Shahid Afridi’s googly lobbed at women’s cricket in Pakistan in an interview, dismissing women as just good cooks, went viral on social media over the past few days.
And recently, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) decreed that Pakistani laws that prohibit under-age marriage and place conditions on a married man’s attempts to take another wife are ‘un-Islamic’.
Ostensibly very different, both stem from the same patriarchal mind-set that sees women as inferior to men, justifying itself by invoking religion or cultural traditions.
Thankfully – small mercies – neither Afridi nor the CII can legally enforce their views. But their respective spheres of influence are huge. Their views play into the extremist lobby that is holding Pakistan to ransom.
The Afridi gaffe took place last October, when a well-meaning television interviewer mentioned Afridi’s Pakhtoon background and the women’s under-19 cricket trials in Peshawar.
“Women should have cricket, their own teams, one wants them to come forward in sports,” he said enthusiastically, and asked for Afridi’s views on this.
“Yaar, our women have great ‘maza‘ (taste) in their hands,” replied Afridi, gesturing with his own hands. “They make very good food”.
The anchor’s face fell. “But I thought… I meant…I was asking…”
Afridi cut him off with a terse, “Thank you. You have got your answer.”
The poor fellow hastily changed the subject to an upcoming cricket series. Which really is the only kind of thing Afridi should ever be asked about. He is an athlete, not activist or an intellectual.
Of course, he is entitled to his views but as a public figure hero-worshipped by millions, he bears a responsibility to filter what he utters in public. Again small mercies, he did not call for women’s sports to be banned or restricted.
Women in Pakistan have fought long and hard – and they continue to be up against a lot – in their quest to play sports. Afridi’s belittling, patronising remark immeasurably undermined that struggle.
A bigger man with a more generous heart might have heeded the age-old advice to say nothing if you have nothing good to say. Or said something non-committal like, “Yes, women’s teams are coming up”.
But then a bigger man with a more generous heart would: a) not have held those views, or b) apologised for saying something so bigoted in public.
Now to the CII’s no ball, terming the Pakistan Muslim Family Laws as un-Islamic.
Proponents of such views cite the ‘sunnah’ of the Holy Prophet (upon Him be Peace) with no context. They studiously ignore evidence about Hazrat Aisha’s age – 18 years old at migration, and 21 years when she moved to the Prophet’s house – there is only one hadith which suggests that she was nine when she came to live with her husband.
Next they will tell us slavery is valid, because Islam does not prohibit it.
The level of scholarship of the ‘alim’ (learned) CII members is all too apparent in their earlier pronouncements. Some years ago they declared that men who practice family planning would go bald. Last year, they decreed that DNA tests are unacceptable as primary evidence in rape cases. One hopes they never have to take recourse to DNA tests to get justice for any of their own family members.
Thankfully, Shahid Afridi and the Council of Islamic Ideology have no actual powers to enforce their retrogressive views.
Women in Pakistan remain up against a lot. Legislation like the Family Laws provides some redress and check on those trying to marry off under-age girls or married men trying to take another wife without their first wife’s permission.
Between 1991 and 2007, Pakistan topped the other countries of the region in terms of how drastically marriages of girls under-14 fell — by 61 percent, outstripping Nepal’s 57 percent, Bangladesh’s 45 percent and India’s 35 percent. However, the study, conducted by Anita Raj, professor of medicine in the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that the rate among girls aged 16-17 continued largely unchanged (Journal of the American Medical Association, May 2012).
Still, these rates may also drop with sustained campaigns for education and awareness, backed by legislation. ‘Rulings’ like the one made by the CII do not help.
The CII’s edict gives parents/guardians a licence to marry off under-age girls and frees men of the need to secure the permission of their first wives before taking second wives.
This “is nothing short of a vicious attack on women’s and girls’ fundamental rights,” observes the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The CII’s recommendations are open to challenge for being in conflict with the Constitution of Pakistan and universal human rights and also for violating the spirit of Islam, as the HRCP says.
One can only hope that the government will not yield to such pressures. Because after all, surely those at the helm of affairs realise that by allowing such pronouncements to gain ground they will be failing in their duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society. Not to mention that it will feed the on-going extremist assault in Pakistan.
POSTSCRIPT: Shahid Afridi fans, male and females, are outraged by any criticism of their hero. They say he ‘meant no disrespect’. I’m sure he didn’t. Too bad he couldn’t articulate this respect when asked that question.
UPDATE: The uproar has forced him to defend himself: “I have been a big supporter of women’s cricket and if you ask our women players they will let you know how I tried to get sponsorship for them,” he said, in a statement – and then blamed the outrage on “a few people who are jealous of my popularity and they try to find something controversial against me”.
— sana malik(afridian) (@sanaawanmk) March 14, 2014