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Gender Roles In Pakistan Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4697 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Gender reflects the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that are considered apt for men and women in any society. Mostly the terms gender and sex are not differed and taken as closely related terms. Sex relates to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women while gender refers to cultural differences rather than biological ones between men and women. Male and female are sex categories while feminine and masculine are gender categories.

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Moser (1993) says that the differences between women and men within the same household and within and between cultures are socially and culturally constructed and can be altered over time. These differences are mirrored in social roles, responsibilities, access to resources, social limitations, opportunities, needs, perceptions, views, etc. Thus, gender does not take only women, but considers both women and men and their interdependent relationships and responsibilities.


A reversal can be taken as change whether the change is a positive or negative against the prevailing trend. It is a change from one state to the opposite state turning the situation into an opposite direction or situation.

Gender Roles

A gender role defines the appropriate social and behavioral norms adopted by men and women in a social setting. Gender roles vary from culture to culture and traditions and roles can change over time even in the same cultural settings. Gender roles are cultural and personal to determine the speaking, dressing and communicative styles of males and females within a society. These cognitive frameworks are deeply embedded within the minds of males and females to define the masculine and feminine roles. Various socializing agents like parents, peers, teachers, television, movies, music, books and religion influence determining the gender roles within a society. Parents are the biggest factor to decide the gender roles especially of their young offspring.

Parents usually treat male and female infants differently. Expectations for males and females are set in a very early age. Traditionally, boys are taught how to fix and build things and how to earn for household and girls are taught how to cook, sew and manage the household. Children then receive parental and social approval when they conform to gender expectations and adapt themselves to the cultural and conventional roles which are reinforced by the additional socializing agent, media. In other words, gender roles and the values pass from one generation to the successive generation in a society.

Linda L. Lindsey and Sandra Christie (n.d.) say that as long as the girl infant is wrapped in the pink blanket and the boy infant is wrapped in blue blanket, the development of gender roles gets started. The pink and blue colours are the first indications given by the society to distinguish a female from male. As they grow up, the other cultural factors assure the distinction to remain intact. Girls are given dolls, doll houses and tiny stoves to pretend run a whole household system while boys are given toy tools to construct buildings and toy weapons and tanks to wage wars. In the teen and adult age, girls buy cosmetics and clothes while boys buy sports components and stereo components that is a result of gender role socialization. Commonly the gender roles espoused in childhood remain constant in adulthood.

Gender Roles in Pakistan

According to a Gilani Research Foundation survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan (april 27, 2009), majority of the Pakistani males and females have distinct roles to play in the society. In the recent years although women’s status and role has been uplifted beyond being a housewife, the priority is still given to men in politics, education, employment, and related walks of life.

Dr. Rakhshinda Parveen (n.d.) expresses that the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan dictates equal rights for men and women. However, men are more equal than women in reality. The reality shows women in lower status than men in every sphere of life whether it’s education, food, health care or freedom of choice of partner. According to the Human Development Report 1999 of UNDP, the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) rank of Pakistan among 185 countries is 100. This rank determines the empowerment of women on a country basis. This measurement results in unequal status of women in economic resources, participation in political decision-making and economic decision-making. In spite of the fact that the Holy Quran dictates the equal rights for women wellbeing and development, women have always been the main target of rights violation in the Muslim countries. The typical subjugated image of Pakistani women reflects the centuries old patriarchy deeply rooted in the sub-continent. Although, emancipation and empowerment has always been documented in the legal documents, this has not come to the reality to its full extent yet.

The two fundamental perceptions establish the gender relations in Pakistan that women are inferior to men and that a man’s honour is determined by the actions of women of his family. In the Muslim societies, women bear the honour of the family name. To ensure that honour, they are not supposed to dishonor their families, their mobility is limited and they have restrictions on their behavior and activities and have very limited contact with the opposite sex. Women are constrained to have “Purdah” (veil) to restrain their protection and respectability. “Purdah” creates physically and symbolically different spheres for men and women by separating their activities. Mostly women spend their time at home to do homely tasks and go out only for serious and approved reasons. Social life generally revolves around the activities of men in society. In the most parts of the country, except in Islamabad, Karachi, and wealthier parts of a few other cities, those families are considered shameless who do not restrict their women. “Purdah” is practiced according to the family tradition, class and rural or urban residence but men and women do not mix freely anywhere without serious reasosn. The most extreme restraints can be found in parts of the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan, where women are not allowed to almost leave the house before they get married and are not allowed to meet the unrelated men and they cannot contact with their male cousins on their mother’s side, because these men are not classed as relatives in a strongly patrilineal society. In the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh, gender relations are relaxed because women are equally responsible with men fosr transplanting, rice seedlings, weeding crops, raising chickens and selling eggs. When a family aspires a higher status, it entails stricter ‘purdah” as a first social change. (Jone Johnson Lewis, 1994)

