Women and land... By Naima
26 September, 2013
Centuries have passed, books have been written and studies have been carried out but the perception of a woman as a mere possession is still deeply rooted. On many occasions, a woman is equated with a few acres of land; she can be exchanged, sold or killed for preserving the disposition of land. Nelson, in his book 'In the Shadow of Shariah', explains that the fundamental basis for gender inequality and the discriminatory customs against women have stemmed from land. This can primarily be seen in post-colonial Punjab where 'land' and 'women' are seen to have an old co-relation. Land denotes power for the tribal clan while the woman is seen as a tool of preserving the land by not making her a part of inheritance as it is believed that, once married, her share of the land will lead to fragmentation of the local estate.
This prevailing custom has a direct effect on marriage patterns and the overall status of women, especially regarding disinheritance. Interestingly, some cases of karo kari or honour killings happen under the garb of property issues between two tribes. This may not be a case of original karo kari but a women is forsaken and killed to preserve land. The drastic order to kill under the false illusion of maintaining honour is because the panchayats (tribal courts) that give decisions are clan-based. Preservation of land means preservation of a clan, which has a direct relation with preserving female honour.
Therefore, in many cases, women are married off in the same clan or tribe so that the land that she will inherit remains within the territorial jurisdiction of the same tribe. If she marries outside, out of choice, she is either killed in the name of honour or completely banished from the community. This concept can be seen as deeply routed in rural Punjab and Sindh. Many of the vices prevailing against women have originated due to feuds over land. The core issue here is the inherent indifference of man when a woman, who is a human being, is deemed as an easy substitute for immovable property. This is the mindset that needs to be eradicated. There are laws such as the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (1961) and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 but they are not enough.