A special edition of BBC The Conversation, recorded at Institute of Business Administration, presented by Kim Chakanetsa, touched upon cyber bullying, feminism, and work stress. On the panel were: Faiza Saleem, pioneering comedian and founder of the first female stand-up group in the country; Hajra Khan, the first Pakistani, male or female, to have been signed by a foreign football club and captain of the women’s national football team; Mahira Khan, Pakistan’s biggest female film star, the award-winning actress; Nighat Dad, set-up Pakistan’s first cyber bullying helpline and lawyer involved in Pakistan’s first #MeToo case
Can religion and feminism coexist?
Faiza: I don’t understand why the two have to be mutually exclusive. We have Hazrat Khadija’s example as well.
She was the Prophet (PBUH)’s wife and she was an entrepreneur; when we have a woman like that as a role model I don’t understand why there’s such a big deal for us to be speaking about equal rights.
I’ll quote Elisabeth Fiorenza’s definition of feminism here: ‘feminism is a radical notion that wo/men are people.’
How do you deal with male chauvinist comments directed to other women in front of you?
Hajra: It also goes to all men; you don’t have to be a woman to defend another women. You have five guys sitting and you have a lunch break and that’s when it comes up and one person is like ‘if I say something against them, they’ll kick me out of this group and I’ll have nobody left to play with’. Well, you need to be the man who stands up against his friends; they will have respect for you.
This is what happened in one of our group of friends. A friend of ours stood up for a woman who was not related to them at all, and then we see the same guy defending another woman on another occasion so be that man who womans up.
How do you handle cyber bullies?
Nighat: There are different strategies. At our cyber harassment helpline, we provide three kinds of services. So we have lawyers who talk about the cyber crime laws and the legal remedies we have in Pakistan. Then, we have mental health counsellors.
Especially the women who call us are freaked out; they don’t know how to deal with the blackmailing they face online. (Blackmailing online is like telling someone that if he or she doesn’t fulfil the demands of the blackmailer, their photos, videos or private data will be shared publicly on the internet.) Counsellors talk to victims and survivors for an hour and tell them how they can make informed decisions.
We also provide digital security where we tell people how they can use online spaces safely and securely.
Plus, these tips can help: make informed decisions before sharing your data with someone because once it’s out, it will stay there forever even if you delete your profile. Make strong passwords and never use one password for five different accounts.
What sort of pressures come from being widely known?
Mahira: Lot of pressure. I think when you get that much love and you are that popular it comes with high expectations and, contrary to what anybody may think, our lives are tough. I am on a 20-hour shift and have come straight from work. The public at large does not know this; they don’t know how it feels to get into character, get out of character. One has to keep smiling for the cameras, no matter what has happened in their life; their marriage could be breaking their world could be collapsing but for their audience they have to put up a show and I think probably that is the hardest thing - the show is constantly on. And then what happens in my private moments is the show collapses, the funambulist on that rope and everything just comes crashing down and you’re alone so that’s where it’s tough. I’ve suffered from anxiety and a lot of other things. I’m sure everybody in my line of work - or any kinds of jobs which is high pressure and high profile jobs - it’s a tough place to be. But the flip side to that is, and I think we might all agree with this, when you love what you do, honestly, there’s nothing better than that. So when I’m on set, I’m like this is the life I want to live!
The entire conversation can be accessed here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0290t8h