Year after year, March 8 unwaveringly marks International Women’s Day, which is commemorated globally for more than a hundred years now. And while the original focus of the celebration was a movement towards gender equality and women’s suffrage, it has since evolved to become more than that.
It has become a day to celebrate women – their achievements and successes – as well as bring awareness to the progressions they’ve managed to accomplish thus far.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder about the significance of this day – whether it even deems any significance at all – especially for Pashtun women living back home, within Pakistan and/or Afghanistan.
While it is fairly easy for Pashtun women like me (as well as many others), who are living in the ‘privileged’ West, to talk about the importance of International Women’s Day and how it brings awareness to our rights as citizens, and mostly importantly of all, as human beings; we still fail to realise that the majority of Pashtun women, especially those living ‘back home’, do not have access to the same privileges, for they are denied even the most basic of human rights.
Pashtun women have little access to the outside world to even know what is being celebrated in their honour as women. Though this day is designed for women to have a voice, and to gather and discuss what they need to empower themselves, little of this happens in reality,” says Ariana Karzai, founder of the Pashtun Organisation for Women (POW).
“Few women show interest in the March 8th celebrations, and few discuss the problems that most women face in our regions. I believe that in order for March 8th to be successful, more and more women need to participate and come up with ideas to help our women advance.
Even so, the concerns voiced by Pashtun women like Ms. Karzai are not uncommon for I, too, feel and agree that the glorified celebration of International Women’s Day is only limited to those who understand it; practice it; and are hence able to celebrate it freely. And while we have the artless tendency to relate this day to every single woman, all over the world, we also need to realise that there are women – many women – who have no idea that such a tribute in their honour even exists.
These are women who are raised to think and act a certain way – one that adamantly conforms to the patriarchal norms of their tribes and/or societies. These women have come to believe that they are the “property” of men and that their lives are and should be controlled by the men in their lives, whether it is her father, her brother, or her husband.
She is convinced that she is nothing – worthless – without a man, and protecting her honour, as well as her family’s honour, becomes her sole accountability since the day she is born up until the day she dies.
“What could International Women’s Day possibly mean to us? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. A Pashtun woman who dares to disagree with her parents is ‘manner less’; a woman who dares to disagree with her brother is ‘westernised’; and a woman who dares to disagree with her husband is a ‘whore’. We praise Malalai Ana for encouraging soldiers (men) to fight the British for over a century ago. But we hate to hear our own sisters, daughters or wives raise their voice for education,” says Maryam A, a Pashtun woman from the United Kingdom.
Indeed, lack of education is one of the greatest impediments to social and economic development, especially within Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan. And those women who try to seek it face severe consequences, possibly even death.
Yet, that did not stop Malala Yousafzai – the young, brave 15-year old woman who was shot several months ago by the Taliban – for being a steadfast activist for female’s right to education. And, needless to say, young and profoundly courageous women like Malala actualise the reason and purpose of International Women’s Day.
Additionally, not all Pashtuns are necessarily opposed to International Women’s Day, for there are some who do recognise its significance, as well as the advantages it aims to bring forth.
This day is more important now than ever before as more Pashtun women are mobilising and heading towards a more educated future. Women are rightfully demanding dignity, respect and recognition for their role inside their homes, as much as for their role outside (career women, breadwinners, etc.),” says Hina Din, a Pashtun writer and a human rights advocate.
Personally, I believe that every single day should be celebrated as International Women’s Day.
We need to remind ourselves each and every day that women (and not only Pashtuns) are more than often victims of abuse, harassment, and all other iniquitous forms of violence.
We also need to remind ourselves of those women who have managed to overcome such adversities, and are now inspiring others, who are also suffering, to do the same.
After all, one woman’s success should be every woman’s success. And as long as we keep reminding ourselves of this reality, perhaps we may not need to single out just one day in their commemoration.
This blog post was first published on The Express Tribune.