The date is Sunday, September 20, 2015 and our Canadian national television just broadcasted a short documentary on the first woman in Pakistan to obtain a trucker’s license. I set off to investigate the internet to find out more about this woman who was breaking down stereotypes. I also wanted to know the status of women in general in Pakistan.
Girls; Marriage or Education
Malala Yousafzai came to the world’s attention when she was shot in the head by a Taliban who boarded her school bus. She lived and through her voice, Malala was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala turned just 18 years of age in 2015, but since her shooting, she has been a voice of education particularly for girls.
Poverty and Marriage Dowries
The current laws enacted in Pakistan state that the legal age for men to be married is 18 and women 16. Many girls are still married off into a child marriage, and many complications with this can occur as childbirth from a child can cause complications with the baby and mother.
In 2008, it was recorded that 21.8 percent of females were participating in the labor force in Pakistan while 82.7 percent of men were involved in labor The rate of women in the labor force has an annual growth rate of 6.5 percent. Out of the 47 million employed peoples in Pakistan in 2008, only 9 million were women and of those 9 million, 70 percent worked in the agricultural sector. The income of Pakistani women in the labor force is generally lower than that of men, due in part to a lack of formal education.
Shamin Akhtar – Truck Driver’
It is usually economic situations or violence that makes people leave the safety of their present status and reach out and break down rules.
Sometimes, it is a matter of emigration as a refugee. In the case of Shamin she had to provide three dowries for her older daughters and to look after two other children at home. She is a single mother and she is 53 years of age. Shamin is a fighter, she’s a woman who is also a warrior, she takes on the world for her family’s well-being.
She is optimistic when she says, “Nothing is too difficult if you have the will. However, if women make themselves believe they can’t do certain tasks then nothing works for them.” Unlike so many of her country women, Akhtar had been driving cars for many years so in many ways she was liberated in this area. She had not assigned herself to Parkistan’s traditional domestic rule which requires women to stay home.
The task ahead of Samin is to transport 7000 bricks from a factory and drive the truck towards Kashmir. This is no ordinary task but a 200 kilometre trip up dangerous mountain roads. Her license is impressive; it allows her to pull trailers, and drive trucks and tractors. Samin is a good driver and this on account of her taking a course with the Islambad Traffic Police. This certificate is impressive and gives her an edge over most male drivers. They often lack formal driving lessons for heavy vehicles. Many times, such Knowledge is due to a lack of money for such courses. Shamin is presently teaching a male novice. His name is Usman Ali and he has great respect for her.
“She behaves well, and treats us like her sons. We too treat her as a mother and that is how our relationship is,” one of Akhtar’s colleagues said for her.
However, despite the love and respect from all her coworkers, Akhtar still faces discrimination in Pakistan. Regardless of passing the driving test for Islamabad’s new bus line, she was told there would be no jobs for women.
Shamin Advocates Empowering Women
She knows that women in Pakistan are facing challenges. In a male dominated society, men are not willing to give up their power, their jobs or privileges. Yet, if their female children attended school and further education, families would be richer. Her message to females: “Women, try to do something all the time, don’t make yourselves lazy or believe that you are weak and can’t achieve such milestones. We can do everything. We are capable enough, by the grace of God.”
Violence Towards Women and Women’s Rights in General
(Since 2009, there has been a 13% increase in rape, gang-rate, domestic violence and honour killing. There is also the distasteful experience of VANI (the exchange of women in settling disputes). This is a great example of women being property and it is again reinforced by forced or child marriages. When women try to break out of their bondage, honour killing can occur. Women are often murdered if they engage in any sexual relationships before marriage. Acid attacks against wives can result in a husband obtaining another wife and dowry.