Centre for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University, and moved there in 1964 to take up its directorship. 

After graduating moved to England, where he studied at Cambridge, and continued on to India, where he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry and taught at the Forman Christian College in Lahore (then part of India, before the formation of Pakistan).

His first book, Modern Islam in India, was published in 1946. Smith completed a Ph.D. at Princeton University after the war, and his Islam in Modern History followed in 1957. The Meaning and End of Religion (1963), regarded by many as his most important book.



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