Some urban women, residing in the close-knit communities in the old cities of Lahore and Rawalpndi, generally wear a burqa(fitted body veil) or a “chadar” (loosely drapped cotton cloth used as a head covering and body veil) when they leave the homes. They usually live in a multistory (havelis) building constructed to accommodate large extended families. The places where people do not know their neighbours, there are less restrictions on women’s mobility.

Reversal of Gender Roles

In the modern times, the old perceptions of a patriarchal society are destabilized that has shifted the earlier unequal power dynamics between males and females and has resulted in the empowerment of women over men. The traditional gender roles have given a way to totally reversed roles to reserve the rights and emancipation of women. Now a days, wives are earning as much as 20% more than their husbands in the whole world that dictates the changing power dynamics that shows that women have got the power to harness the economic power upsetting the old traditional patriarchal beliefs. Traditionally, the women used to need physical protection and economic stability provided by men to save their submissiveness. (Kandiyoti,1988). The traditional patriarchal hierarchy has been shattered and resulted in females patronizing their male counterparts in courtship.

Modern women have become more educated and successful, that education and awareness has empowered women resulting in displacing men from their gendered position in society. The emergent trend of educated women out-earning their partners has led to changes in social perceptions and household roles. It has gradually shifted the institutionalized and privileged status of males in society. If women become the breadwinners, the domestic order shifts automatically to men because there is not any other option and this can give both men and women a sense of purpose and identity.

Alongside the empowerment of women, the emasculation of men redefines the masculinity and femininity which has determined the gender activities of society. Men, who have become domestic, have redefined the masculinity by entitling them as “providers” who provides not only economically but also emotionally and logistically. The traditional notion of masculinity of a father has been limited to begetting protecting and providing for children. The difference between what is masculine and what is feminine is what is determined by the gender roles adopted by both the genders. However, by bearing the role of childrearing and household chores, the masculinity of males comes into question that results in confusion in the individual male’s social identity. As a result, unemployed husbands preserve their masculinity by claiming that they are still provider if not economically but emotionally as they spend more time with their children than their own fathers. (Liza Mundy, 2011)

Deccan Herald (2012) conducted a research to study the effects of massive social changes on gender relations. The study has found that men today want babies and commitment, while women are more likely to want independence in their relationships. The study was conducted on over 5,000 American adults and the results revealed that more than half of the single men wanted to have children as compared to just 46 percent of women. The results showed the effects of the growing gender role reversal.

History of Gender Roles Reversal

The gender ideologies have changed since 1970s. Women became aware of their rights and emancipation with the emergence of feminist movement in 1970s. In 1960, 19 percent of married women with young children were in the paid labour force (U.S. bureau of the Census 1999). By 1998, the ratio of working women was up to 64 percent. This movement of mothers into the work places in the time span of 40 years left a profound effect on the attitudes towards the working women in the public and private spheres. The most of the American men approved and expected their wives to be active in working outside homes as the paid labour force. At the same time the provider role ideology continued to have great effects on males and females. The modern men and women are more receptive for women participation in working places than they were in 1970s. The nostalgia for breadwinner/homemaker family can still be found but more in men than women. Although some men resent the constricted definition of masculinity that narrows their role as economic providers, they stick to their roles as emotional providers among their children. (Teresa Ciabattari, n.d.)

A minority of U.S men resisted changes in women’s roles that could result as harmful for children and family life. These rapid changes in the roles of women have resulted in the widening gap between men’s and women’s attitudes. There is a larger gender difference in attitudes than it was 25 years before. (Teresa Ciabattari, n.d.)

