1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009)

Gender, Religion and the Quest for Justice in Pakistan (Draft)



This is the draft of a country case study on Pakistan in the Religion, Politics and Gender Equality Project.

The paper explores how Islam transformed from the religious identity of Pakistan’s majority population to the central defining parametre for state and society. This privileging of religion as the yardstick for all activities from politics to judicial structures, from entertainment to women’s rights, has undermined women’s already weak position in society and seriously challenges the quest for gender equality. The paper argues that the disempowerment of women has been the outcome, not the purpose, of ‘Islamization’ projects which have been executed in the pursuit of greater power alignments. However, the usage of Islam by diverse regimes has not impacted women in like manner. Women were victims of gross negligence and paternalistic attitudes, but rescinding women’s rights was never a main objective until General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988). Under Zia the systematic and aggressive inscription of Islam into the body politic and social fabric had devastating consequences for the polity in general and women and non-Muslims in particular. The paper illustrates how gender cross-sects other deeply entrenched social inequalities so that ‘Islamization’ measures have impacted diverse groups of women differently. The state’s failure to deliver on its promises of equal opportunities, benefits and justice has created a vacuum into which the religious right inserted itself and was able to project itself as the harbinger of justice in a visibly unjust world. The paper, finally, argues that, regardless of the claims to the moral high ground of authenticity, the paramount concern of religious political projects is power – not religion, or ethnicity, or culture.

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