In the recent past, Pakistan has witnessed that freedom of expression practiced with an objective to improve the lives of the marginalised communities has been very effective and beneficial....
In the recent past, Pakistan has witnessed that freedom of expression practiced with an objective to improve the lives of the marginalised communities has been very effective and beneficial. Amplified by the diverse dissemination platforms, the robust campaigns supporting human rights have enabled legislation that has changed the lives of millions from the underprivileged communities.
We have seen that when we have heard them, we have changed their lives and their community lives for the better. A glaring example of this is when the transgenders (eunuchs) took their right to freedom of expression and called for acknowledging their existence as citizens of this country as transgender. The government heard them and amendments were made in the CNIC to not only give them their rightful identification but acknowledge their gender as per their wishes. This opened up all the doors of facilities for them that are granted to other citizens; facilities and rights they were previously denied.
Similarly, the #metoo campaign gave ample space to women facing harassment to openly share their experiences calling for stricter legislature to put a check on this social evil.
It was also because of voices raised by women and girls and all such people with a kind heart against rising incidents of child abuse and violence against girls like 6-year-old Zainab Ansari, who was raped and murdered; a bill was drafted, tabled and passed in the National Assembly as the ‘Zainab Alert Bill’ or the ‘Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2019’. The bill defines the system of one window operation to notify the public and recover kidnapped children through the newly formed federal agency called ZARRA.
One such endeavour is the digital campaign, Mashal-e-Haq, that has been raising awareness regarding the rights that the Pakistani Constitution, as well as international law grants every individual, especially the marginalized and vulnerable, including religious and ethnic minorities, women, poorest of the poor, transgender, disabled and elderly.
Such national and private awareness-driven actions and campaigns create room for safe discussions and also provide space for freedom of expression to the marginalized. Without this space and freedom to express their concerns, the voiceless could not be raised.
It is up to us, as individuals, communities, institutions, and societies to ensure they are granted their rights and space to exercise their right to freedom of expression. We as a collective conscience have to ensure that we hear and listen to them. We have to create space of tolerance and acceptance, where the marginalized don’t feel threatened to voice their concerns, views and opinions.
Every person is born with the right of dignity, value and respect. One of the ways in which we recognize the fundamental significance of every person is by recognizing and valuing the basic human rights they are born with. The right to freedom of expression is the foundation of it that intersects with, many rights essential to our day-to-day endeavours.
Freedom of Expression is a human right granted by the Constitution of Pakistan and is defined clearly in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, giving individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment. Added to this is the extremely important element of space for expression. This is especially critical for the marginalised who are already the silent members of our society.
The marginalized include women, children, elderly, disabled, transgender, religious and ethnic minorities and the poorest of the poor.
If we are unable to listen to them then we are not only usurping their basic human right, but also will be unable to address their grievances. Freedom of expression and speech plays an important role in the creation of a tolerant and pluralistic society. There are many conscientious people and organizations that are working towards raising awareness about safeguarding the rights of the marginalized. As individuals, communities and institutions how proud are we, that we have truly heard the marginalized, have given them their rights to express themselves, especially when their opinions may be different from ours. It will definitely make us proud as by doing so we could say that we have truly reflected the full diversity of the country and is the need of the hour.