[Opinion] Status of women in Gilgit – Baltistan

Shamim Ali

The population of the newly named province of Gilgit-Baltistan is around 2.0million and 99% of the populations are the followers of Islam. We believe in Quran and the Quran says that men and women be equal before God, and gave them diverse of rights such as the right to inheritance, the right to choose their own partners in marriages, the right to work and the right to vote.

For centuries, women from Gilgit- Baltistan have been deprived of these rights either by government verdict or by their husbands, fathers, brothers and the society around her. She is also denied to speak up for her rights by highlighting their values and cultures.

Today, on the International Women’s Day, I would like to highlight some of the achievement and failure points from our last event. No doubt women have made progress in many ways; from education to working for different organizations and also taking part in politics. These credits go to the international and national non-profit organizations (NGOs) working in the region for the last thirty years. These NGOs have worked their best level to provide opportunities to women in all life aspects.

But there are some major areas to highlight on this event to share with all readers of Pamir Times and women who play significant roles in our society for the upliftment of social development in general and women’s equality in particular. Some of the highlighted obstacles are as under;

First, celebrating the women’s international day in my country and region, I always take a moment to realize the pros and cons, the achievements and failures of our voices from the last event for the right of equality but not for women’s right specifically. No doubt the female education ratio has increased since last decade but still women have few seats in our Provincial assembly. No doubt we have better and competent women politicians in our province but the uneducated and old man is preferred as better politician in our society and our assembly.

Second, education is very important both for men and women but when we go through the history of girl’s education in some parts of our region, parents or societies are not in favor of providing equal right of education for girls. In some parts of our region numerous schools for girls have been burned down and girls have even been killed for daring to go to school.

Women is not given the equal right to marry by her choice, notwithstanding the fact that women have the right to choose their life partner. During the last five years, six professional women were killed by their fathers, brothers and relatives because they chose to marry by their own choice. They were using their right for their life. They were brutally killed by hitting axes on their necks and killing them by using electric wires and ropes around their necks.

Third, gender based violence are increased in our society and region. Women and girls are killed in the name of honour. Some areas, including the region’s only university, are becoming place where the people hesitate to interact because of social prejudices.

Moreover, women were killed because they could not feed them food and were forced for begging. Women were forbidden to work and leave the house without a male company. Women from some regions are not allowed to seek medical help from a male doctor and are forced to cover themselves from head to toe with the shuttle-cock shaped Burqa even their eyes.

So far, women have been allowed work, almost in all fields and organizations and some of our women are working on leading positions in non-profit organizations and in the government sector. Despite all these changes many challenges, some discussed above, still remain.

The repression of women is still prevalent in rural areas where many families still restrict their own mothers, sisters, wives and daughters from participation in public life and other public services. Still we need to work together for the right of equity and equality. I hope we, educated men and educated women together will work towards resolutions of these issues.

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  1. Your Majesty:
    Though I am a big feminist regarding the womens; victimization and their basic fundamental right as per the directions of our Religion and the constitution too. but i have a slight reservation over some issues as the respected writer has raised. but it doest mean am against the right of women.
    As you have pin-pointed various problems of a woman in the prism of our traditional culture. i do agree with your perception and I do hereby advocates the right of a woman. But as for as the right to self-determination is considered I must say (i can be wrong) that in some cases like to marry on her own will, to go for even a domestic chore she needs a man to be with her, she is bound to work hand to hand with males and the victimization too.
    I would say that today the western woman has the liberty to marry on her own will, she works with male, she can go even abroad by herself, where the woman has the authority too.
    The point which I am trying to focus is that the situation is changing in our culture and its a gradual process. today being living in a conservative environment our women is much better then the western one. rather that norms and values which are not as worst as in the other regions of our country provides a safe shelter to our women and maintains her dignity too. and this is what i call the pragmatic safety of a woman in our society (GB).

  2. Women keep aloft the sky as much as men do.It is the vital principle,for a ought to be followed by a society to progress.Unfortunately the recent bloom of modernization left all in a huge concern.From the use of technology to behavioral freedom–all have been made a Crime license.
    Every individual can and should judge between the right and the wrong.
    Women is best suited ,woman like.

  3. Dear Shamim,
    Islam has given equal and very comprehensive rights to the women that they generally enjoy in any part of the world. Yes, the acceptance and interpretation of these rights could vary from one place to another. The shuttle cock is equally acceptable as a simple scarf is. Where GB is concerned I think our women are more protected and cared than any part of the world. The industrial world accepts much more but the same time we need to look into that all that shines is not gold.

  4. Being the son of a woman who is called a mother and the brother of another three women who are called sisters, I have nothing but respect and love not only for them but for all in general.

    But, what is pinching me hard is the fact that our today’s well educated women and men too have somehow misunderstood the definition of modernization or whatever you call it. I may be wrong in my justifications and I would love to be corrected.

    Moulana Hazir Imam(Aga Khan IV) said in one of his farmans, “Modernity is not following the West blindly, it is the intelligent use of our glorious past”.

    Shamim, I really liked your article and this shows how far you can deliver your message and the fact that your voices are being heard. Our country has always been in the storms that women’s rights are abolished and not respected. I never understand to whom are you comparing us. Our Benazir was the prime minister for two times and I am very proud of her, Asma Jehangir is called the Asian Tiger, Bilquis Edhi is the greatest mother of the country, Razia Bhatti, Salima Hashmi, Nazia Hasan, Mehreen Jabbar, and many more are all Pakistanis. The Iron Lady, Dr. Najma Najam is a woman VC of KIU GB. What more interesting is the fact that girls are more literate than boys..given preferences in jobs..admissions, etc. Our very own hero Samina Khayal Baig is a woman. How did they get their right? Simple is the answer. They never thought that their rights are abolished but they woke up and showed to the world that they too can touch the skies. So your opinion that women’s rights are not respected is unjustifiable. You have the right to differ :D.

