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Zubeida Mustafa with IWMF Global Voices on Truthdig, Monday June 30, 2014 (originally published on 23 June)

Pakistani woman praying

A woman prays at the shrine of Shah Chun Chirag in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Image: BK Bangash/AP

How do women cope in Pakistan? This is a question I am very frequently asked by people in the West who are flooded by news of all the incessant outrageous happenings in my country. One cannot deny that in times of crisis that have global bearings—as in the Afghan war of the 1980s and the post-9/11 years—Pakistan receives more than its share of publicity in the international media. Regrettably, most of it is negative. And quite a lot of it is also true.

However, like the proverbial half-empty or half-full glass, the impression one forms depends on the context in which one sees a situation. Since the reporting tends to be heavily based on received wisdom, the truth does not emerge fully. As a result, only the bad news of the half-empty glass is reported, which reinforces the fears of skeptics: The fires of violence in Pakistan will engulf the world and destroy it. But there is no mention of the half-full glass that gives many of us hope.

True, Pakistanis—especially women—have been victims of centuries-old gender prejudices and biases. The status of women had begun to improve, as statistics show and as many women like me know from our personal experience, when war and the resultant radicalization came as a major setback. The militants such as al-Qaida, the Taliban and their countless affiliates as well as their predecessors, the mujahedeen, who were actually used as proxies by the Americans to turn Afghanistan into a “Soviet Vietnam,” resorted to retrogressive strategies in the name of religion and jihad. Thus the dark ages for the women of Pakistan were revived. . .

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