In the matter of genders, we are a region that can be said to be both progressive as well as backwards. But lets look at it from the point of view of being a progressive first. Let me also make it clear that when I use the word “region” I refer to the Eastern side of the globe, especially within the context of South Asia.
The East can very proudly claim to have the first woman Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike (April 17 1916 – October 10th 2000) of Sri Lanka. Not only was she the first female head of the Sri Lankan Government, but was also the world’s first female head of any Government. She served three terms as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and Ceylon, these being from 1960-65, 1970-77 and 1994-2000.
She was followed by Indira Gandhi from India (1966 ,1980) – this was long before the West was going to elect Golda Meir (1969) or Margaret Thatcher (1979). From the Far Eastern side of the globe, that is Philippines, you had Corazon Aquino (1986) – a symbol for love and peace, who was swept into the office after her bloodless “People Revolution” led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos.
And then there is the leader from my land, Benazir Bhutto. Like all these spectacular women, she too raised her voice against the unjust rule of Zia-ul-Haq. Her entrance into the sphere of politics was shortly after her father Zulfiqar Ali’s Bhutto’s democratic government was toppled down, followed by a military coupe. After struggling against the dictatorship for almost a decade, it was in 1988 ( and then again in 1993) that she was elected to become the first women to lead a Muslim Nation, only to be followed by Khaleda Zia, prime minister of Bangladesh (1991, 2001). She has been eventually assassinated in this very land, just months before the elections.
This all hints towards the fact that we have been more receptive towards the idea of having female head of the state. I wont talk about other nations, but as far as Pakistan is concerned there is a lot of female representation in the Parliament and Assemblies ( besides the 33% reserved seats). There are many of you out there that would argue that the only reason that they got to be in the Leadership is because of the sympathy votes that they were able to get! Lets even suppose for the sake of all those cynics out there that it is true, the question then remains is SO? Their popularity and vote bank in their second or third terms is prove enough of the fact that they must have done something right for the people of the country, otherwise history would have been otherwise.These women, every time, in power made an impact by developing women friendly policies, which included the First Women Bank during the tenure of Benazir Bhutto
This point sheds more positivity when you see it in the light of the Western Politics. The show down between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama became a spectacular historical moment, when everyone was in awe, with just one question! It was going to be historical no matter who won, but the question still remained will it be “The First Woman or the First African-American ?”
Both of these were highly big deal, but consider the tragedy here for a minute.Women Rights Movement started in the USA in 1848 lasting till 1920 (72 years), while the African-American Civil Rights movement began in the late 20th Century in the year1955, and ended in 1968 (13 years).
The first woman candidate in the US ran for President back in the year 1872, the candidate being Victoria Woodhull of the Equal Rights movement. There have been almost 32 candidates (Party Nominees) since then, and no winner. Almost the same amount of African American have ran for the Presidential Seat (Party Nominees) – the first one being in the year 1904, and yet we have a African American President, but not a Female President. Ironic Isn’t it?
So lets now turn to the negatives in our region, which are many! Despite the acceptance of women leaders that i talked about, the fact of the matter is that there are still a lot of black sheep roaming around among us. they might not show themselves on the surface, but they are out there. Honor Killings, Raised Eyebrows for women working, and all that comes with it, labeling of girls, being burned to death, Killing of Fetuses if their sex is female, keeping girls illiterate, keeping them locked under the slogan of “Chadar aur Chardiwari” (Veil and Within four walls) is still prevailing in this region. You can almost say that is an irony when you compare it to the USA, where although in the general society people are more acceptable of women working and all, but not so much in Politics.
So what is my conclusion? My conclusion is that in the USA the change came from the grass root level towards the top… and in the Eastern Hemisphere it is going to trickle down from the top up.