She says, if a man can't respect us, tell him to sit at home instead of making women house-bound.
She says, if a man can't respect us, tell him to sit at home instead of making women house-bound.

In the current climate, public discourse is centred around issues of violence and justice —violence faced by the women of this country and the inability of the justice system to be effective in countering that.

But what often goes unnoticed, or is deliberately ignored in such conversations, is the insidious and pervasive way discrimination against women plays out in our everyday lives, starting with stifling their voices and diversity of opinion.

Following public outrage over the heinous gang-rape incident on a major highway near Lahore, the National Assembly took up the issue of the tragedy through their call attention notice.

And while many—mostly men—gave impassioned speeches about the state of the country, society and its laws, there was only one woman who spoke straight from the shoulder.

Our Human Rights Minister, Dr Shireen Mazari, minced no words.

Addressing the speaker of the assembly, Dr Mazari said, "I have been listening to the debate, where politics and the police have been discussed in detail. But I want to speak as a woman."

She continued, "To say that a woman is someone's mother, someone's daughter first, is just not right. A woman is entitled to respect and regard not because she is related to someone, but because as a woman she deserves it. She is entitled to all the rights and privileges that a man has. I shouldn't only be respected because I am related to married [to a male], I should be respected because I am a woman, and more than that, an equal citizen of this country."

Speaking on the CCPO's controversial remarks, Dr Mazari said, "Nobody has the right to tell me [women] what kind of clothes to wear, where and how to travel, to be accompanied by a mehram (male relative), or ask me why I was travelling on the roads alone. Nobody has that right over me."

Amid desk-thumping which is equivalent to an ovation, she continued, "If a man can't keep his gaze lowered, if a man can't treat women with respect, then tell HIM to stay home, tell him to not come out on the roads."

Read: 'Who are you to set time limits for us?' Lawyer and survivor Khadija Siddiqui asks CCPO Lahore

While the speaker of the assembly, and many other male lawmakers, 'giggled' at the mere suggestion of keeping misogynistic men housebound, Dr Mazari went on to say, "You don't know the gravity of pain and anger that the women of this country feel on being told IF you had done this you would have been safe, if you had done that you'd be in danger."

"Sorry, this is completely unacceptable. And something like this should never even be tolerated. Basic freedom is my constitutional right as a Pakistani, as a woman."

She recommends implementing stricter laws around the crime, improving and sensitizing the police force, but first and foremost, to change the 'mindset' regarding women in this society—especially the kind exclusively held by men.

Addressing the leader of the opposition, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who was heavily criticised for political point-scoring during the National Assembly debate, she urged him to stop referring to the motorway incident survivor as "Qaum ki Beti" (Daughter of the Nation) but to rightly call her "Qaum ki Aurat" (Woman of the Nation).

Not only did Dr Mazari school the national assembly on framing the issue in the right light, but she also won the support of women across the country.

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