The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, very recently nominated a female judge Anisa Rasouli to sit as a judge on the nine-member bench of the Afghan Supreme Court. The nomination highlights the efforts of the Afghan government to promote more women to high-profile positions and calls for greater representation of women in both political and peace processes. Mr. President has also urged that women should have access to legal documentation along with rights to inheritance, filing a divorce and higher education.

Afghanistan has always been recognised as being an ultraconservative Islamic state where tribal system prevails and women are robbed off their rights the moment they take their first breath. In comparison to Afghanistan, Pakistan has taken a few steps backwards when it comes to the role of women in our society to protect the Islamic Republic label that we have been carrying since the beginning of time.

From being the home of the very first female prime minister of a Muslim nation to becoming a country with one of the lowest literacy rates for teenage girls, Pakistan has been led astray by the Mullah culture. 

Her political acumen aside, Mohtarma was a vivid image of modernity and Islam walking hand in hand. Mohtarma was a liberal at heart and, if her biographical accounts are to be trusted, a devoted Muslim. The daughter of the East was looked upon by the world as a role model for women and she too was determined to break stereotypes associated with being a woman. Mohtarma was a hard pill to swallow for Islamists in Pakistan. The misogynistic tendencies had seeped into our roots and made Mohtarma look like a stranger in her homeland – the same misogynistic tendencies that had earlier denied Fatima Jinnah the respect that she truly deserved. Jinnah was a devoted political worker, an activist for female rights and one of the few hands behind the creation of Pakistan. However, her efforts could not stop her from attracting negative Islamists who claimed that a woman could not possess the ability to head the state.

Despite advancements in recent years and gradual shifts in mindsets, the ultraconservative political attitudes have strongly resisted the progress and involvement of women in our society. Gender-based discrimination, coupled with social and cultural barriers, has confined the existence of women only to her home. Women living in Muslim countries have limited access to higher education and participating in office jobs is simply out of the question.

To further ensure that women were given less respect than what they truly deserve, Pakistan was cursed with a gaudy dictator in the shape of Zia. Zia can rightfully be blamed for adopting a suffocating attitude towards the existence of women and stunting their progress in the society. While the world was focused on the development of women to improve their access to resources and their position in the society, women in Pakistan faced the repressive Islamist military regime of Zia. All initiatives and movements were diluted in their effectiveness due to the introduction of discriminatory religious laws towards women and dictatorship. 

Women found themselves pushed behind high brick walls, clad in black from head to toe. A rape victim was dependent on four male eye-witnesses to the actual act of intercourse. Failure to do so led to a conviction of zina. Zina charges were brought up against women who chose to marry a person of their own choice without the consent of their parents. The Evidence Act of 1872 was replaced by the Law of Evidence, stating that the testimony of women, particularly in financial matters, was considered half that of a man. Moreover, the allocated blood money for a female victim was also half that of a man.

The Islamization period of Zia's regime portrayed women as weak and unequal and with every step forward Pakistan took two steps backwards.

We have enemies residing within our country. Organisations like the Council of Islamic Ideology, self-proclaimed torchbearers of gender equality, create a divide in an already divided nation. The Council of Islamic Ideology is anti-women and through their declarations allowing parents to give away young girls in marriage and statements on remarriage the council has managed to weaken the position of women in our society, that too by exploiting the Islamic sentiment. The council preaches not the teachings of Islam, but what they understand from them combined with their personal opinion and hatred towards the existence of women. The power of such Islamic councils and organisations ought to be limited and they should exist, if they must, not as governing bodies, but as mere recommending ones. The forceful injection of religion in state affairs is a dead-end for Pakistan in its journey towards progress. 

Whenever the state and our mosques have converged, our women have suffered the consequences. A discriminatory legislation and a non-functioning judicial system have made women an easy prey for violent exteremists, rapists and murderers. Four out of every five women in Pakistan face some form of domestic abuse, while one in three experiences severe forms of violence such as rape, acid attacks and honour killing. These women spend the rest of their lives in misery, knocking doors and begging for justice, but their voices fall on deaf ears.

International Women's Day was celebrated in Pakistan on the 8th of March. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave reassurances that his government will make sure that all necessary legislative measures are take to protect the rights of women in Pakistan. To begin with, the government should overrule all law that directly or indirectly promote gender discrimination and prevent women from practising basic rights. Strong decisions need to be made in order to counter the threat posed by the extremist organisations that dominate in areas such as FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

A step towards the protection of women should be taken through the approval of anti-rape and anti-honour killings laws. The security of women on streets should be prioritised and more female policemen should be recruited. We will become a progressing nation, not when we have another female head of the state, but when a man is willing to marry a rape victim unconditionally and out of love rather than pity.