Gender and Sexuality In the Middle East: Pakistan

Pakistan’s gender relations are founded upon two perceptions of the role of the sexes. The first is that women are obligated to obey and be under the jurisdiction of men and that a man’s honor is determined by how the women in his family behave. Because of these perceptions women are seen as the protectors of the family’s honor. The society in Pakistan, similar to Turkey, restricts women’s freedom to travel, restricts their behavior and activities, and affords them only a certain amount of relations with men.

Men and women in Pakistan have relationships to the space that they hold. It is used and given out differently depending upon sex. Pakistan believes that the veiling of women must be done for their protection and respectability. So states tradition. This does not solely apply to veiling, but also the separation of women from men. They must be separated both physically and symbolically from the activities of men. Thus, different worlds and means of being are constructed for each group of individuals based on their sex. Women primarily stay within the parameters of the home and are only allowed to go further for serious reasons or if permitted. Outside of the home, the social lives of men are generally revolved around the activities of men. In most of the country women and their families are seen as shameless of the women are granted free mobility.

Purdah, the concept of a curtain that is physical as well as symbolic between men and women, is observed in a variety of ways. This depends on the traditions of the family, the region that they reside in, their class, and their rural and urban residency. However, in none of these cases do men and women integrate by choice. The restrictions on women’s mobility can be seen in the North-West Fronteier Province as well as Balochistan. These women are never allowed to leave their homes and when they do they do so to get married. They never mingle with unrelated men. They may not even be allowed to come in contact with their male cousins on their mothers side. They are seen as not being true relatives within this patrilineal society. With the men they are allowed to meet they are only allowed to do so formerly.

Women who are poor and live in rural areas are afforded more mobility and allowed to mix with the opposite gender. In these areas they are allowed such freedom because they are in charge of transplanting rice seedlings, weeding crops, raising chickens and selling eggs, and stuffing wool or cotton into comforters. Whenever a family becomes more affluent rises in their stature, the restrictions of women become the first thing to make stricter.

Poor urban women who reside in close-knit communities primarily wear either a burqa or a chador which is a nonrestrictive cotton cloth that is placed over the head and the body. These are worn upon leaving the house. In areas that are more sparsely populated there are less restrictions on a woman’s mobility.

The common belief that women must remain within their homes to avoid gossip about their respectability has significant implications for their productivity concerning their activities.

Just like with the public sphere is the domain of men, so too is the career field. Women in rural areas work for the need of consumption or they work for trading at the level of subsistence. Other women who reside in both the rural and urban areas are involved in piecework in exchange for substantially low wages in their homes. These earnings are part of the overall family income which is given to the men. Census data as well as other observations of economic activity in these urban areas legitimize these findings. For example, In 1981 the census discovered that 5.6 percent of all women were employed. Compared to that 72.4 percent of men were employed. Less than 4 percent of urban women had become active in some form of salaried work. In 1988 this estimate had increased dramatically, but only 10.2 percent of women were found to have been active in the labor force.

When it comes to wealthier Pakistanis the rules are different. With the wealthy, urban or rural residence is not as important as the traditions of the family. These traditions determine what ceil that wear and how strictly they follow purdah. There are some areas where women simply allow for the eye to be covered. They usually do not intermingle with men, but if and when they do they will look away while they speak with them. Bazaars have a decreased number of veiled women depending upon their wealth. Poorer areas are the opposite.

The traditional view of the sexes is observed in the media. Women are submissive in film and in television shows. Popular television dramas present controversial topics. These examples include, women having a career, filing for divorce, or having a say in family politics. However, these programs also emphasize the consequences of going outside of the traditional family values that have been set forth.

Sexuality in Pakistan

According to the news site Mother Jones, Pakistan is the leading searcher for gay pornography. This survey was conducted in 2013. Many do not have access to the internet and so these figures may not be quite accurate.

According to the BBC documentary, How Gay Is Pakistan? The LGBT community is an underground community. People who are part of this community must hide it from friends and family until they can find someone to trust. They are not afforded an outlet to express themselves in public so they must do so in secret. There are gay underground clubs and secret gatherings that take place and people meet other people in their community that way.

The narrator and host of the show Mawaan Rizwan decided to visit two cities in Pakistan for this documentary. The first City he traveled to was Karachi. It is believed to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world. He starts the documentary by stating that being gay and Pakistani are two things that do not go well together. As he visits the inner city he observes men in pink hats, men holding hands, and rainbow chicks. He then comments that all of these things seem very gay to him.

A survey conducted in 2013 found that only 2% of Pakistanis accepted homosexuality. However, he is later invited to a meeting of members of the Pakistani LGBT community by two people who openly support gay rights in Pakistan. Those he meets there convey to him the dangers of being openly gay and accepting their sexuality publicly. They feared that the possibility of their murder was high because no one stood up for their rights. They are forced to be violent as well. There is no possibility of leaving the country and they can not have normal relationships like others in the country. The law offers no protection because homosexuality is a criminal offense.

Rizwan then meets with a local Imam, Maulana Hakim Akbar Das, so that he could talk about homosexuality with him. He asks the Imam how he responds to people who come and reveal to him their same sex attractions. He states that he asks them to pray for forgiveness for their sin. Mawann proceeds to tell the Imam about his homosexuality. Maulana says that people do not hate the patient, but only the sickness. He then says that there are people that would want to kill him if he was so bold as to announce his homosexuality publicly. He recommends that he not speak of it or else leave the country. In addition, he also prescribes him a medication supposed to cure him of his homosexuality which ends up not being effective.

After this visit, Mawann goes to the city of Lahore and goes to Naz Male Health Alliance; which is one of the only organizations which works with the LGBT community. This organization provides them a platform in which they can be counseled and treated for STD’s . Some of the LGBT individuals from the gatherings that Mawann attends relay to him that the organization is a safe haven because what they are primarily looking for is companionship.

Another aspect of this trip that was interesting was that because women were not easily available in rural communities there were workers who came to certain locations to have sex with other men. These men are known as MSM and, like Turkey, there is a general acceptance of this in Pakistani society.

The relationship between gender relations and sexuality seems tied. The rights for women in these countries is slim to none. Many of these sources point to the inaccessibility of women as reasoning for why they engage in same sex relations. It may prove true that as gender relations relax and become more equitable, the number of men who have sex with men may dramatically decrease and different sexualities may be accepted.


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