    The other thing is the social values, cultural and traditional influences. You cannot blame the “shuttle-cock shaped Burqa” for their backwardness. I view it differently. The Burqa is far more better than the dress code of the westerners to whom you are comparing us. Infact I know so many girls who are successful engineers and doctors wearing Burqa. I have girls in my class who never show their faces but are very intelligent and even they got scholarships in UK, US, Japan, etc. I do not agree on this Burqa example. If somebody is wearing it, we must respect, not blame, for we are Muslims too.

    And for marriage, we have our parents to guide us. This is true for both boys and girls. I f we have become too modern and think that yes we can be independent and do whatever we want, then it is alright. If we are gonna forget our Islamic principles and moral values then the Western is too good.

    Anyhow, I belong to the conservative side but all my role models are women. I would love to be corrected. Sorry for the stinginess :).


  5. Dear Shamim,

    Thanks for a nice thought provoking article. It sounds more professional writing in raising some women related perceptions and issues. However, each individual has a different experience so that contributes to individual perception and behavior. My experience seems to be different because when I reflected about my experience in my professional journey, I found majorities of the men have played a supportive role in my development. For example, I found uncle Ghulamuddin, who was the motivator of my in-laws and family to allow me to get education, uncle Ajaib Khan to tutor me at home. His sustained behavior and broader vision as a community’s change agent and understanding individual differences among his students, knew that he has to be supportive to me in educating me, and providing me an emotional protection like a father or a brother because he might have noticed me as a potential female candidate for change and development. Then it was my husband who knew that women also have rights to get education. Similarly, there are more than dozens of men, who’s encouraging, motivating, supporting and appreciating behavior always gave me strengths to move forward and overcome the hurdles. I can recall a memory, when one of my cousins’s called me and said, “Excellent, I heard you are doing a good job for your children and others so I appreciate and please, keep up your good work” (2006). Today, I salute and thank each one of them and pray for their daughters’ good future. In contrast, I had only three women in my life that remained supportive to me while majorities of the women had gossiping and discouraging behaviors. So keeping these experiences, and my difficult days, sorrows, pains, fears, frustrations and hopes in mind, I would like to convey a message to all the families, particularly, brothers and fathers on this big occasion of International Women’s Day, please, support and educate your daughters and sisters and never allow other men (husband and in-laws) to educate your daughters and sisters because it’s a very hard process. I don’t want to personalize or share but please, feel and realize it.

    Secondly, you have discussed about forceful marriages. Here, I would say, if you remember our culture, we used to remain within the boundaries of our mountains because we did not have access to other parts of the country/ies. So our practices were within the boundaries in terms of marriages, death, birthdays and other celebrations so we had formed an environment and a cultural traditions and norms. But after opening of Karakuram Highway, our men moved to the cities and other countries, got education, exposure and awareness so they got married to other women for various reasons, constraints, needs (financial, social and emotional).

    In today’s world, our girls also got awareness, education and exposure so they also raised their voices and felt a need for change in going beyond their culture because they felt others (other community people) are also human beings but we all noticed the negative behaviors, resistances, selfishness and discriminations against those girls. As a result, the first initiators were boycotted by the close families and communities. However, with the passage of time, few others took the steps and some families accepted them nicely. Now it will continue and might not be easy to stop because how many of them will be killed, boycotted or misbehaved because men have shown getting married with other person beyond our community is not harmful. Many of them have remained successful so girls can also have the right to have a successful and happy life because men and women have equal rights as human beings.

    In terms of ‘veil’ or ‘burqa’, I would also disagree with you like others. I think, in traditional areas, that is an essential part because women do not feel safer and secured when hundreds and thousands of men have been observing very few girls and women around them. I felt more secured and safer when I observed parda in the earthquake areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. So we cannot and must not make that an issue because physical appearance does not make much difference. The intellectual difference makes the difference in thinking and behavior. Others have rightly mentioned that many women have made differences in their and others lives by remaining within their cultural beliefs.

    Lastly, Pamir Times must keep a gender balance in raising voices because its noticed that there were many women contributors at the beginning but they are targeted so much that they have either lost the interest or disappointed so disappeared. It has also appeared that some of them have got threatening e-mails and messages on face book. As mentioned before, all the men and women have their own perceptions and beliefs based on their personal struggles, so let everyone to speak up. Do not discourage each other and do not have a negative competition. Let us contribute for a positive and constructive societal change and development in our country.

  6. I didn’t see any relevance of this article in context to our society, may be the author has just changed the tile of some net based article or copy pasted…. There is no statistics and evidence to support her argument

  7. Dear Shamim,

    I agree wid you in some issues wid women prevailing in Gilgit-Baltistan, but the overall condition of women is better than rest of the country. We must be thankful to the NGO’s for promoting women’s development in the region. To counter the some existing issues there is a need to improve the role of Govt. departments in terms of women’s employment and awareness bulding among deprtments and socity. Thanks

  8. Women are more than half of Pakistan’s population. Time has changed and we cannot deprive our women of their basic rights of education and work. No nation can make progress without the participation of women. China is a great example for us which is making progress by leaps and bounds because women are equally participating in the progress of their country. We should compare with China which got autonomy after 10 years when Pakistan was created and we can understand where China and India stand today compared to Pakistan! The reason are obvious that we always create hurdles for our women from getting education and work. Ponder over it!

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