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Give The Girls A Level Playing Field

By Beena Sarwar

15 March , 2004
The News, Pakistan

With cricket fever gripping the nation, it's hard even for a non-cricket buff (yes, some of us do exist) to stay aloof, especially when the competition is Pakistan against arch-rival, read "enemy", India. The blinds cricket didn't
generate the same hype recently, but it certainly provided a preview of the sporting spirit and desire for peace between the people.

At one point, when an Indian blind fell, Pakistan team members were quick to help him up. "I hope the same spirit prevails when the test starts," commented Zawwar Hasan, a retired sports reporter. When newspapers flashed the photograph of one young girl at the blinds match recently,
one flag painted on each cheek, this, for Zahid Hussein, a communications specialist in Islamabad, represented "the true spirit of Pakistani people".

Then there was the B-team match. And then the 'A' Team -- "Where did that come from?" asks friend Yasser Hashmi in Lahore suspiciously. He's got his own ideas, but the positive aspect of all these India-Pakistan sporting events is that they are bringing the people of two neighbouring countries together, celebrities and ordinary folk. Many are waving 'flags of peace' - banners
emblazoned with both flags. There will be interaction between Indian visitors and locals, and they will each find that they are, after all, not that different. Politicians and leaders at the highest levels in both countries, as well as
former captains like Imran Khan and Miandad, have talked about the importance of the game itself, urged the people to be welcoming and hospitable, and above all, to be good sports.

Cricket, known as the 'gentleman's game' is supposed to epitomise the sporting spirit. "It's just not cricket", we complain when things aren't

And there are lots of things that aren't fair - life in general, for example, especially for girls, and especially in this country. Since most columns today will be about cricket anyway, and the significance of this particular series for
Pakistan-India relations, maybe this is a good time to talk about not cricket itself but the concept of what is fair and what is not.

And so we switch gears and move to a case study, in which a young girl walks daily to college - and is teased by boys on the way. Observing a
couple of classes being conducted by gender-and-health trainers from a non-government organisation, Ahang, in Karachi's Korangi area recently, one was struck by the responses of young boys and girls (separately) to this situation.

Many of the boys and girls responded that it was the girl's fault. "If she knew that she would get teased on that route, why didn't she take a different route?" asked one young man. A similar response was heard in the girls' class next door. "She has a responsibility also," said a serious looking young woman. "She should not go from there."

The trainers then asked whether it was fair for a girl to go out of her way just to avoid being teased, when a new route might take much longer and be more inconvenient. Don't the boys have any responsibilities?

The question raised interesting discussions in both classes, and obviously got people thinking. Later, one young boy admitted that he used to tease girls before, along with his friends - calling out to them, singing songs as they passed by - because he didn't know any better. "I wouldn't do that any more," he added. "I realise that if I do that to someone's sister or daughter, tomorrow the same thing could happen to someone from my family."

Driving back later, the male trainer admitted that he himself had been irresponsible while growing up, making life difficult for his own older sister. "She'd be getting ready for school herself, getting breakfast for me, cleaning the house. and then, just as we were ready to leave, I'd fling a handful of mud onto a surface she'd just cleaned. I never once considered what this
meant to her - and my parents and elders never checked me."

His own transformation came over a period of many years, after coming into contact with people like the activist Kausar S. Khan and others, who
through word and deed led him to question his own attitudes and behaviour patterns, and eventually change.

It is certainly the responsibility of family elders and teachers to instil and develop a sense of justice and fair play in children, regardless of gender. But how can adults do this, when most are victims of all kinds of unfairness in their own lives?

The sporting spirit teaches us to active rather than passive, to pick ourselves up, take initiative, and fight back - and may the best player win. But for this, there must be an even playing field, and no ball tampering.

"Miss, our teacher from another class told us that girls have no home", said one of the students at the Korangi college. "Miss, is it true, girls don't have homes?"

Their greatest fear seems to be what will happen when they get married and move into their in-laws' homes, how they will be treated there. And they appear to believe that if they are treated unfairly, they will have little choice
but to put up with it. Given the statistics of domestic violence in Pakistan, their fears are valid. According to various studies, the percentage of women who suffer some form of domestic violence is as high as 70 to 90 per cent.

The violence ranges from verbal abuse, slaps, threats, severe beatings and even sadistic torture and cold blooded murder. Finances play a major part in the reluctance of families to take back their daughters while the women themselves often have no means of supporting themselves, especially if they have children. None of this is fair.

Today, as Indians and Pakistanis turn their attention to the sporting arena, it is time to also think about the situation of those who don't have a level playing field and give them a sporting chance.