Rising Again

Rising Again

Pakistan signed, ratified and adopted the UN Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. Even with this international instrument, 51% of our total population falls victim to patriarchal violence on a daily basis.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), during the year 2014, 597 women and girls were gang-raped, 828 were raped and 923 women and 82 minor girls fell victim to honor killings.

The HRCP and Human Rights Watch estimate that acid attacks will rise as high as 400 to 750 per year. The motivation behind such brutal attacks can include marriage proposal rejections, religious fundamentalism, etc. As per the Punjab Gender Parity Report 2016, incidents of torture against women have increased by 20%.

The judgment given in the Saima Waheed case shows a strong inclination towards patriarchal mindsets. The words of the judgment go somewhat like this:

“The concept of young girls for that matter venturing out in search of spouse is alien to the teachings of Islam and even otherwise this scheme of husband-shopping which obviously involves testing and trail of the desired…”

It is evident that the state has a systematic bias towards patriarchal interests i.e. male dominated societies were nurtured for their vested interests.

Besides this system, surprisingly a number of societies still exist where women literally rule. These are matriarchal societies having matrilineal linkages, meaning that the kinship is traced through the mother’s lineage.

For example, the northeastern region of India is inhabited by Garo. The Garo people are a hilly tribe that form one of the most important matrilineal tribes. They are mainly concerned with agriculture but the family of Garo people is matriarchal in nature. Authority is with the mother and it runs through female lines. Garo people are matrilineal with regard to descent and succession. Females are the successors of family property and the eldest female becomes the head of the family. The level of education among Garo women is higher than their male counterparts. Garo women also participate more in socio-cultural and economic activity in comparison to Garo men. The birth of a girl is hailed with great joy and the parents feel happier simply because this ensures the continuity of the family and the clan. This said, there is no discrimination in the upbringing of the male and female children.

Another matrilineal society located in Ghana and Cost Rica is that of the Akan people. This community has a population of about 20 million. The Akan social organization is fundamentally built around all matrilineal lineage and all founders are females. The Akan group recognizes matrilineal descent.

The matrilineal inheritance allows women to remain economically independent. Women lead both in commerce and food production. Garo people and Akan people are not the only existing matrilineal societies. Others such as Mosuo, Minanggkabau, Miskitu, Nagovisi, Bribri also practice matrilineality.

The Mosou tribe lives around Lugu Lake, Southwest China, a region that was isolated from the rest of the world until the 1970s. Mosou is considered a matrilineal society. Here, women serve as the head of the family and are in charge of most of the work and property matters.

One of the most prominent features of a matrilineal family system is the “walking marriage” or “zouhun” in Chinese. This is where partners live in the same household, women open their doors to their lovers every evening and the men ‘walk’ home to work in their mother’s household every morning.

Their family lineage is traced through the side of the female unlike patriarchal societies where it is traced through the male.

West Sumarta is the homeland of Indonesia’s Minangkabau people who constitute the world’s largest matrilineal society. They make up 3% percent of Indonesia’s population of 245 million.

Property, such as land and housing, is inherited through female lineage. The mother is the head of the family. Unlike in our culture, during the wedding ceremony the wife with her female relatives goes to collect her husband from his household. Then he is brought back to the wife’s household to live there. In the event of divorce, the husband collects his clothes and leaves. A woman’s brother is responsible for looking after the children instead of her husband.

Miskitu inhabit the eastern regions of the Central American republics of Nicaragua and Honduras. Miskitu couples often choose to live in the wife’s parents’ house for a short time until the husband accumulates money and resources to build a house on land given to them by the wife’s mother. Thereafter the home is called or referred to by the name of the wife.

Men work in the land and women control it. Men are not always involved in the upbringing of their children and instead, the children are raised by a matrilocal family (a custom in which the husband goes to live in the wife’s community after marriage – also known as an uxorilocal family). With the passage of time, the mother becomes kuka (grandmother and respected elder). Once a mother becomes a kuka they take on an advisory role in the community.

Nagovisi people live in Bougainville Island, which was ethnically and culturally part of Solomon Islands, but has politically been a part of Papau New Guinea since the country’s independence in 1975. Nagovisi women traditionally occupy a high status within their community. Women can own property and exercise their rights over it freely. The position of a woman in Nagovisi is of authority and power with regards to the cultivation of their gardens. Women are in the garden authorities and men are dependent on women’s cultivation for food. A sign of marriage is the consumption of women’s food by men and when he stops eating such food it would be a sign of divorce.

The Bribri people live in the mountains of Southern Costa Rica and Northern Panama. Agriculture is the main activity of the Bribri. They are isolated and have developed an extensive bartering system. Women hold a high status in the Bribri community. Society is built upon a matrilineal clan system i.e. roles are determined through the mother’s family. The Bribri’s matriarchal clan structure means that tribal lineage is passed down through the mother and knowledge and tradition is passed down by the grandmother.

In addition to these informal powers, women nowadays are holding prominent positions around the world. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th President of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa. Ellen was also awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2011. In 2014, Forbes listed President Ellen as the 70th most powerful women in the world.

Angela Merkel is the German Chancellor. Merkel has been described as the de facto leader of the European Union. Merkel is currently a senior G7 leader. In May 2016, Merkel was named the most powerful women in the world by Forbes.

Sheikh Hasina Wajid is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She has also been the leader of the Bangladesh Awami League since 1981.

Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, is the first female President of the country and the first President to be re-elected for the second consecutive term.

Park Geun-hye is the eleventh President of South Korea. She is the first women to be elected as President of South-Korea.

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca is the 9th President of Malta since April 2014.

Kolinda Grabar is the 4th President of Croatia since February 2015. She is the first woman to be elected as president of the country and the youngest at just 46.

After ‘Brexit’ and David Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May became the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. After Margret Thatcher, May is the 2nd female Prime Minister of the UK.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton is considered to be the strongest presidential candidate for the upcoming US elections.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.

Zainab Sohail

Author: Zainab Sohail

The writer is a law student enrolled in Punjab University Law College Honours programme and has keen interest in law, politics and current affairs.