Reversal of Gender Roles in Pakistan

Gender roles have not been altogether revolutionized in Pakistan but have still been treading the way to transform. The contemporary socio-political and economic conditions in Pakistan are restrained in the paradigm of patriarchy and capitalism. The envoys of women rights movements have been shouting out loud the revolution in the gender roles that has resulted in women working in every field of life. Women have come out of their spheres at home to take part in the tread of progress but they have instigated some initial stages yet and have a long way to trek on. (Pak Tea House, 2012) The women of Pakistan had confronted great challenges in the early 1990s such as increasing practical literacy, gaining access to employment opportunities at all levels in the economy. This development promoted a change in perception about women’s roles in society. Women status in society gained public voices from within and outside the political process.

The twentieth century has seen various attempts to bring social and legal reforms to improve the Muslim women’s lives in the subcontinent. Islam has played very important role to develop the rights of women since partition.

Muslim reformers in the nineteenth century introduced women education to ease some of the restraints on women’s activities to ensure women’s rights under Islamic law. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan organizes the Mohammedan Educational Conference in the 1870s to endorse modern education for Muslims, and he founded the Muhammadan Anglo- Oriental College. Many of the early proponents of education improved the status of women education by initiating cooking and sewing classes initially in a religious framework to advance women knowledge and skills. Still the literacy rate was very low as in 1921, there were only four out of every 1,000 Muslim females were literate. (countrystudies.com, n.d.)

Different organizations have been developed for the betterment of women’s rights. The Gender and Development (GAD) was introduced as a replacement to the Women in Development (WID) approach. Both organizations aspire to construct the gender equality and tackle the subordination of women in the home and in the public sphere. WID was established in the late-1970s, when it was acknowledged that women were left at the sideline in the process of development and progress of country. WID tended to examine women in isolation while GAD developed the female gender roles maintained by many facets of society, community, economy and not least of all, men. Gad aims to empower women to increase women self esteem, to encourage women organizations. (Jenny Mason, 2009). GAD challenges the social norms which dictate the women subordinate position to men. The educational gender gap in Pakistan is the result of the specific historical, political and cultural forces. (Jafar, 2002)

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The movement for independence from the British colonization in 1947 was very significant for women who challenged their traditional, domestic gender roles in the male patriarchal society to actively participate in the fight for common Muslim rights. (Jafar, 2002) During the period from independence to the beginning of Zia ul-Haq’s rule in 1977, there was a coalition between the women’s movement and the state with a common goal to create a modern Pakistan by equalizing women’s rights: by granting them government jobs and increasing educational rights for women. (Jenny Mason, 2009)

In 1977, General Zial ul-Haq overthrew the government of Zulfiqar Bhuto thinking it to be un-Islamic and aspired for Pakistan to “return to Islam”. General Zia ul-Haq emphasized the dichotomy of Islam versus the West. This Islamization approach appealed many anti-colonialists and nationalists who supported patriarchy in the country. They accentuated the symbol of Pakistani women as traditional and a symbol of honour for their male partners. Women were taken as ideological boundary makers between Muslims and the western World. (Jafar, 2002) These laws and norms moved women to the private sphere and those who continued to work in the public sphere were portrayed as the symbols of moral decay.

In spite of Zia’s efforts to restrict women’s liberty in the public sphere, the women’s movement in Pakistan continued to develop during his rule. The Women’s Action Forum (WAF) was established in 1981, which fought for the policies created by Zia and their promotion gained international attention which placed a negative pressure on Zia’s government which helped to avert the further discrimination of women’s rights. After the suspicious death of Zia in 1988, Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Ali Bhutto, was elected as the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan which was a big step towards the growth of women in Pakistan. (Jenny Mason, 2009)

Although today women’s rights’ movements and organizations are active in fighting for gender equality, only few are willing to touch the family traditions and honour. Others tend to remain traditional when it comes to the family honour and name.

Islam as well as Pakistan’s constitution has dictated equal rights for man and woman but the society greatly violates women rights. Despite all these violations, Pakistani women have elevated their status in society with the help of some organizations, enlightened groups and government. It has happened just because of the increase in awareness of girls’ education

Now in Pakistan women are working everywhere as in schools, colleges, universities, offices, factories, hospitals etc. they are students, workers, teachers, doctors, nurses and pilots. Pakistani women have proved to do whatever they are capable of despite all the hardships they face in society. These working women are seeding a silent revolution in Pakistan. A silent social revolution has seeped in with rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder in Pakistan. (Fehmina Arshad, n.d.) They are doing everything from pumping gasoline and serving burgers at McDonald’s to running major corporations. Women now hold 78 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly. The cultural norms regarding the women in the workforce have been changed.

