‘As Nearly as May Be’: Debating Women’s Human Rights in Pakistan
Social & Legal Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 341-358, 2005
19 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2010
Date Written: February 22, 2005
Tensions between the constitutional commitment to equality and the politicization of Islam create conflicting claims for Pakistan’s legal system. These claims have focused, in particular, on the sphere of intimate domestic and sexual relationships. Although the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution guarantees equality before the law, the pursuit of gender equality has frequently been sacrificed to religious-cultural claims defining and limiting women’s status. Yielding to such claims has served the interests of nation-building while at the same time guarding against any serious threat to the modernizing agendas of Pakistan’s political élite. Lost within such compromises is the recognition of women as bearers of rights, with equal rights to participate in the definition of religious-cultural norms. Lost also is a recognition of difference. Feminists, Islamic reformists and secularists have all been marginalized and excluded from a state that claims to guarantee equality to all. This article examines the strategies pursued by feminist movements within Pakistan and within the legal profession in attempting to resist the demands of conservative Islamist movements.
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