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Feminism and Female Criminality

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Dr Tariq Rustam

Frailty, thy name is woman” was how Shakespeare viewed woman but Marvi Sarmad refuses to agree and stands against a barrage of slander and abuse to prove her point. However her stand needs to be taken as her principled commitment rather than her stubbornness as she and Pakistani feminist movement has shown a considerable progression by moving from last year’s  mera jism meri marzi to aurat ki marzi this year and deserves commendation on this count. This year the movement may not meet the kind of ferocious resistence as it did the last year and the real feminist issues like women legal rights, social and economic equality, position in the family, sexuality and reproductive rights, impact of this movement on the society, culture, economy and the most important of all on the family structure and female criminality may find their legitimate place on the stage. It is an extensive subject but for the purpose of this small article we will keep the scope limited to impact of feminist movement on female criminality.

Until recently female criminality was the least researched area even in the west as female was considered inferior biologically, psychologically and socially. The males were seen as independent, autonomous, intelligent, active, assertive, rational, unemotional, competitive, achieving and objective whereas woman was seen as dependent, passive, uncompetitive, immature, unachieving, unintelligent, emotional, subjective and irrational. In this context they were least expected to commit crimes and even where they did the male behaviour remained patriarchal, protective and forbearing. Their criminality was treated as a kind of mental illness rather than deviance; hence the notion,‘mad not bad’. However, with the rise of feminist movement, particularly after 1960s, their deviance and criminality also started to come under spotlight. The research conducted in the west reveals a rise in female crime rates corresponding to the rise of feminism. For instance, starting from almost negligible in 1950s the female crime in Germany has risen to 24% of the total crime whereas it has gone upto 30% in USA. Similar is the situation in modern china where the female crime rates have gone up from 2% in 1950 to more than 20% now.

In Pakistan as of now the situation is not as bad as in the west but recent years have definitely seen a surge in female criminality and changes in patterns of female criminality. It cannot be otherwise as the feminist warriors are out to deviate from defined norms which is providing them with power but also the deviant persona which was previously associated with the male part of the society. Having its roots in the western society and culture it is highly unlikely that feminist movement will not bring about similar transformation in social, economic and family structure, female psycho-social behaviour and deviance patterns.   In Pakistan the feminist movement kicked off in 1960s with the second wave of feminism in the west but suffered a heavy blow in 1980s under Zia’s Islamization. However, with Benazir as first woman Prime Minister it got a fresh lease of life and since then it has never looked back.

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During these three decades the female crime rates have not only gone up but also diversified. Before this period the women were involved only in prostitution, minor thefts, cheating or the crime of revenge in reaction to persistent domestic violence or fidelity on the part of husband or paramour. These happened to be the most violent crimes like murders or attempted murders.

According to official statistics of Punjab police the women are now figuring in almost all kinds of crime including robbery, dacoity, kidnapping for ransom, frauds, financial crimes, narcotics, smuggling and cybercrime etc,in additions to the traditional categories mentioned above. With feminist movement gaining momentum, this trend is going to get further impetus.  Here is why?

Empowerment and equal rights will allow the women more chances of leaving the four walls of house and go out and get more opportunities to involve in crime. Employment in various professions will increase their access to more societal and economic resources which will empower and embolden them to express their deviance in more aggressive manner. Freedom to move around will enable them contacts beyond their tradition family and female peer group and thereby widening their exposure of various kinds of deviant behaviours which in turn are likely to be translated into criminal actions. Gung-ho kind of feminism is stoking a sense of competition for the sake of competition among the women which is likely to be expressed in commission of crime as well; if men can do why can’t we? Then there are more serious reasons to be worried about. Rise of feminism is for sure going to weaken the family structure as it did in the west. With family’s dwindling control, the women will lose the physical, moral, psychological and above all financial support system which so far has been shielding her from many an odd. They will find themselves own their own in a highly competitive world of males to earn for themselves rendering them further vulnerable to the criminal groups waiting in the wings to exploit them. Already the economic pressure has forced a big lot of women into prostitution and drugs to support their families. Women increasing involvement in property and financial crimes is already an indication in that direction. Is there anything that can be done to stem the tide without antagonizing the principle of gender equality? Yes, there are always ways if the will is there.

The first thing we need to do is to accept women as equal to men and allow a free debate with open heart and mind on all issues related to women rights and freedoms. This will help catharsis of feminist groups, get them out of reactionary mode and see the things more rationally. This will help them understand that despite many problems our family system contains many blessings for the women as well. In blind following of the west we need not throw the baby with the bath water; the positive aspects of our culture must be emphasized and only the negative features need to be identified and dealt with. The plight of women in the west is not as good as we perceive it from here. Ask the single mothers there who have to hit from pillar to post to win bread for their kids; the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Even our criminal justice system still treats the women with paternalistic kindness and women get an easy relief from the courts as compared to men.

The education system should incorporate subjects highlighting women rights and importance of gender equality for family, social and economic stability. Ulema should come forward to with true interpretations of religious teachings to give the women their rightful place in the society. As the notion of freedom without economic independence is nothing more than an illusion, the state must come out with strategy to create equal economic opportunities for the female population. This is the only way the feminism can be steered towards its goals without suffering its negative fallout including female criminality.

Dr Tariq Rustam— The writer is a senior police office

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lahore Mirror