The Repercussions of Nuclearization upon Pakistani Women

By Saba Khattak *

The system empties our memory or fills it with garbage, and so it teaches
us to repeat history instead of making it. Tragedy repeats itself as
farce, the famous prophecy announced. But with us its worse: tragedy is
repeated as tragedy. Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces, page 123.

Many Pakistanis proudly celebrated Pakistan's nuclear explosions because,
in their opinion, Pakistan had successfully repeated what the big powers
had achieved, and carved a place for itself in history. Others, aware of
the tragedy, highlighted the dangers of nuclear weapons' effects upon
human life and nature. However, very few questioned or expressed concern
about how nuclearization might affect women as a group. While men as well
as women are affected by what happens in the country, women being more
vulnerable suffer more under negative trends. Both nationally and
internationally, women's groups and movements have lobbied for peace and
protested against the negative trends of militarization and nuclear
weapons; however, in the current atmosphere, it seems that their voices
have been all but forgotten.

The question of women and public space in the nuclear debate hardly exists
in the popular imagination in Pakistan. We have been largely using
theories of imperialism, morality and pragmatism to justify our quest for
power in a world that we construct as Hobbesian: where realpolitik
prevails; survival of the fittest is the rule; balance of power
principles, game theory and deterrence theory dominate. These conceptions,
steeped in a masculinist view and patriarchal nature of the state make
women ever more invisible.

I write this piece with a sense of hesitation as well as conviction.
Hesitation, because it is difficult to talk about women as a single
category when the impact on women of nuclearization will vary due to
divisions of class, geographical location/ethnicity and ideas or
ideological stances. Conviction, because one can make some assertions with
certainty, based on past experience of militarization and its effects upon
women in third world contexts. The impact of nuclearization upon women can
be addressed in two contexts: economic/material and

Impact at the Economic Level: One can only conjecture at this point about
the economic implications for women because the economic picture is not
entirely clear yet. Economic sanctions, induced by the nuclear explosions
will affect women more negatively. In a world of market liberalization and
IMF conditionalities, despite safety nets, women suffer more than men.
Research (e.g. Shahrukh Rafi Khan's Do World Bank and IMF Policies Work?
1998) indicates that structural adjustment policies in Pakistan have
impacted women negatively in all three contexts of their lives: as
workers/producers; as consumers; and as mothers. Women have been forced to
join the workforce in increasing numbers as they are often paid less and
assigned more time-consuming tasks. Similarly, fewer subsidies and
increasing inflation have made coping more difficult for women in poor
households. Under the circumstances, sanctions will hit women harder
because we know that they are more vulnerable, e.g., their nutritional and
health status is likely to suffer more given our cultural patterns of food
consumption; similarly, the decreasing availability of other state
provided social services will affect women more.

Impact at the Non-Material Level: It is widely accepted that a worsening
economy results in shrinking public space for women, their ideas and their
rights. This happens at several levels, for example, political space,
cultural space, the demand for the removal of negative discriminatory

The relationship between patriarchy, militarization and women is
fundamental to any discussion about the impact on women of nuclearization
as the latter indicates an intensification of patriarchal norms in a
system where women are disadvantaged already. Women's relationship with a
militarized and now nuclearized state will be ever more problematic as the
reproduction of inequalities intensifies. Demands for sacrifice will
exacerbate hardships for women not only in the economic realm, but also in
that of ideology and rights. Women's demands and access to power for
fundamental social transformation almost always suffers as the
militarization aspect takes precedence over political struggle,
negotiation, and dialogue. Thus the demands and priority for women's
political representation will take a back-seat as will demands for the
removal of discriminatory legislation. This process has already begun with
the ruling party's decision not to re-open the debate on women's reserved
seats in the national and provincial assemblies. Women are expected to
forge forces to support the government at this juncture, rather than raise
the thorny issue of their political representation.

The rise of nationalism in the virulent form of neo-conservatism with
emphasis on particularistic identities will result in fewer choices for
women. The gender roles of women will be reinscribed as ideas of a good
Pakistani (read: Muslim) woman and a good Indian (read: Hindu) woman are
enforced with more zeal by conservative political and religious parties in
both countries. The stereotypes of manliness and womanliness will be
further fortified. One can see it already on television and newspapers
where women are pictured, heads covered, eyes lowered, deep in a prayer of
thankfulness, and jubilant men firing into the air, and dancing, to
celebrate raw nuclear power. Furthermore, other identities such as those
of minorities will be suppressed whenever they do not fit into the
dominant notion of what constitutes the nation. The creation of a national
insecurity mindset fosters xenophobia as well as suspicion and distrust of
minorities. Thus one sees democracy as a set of values indicating
tolerance and respect for diversity of opinion and belief receding

The widespread, unquestioning consumption of nuclear power, notions of
nationalism, sacrifice and rise to power on both sides of the Indo-Pak
border is disturbing. The imposition of the state of emergency in Pakistan
not only exposes the sham of nuclear security, it also echoes Pakistan's
authoritarian past. The suspension of civil and political rights of the
citizens is ironic: the very people whose security is being secured are
perceived as threats to security by the government. This implies that the
Pakistan government considers territorial security and not human security
to be of paramount importance. Obviously, what constitutes security for a
state does not necessarily reflect the concerns of all the state's
citizens. It is tragic that the struggle for democracy against military
rule should so ironically be bartered away by a democratic government in
the name of nuclear and military security.

In conclusion one may assert that nuclearization of South Asia will
reinforce complex systems of hierarchy which contribute to strengthening
misplaced notions of national identity. They perpetuate inequalities at
all levels whether material or ideational. Both women and men suffer under
such constructions which ultimately serve to exacerbate unjust systems.
Given the present system in which women are comparatively more
disadvantaged than men, increasing inequalities will push them back in
their struggles as well as enact new barriers against them.

* This piece was written before the partial lifting of the state of
emergency on July 29, 1998, two months after the nuclear explosions. [The author is based at SDPI, Islamabad]