Despite all the enlightenment and development regarding the rights of women and their being in the workforce, the society has still been captured into the old shackles of conservatism and the working women have to face criticism and condemnation from some for being bold enough to stand up for their rights. Working women are always blamed for being poor mothers and condemned to bring a bad name on the honour of the family in Pakistan. (Fehmina Arshad, n.d.) Despite women taking earning responsibilities, men do not take any attention about household chores. Women have to bear outside as well as inside home responsibilities.

Pakistani Television Dramas (History)

The Pakistan Television Corporation or PTV is Pakistan’s first national television broadcaster. PTV transmitted its first live program on November 26, 1964, in Lahore. Pakistan started its broadcasting from a small pilot TV Station which was established at Lahore from where first transmission was beamed in Black and White with effect. Television centres were established in Karachi and Rawalpindi/Islamabad in 1967 and in Peshawar and Quetta in 1974. (Rafay Mehmood, 2011) Pakistani media has played a foremost job in programming many unforgettable Pakistan classical dramas which inspired the generations in the past history. PTV started the tendency of making classic dramas with the help of intellectual writers, powerful direction, and multitalented actors.(Anum saulat, 2010)

The decades of 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have seen the tremendous success of dramas and telefilms in the Indian Subcontinent. There was only one TV channel, PTV, at that time which had touched the peak of success in drama making. PTV telecasted many popular dramas like ‘dhoop Kinary’, ‘ankahi’, ‘tanhayian’ and ‘dhuan’. The whole concept behind telecasting such dramas is to present a well prepared family drama with a strong script to provide a clean environment. The credit of such classic dramas goes to the brilliant story writers like Haseena Moen, Seema Ghazal, Ashfaq Ahmad etc. Their stories mirrored the heart touching issues of society. This was the magnificent time for Pakistani classic dramas which won many national as well as international awards. (Anum Saulat, 2010) The most famous drama serials of this time include Khuda Ki Basti, Unkahi, Tanhaiyaan, Akhri Chatan, Zair Zabar, Aangan Terha, Fifty Fifty, Studio Dhai (2-1/2), Studio Ponay Teen (2-3/4), Andehra Ujala, Sona Chandi, Uncle Urfi, Taleem-e-Baalighan, Alif Noon, Waaris, Dhoop Kinare, Sunehray Din, Alpha Bravo Charlie, Ana, and block buster serials like Pesh, Dhuwan, Kath Putli, Wafa Ham Nibhaein Gai, Bandhan, Kaghaz Kay Phool, Muqqdas, Bint-e-Adam, Malangi, Sawan, Sheela Bagh, Tinkay, Aisa Bhi Hota Hai bhar, rasta de zindgi, and many others.

Many programs were very popular even in India. Indian streets used to become deserted when few of the most popular Pakistani TV dramas were broadcasted. Although Pakistan and India are always at daggers drawn with each other, still the dramas of PTV were very popular and still are studied in the acting academies in India.

In the early 90s, the private produces entered the territory of Pakistani TV for the first time and presented some phenomenal programs such as drama serial ‘Jaal’ and ‘Kashkol’, cooking shows like ‘potluck’ and sitcoms including ‘family Front’ and ‘Teen Bata Teen’ that enthralled the viewers for a long time. Though Indian programs like ‘CID’ and Ekta Kapoor’s ‘Hum Panch’ created a small cult of their own but the local channel STN and PTV kept the countrol. Whether the field was drama , sitcom or crime stories, the 1990s gave a tough time to Indian Programming because of the quality, cultural relevance of the local dramas and because the access to the satellite channel wasn’t easy In Pakistan and was considered a luxury. (Rafay Mehmood, 2011) As the sun was setting on PTV’s golden era, Family Front’s Sumbal, Nusrat and Bobby; Alpha Bravo Charlie’s Faraz, Kashif and Gulsher; Samsung VJ’s Faisal Qureshi, Jawad Bashir, Ahsan Rahim, Amna Khan and Ahmad Ibrahim; Teen Bata Teen’s Lucy, Johnny and Shaffu became a cult icon and are still remembered for their brilliant performances to make the characters everlasting. (Shiza Nisar, 2010)

