Life is getting better for women in Pakistan.
That's the assessment of Pakistani writer Bina Shah. But she said there are still gaping differences between the sexes. Especially when it comes to sex.
"Men and boys' sexual behavior is condoned, it's approved of, it's seen with admiration," she explained. "Women's sexual behavior, girls' sexual behavior, is sought to be controlled and clamped down upon."
Shah wrote a column recently for the New York Times about the lack of sex education in Pakistan. It's not that sex ed doesn't exist, it's just frowned upon.
"Where it has been introduced in private schools in more affluent areas of Pakistan, there's been protests in those schools," she said. "And the program that I was talking about [in the article] was a very small pilot program that took place in the rural areas. How they did it was that they really had to rebrand sexual education — they had to call it 'life-based skills.'"
And much like the divisive debate over women's rights in the United States, Shah says the sex-ed programs in Pakistan have to stay away from topics like contraception or abortion. "They had to really tread carefully," she said.
"The program coordinators talked very carefully with religious and community leaders in the areas and got their approval and really had everybody on board when they brought the program in. And that's really how you have to do it in a place like Pakistan."
One issue very much unlike the United States is child marriage. It's still widely practiced in Pakistan. But Shah says the good news is it's being discussed more and more.
"Recently in the province of Sindh, where I live, the 'Child Marriage Act' was passed, which makes marrying under 18 illegal. So we're having a lot of conversations about the topic," she said.
All in all, Shah says she's optimistic about the future for women's rights in Pakistan.
"I'm always optimistic about my country," she said. "I always see the forward motion, because what other choice do we have?"
Bina Shah is the author of several novels, including “Slum Child,” and short-story collections.
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