There came a time starting from 2001 when Indian dramas showed on a channel, Star Plus, were immensely popular that they not only attracted the women but also children started watching them. But now Pakistani dramas once again have touched the peaks of fame. Indian dramas got famous because of the glamour and family politics shown in them. These dramas affected the Pakistani cultural norms values and traditions so badly that the living styles of the viewers became Indian and they corrupted the society as they were so unreal. They showed the unrealistic lives of industrialists, elites and landlords through glamour. In the start Pakistani dramas started copying their style but soon they turned back to their own identity with the arrival of new competitive private producers in the industry.

With the realization that the Indian dramas had corrupted the society, these drama makers extinguished the Indian elements from the productions to follow their old trends of limited episodes and powerful story line. Many writers started writing many powerful stories for different TV channels like Geo, Hum TV, PTV, ARY digital. (Anam Saulat, 2010) Now a day, expression in media has resulted in a lot of channels and variety of Pakistani dramas for the viewers and every channel is now struggling hard to provide the audience with the best dramas ever. This competition has aggravated them to make good serials which reflect and mirror the true picture of Pakistani culture and traditions. Because of this sudden revival of Pakistani dramas, the audience loves the new dramas very much. (Shiza Nisar, 2010)

The modern dramas that have gained popularity are ‘meri zaat zarraye be-nishan’ ‘Ainee ki aygi barat’ series on Geo and , ‘nur pur ki rani’ ‘malaal’ ‘wasal’ ‘nur bano’ ,qaide e tanhai’, ,humsafar’ and many others on Hum TV. These dramas are realistic with powerful direction and script. They mirror the societal issues that actually exist in the society. Moreover, dramas like ‘wasal’, ‘ishk junoon deewangi’ ‘doraha’ and ‘malaal’ focus on the problems that are faced in a marriage because of modernity and reversal of gender roles. These problems do prevail these days. The reason why the ratio of divorces has increased is well depicted in these dramas. People should be well aware of the bitter realities that prevail in society. (Anum Saulat, 2010)

Reversal of Gender Roles in Pakistani Dramas

The electronic media in Pakistan has become an avenue for women to be seen shoulder-to-shoulder with men where they can work as diligently as they can to be an active part of the society. However, the role of women in our media seems to be heading in a direction where only their looks and attractiveness can be rewarded. (Zirgham Nabi Afridi, 2010)

Most of these dramas revolve around the family, especially women, often as independent individuals and most often as mothers, sisters and wives. The majority of Pakistani dramas today are a strange mix of progress and retreat. Some of the serials hold a few liberal, progressive and gender-sensitive messages, most of them emphasize patriarchal values existed in society. The Pakistani dramas reflect two main streams to depict the gender roles. One is to portray women as dependent on their male partners in a male patriarchal society. Women are shown being brutalized by men, slapped, beaten up, disgraced and ill-treated and men are depicted as the decision makers of the family, who simply dictate women what to do and what not to do. The other stream is to show the women indulged in working shoulder to shoulder with men to be an active participant in the progress of society. They are well aware of their rights and can stand for their liberties if ill-treated but the working women are also portrayed negatively who are the main source for a home breakup. It is rather difficult for the general viewing public to understand the contradictory messages lying within the modern day drama. Working women are depicted as strong and independent, yet also negatively portrayed as cunning (In Durr-e-Shawar the male lead, Haider, laments the fact that his wife, Shandana, is a working woman). (Tasneem Ahmar, 2012)

Television dramas can be considered as important tool to propagate gender equality. The dramas depicting equality of gender roles do not expose the overt victimization of women in them. Female characters in these serial are strong, independent and intelligent. How women are portrayed on TV is linked to the prevalent trends set by the management of entertainment television channels. The women who have reached the top in management struggle to change the prevailing trends. They act like new trend setters. Sultana Siddiqui, for example, established a policy that no woman will be slapped in the dramas aired on the TV channel she heads. Moneeza Hashmi, as managing director of the state-run television in Lahore, supported extensive programming intended to guarantee the women’s rights and gender equality. After she left, the policy unfortunately seems to have disappeared. (Bushra S, 2012)


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