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Saturday April 20, 2024

‘Candidates who mobilised women and connected with them won elections’

By Our Correspondent
February 21, 2024

A two-day annual conference of FemConsortia, an alliance of twelve women’s rights organisations and five alliances from across Pakistan, began here in Karachi today.

Participants speaks during a A two-day annual conference of FemConsortia on February 20, 2024. — Facebook/FEM Consortia
Participants speaks during a A two-day annual conference of FemConsortia on February 20, 2024. — Facebook/FEM Consortia

The consortium evolved as a result of a five-year programme of Oxfam, titled Women’s Voice and Leadership-Pakistan embracing feminist to sustain transformation achieved at individual, organisational, and community levels.

Four discussion papers were assigned to researchers on the topics of ‘Women in Politics’, ‘Women in the Place of Work’, ‘Adolescent Girls’, and ‘Climate Change with a Feminist Perspective’.

Speaking at the plenary session, the executive director of NowCommunities and convener of the conference, Farhat Parveen, who holds the current secretariat of FemConsortia, explained the journey from its formation to the present. She appreciated the forerunners in the struggle for women’s right and acknowledged the role of male allies and called for the growing of the tribe.

“We should talk about all genders without shifting the focus away from women. We talk about equality for all vulnerable genders, but we are also talking about improving the condition of women,” she stressed.

“The idea of FemConsortia is to talk with a feminist perspective. Feminism does not at all mean that we are against men. Our perspective is that we want to improve women’s status,” she added.

In her opening remarks, the ombudsperson of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rukhshanda Naz, spoke of the long struggle of brave women in changing oppressive societal norms, which were overturned by the brave women of Pakistan, despite vilification and push back.

“In 1993, the government of Pakistan promised to strengthen the human rights machinery, but the machinery that has been strengthened has been done so by the women’s movement,” she remarked.

“When women entered parliament, reporting in the media focused on their attire, lipstick and branded clothes, but that women brought about revolution, not only creating space for themselves but also pushing forward both a pro-women and a pro-human rights agenda.”

The ombudsperson highlighted that then, a wave was seen after 2010 when the institution of ombudsperson for harassment at the workplace was first established in Sindh. In Punjab, she added, it was established in 2012 and the law was enacted in Balochistan in 2016, while in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the law was passed in 2018, and the first ombudsperson was appointed.

She was of the view that candidates that mobilised women and connected with them emerged victorious in the elections. Naz emphasised the need for assertively and forcefully advocating a feminist agenda and creating space for women.

“In the name of gender equality and inclusion, women have lost their space in leadership and mainstream politics. Their space has shrunk, even by the state. I believe we need to focus on reclaiming the space that has been reduced for women in the name of gender activism in recent years,” she went on, clearing that she was not against the gender equality.

Later, a detailed presentation of the paper ‘Women in Politics’ busted many myths and listed some very clear wins and the valuable role of women in progressive legislation. The panellists discussing the paper written by Zeeshan Noel included Salman Abid of the Mumkin Alliance, Iftar Mufti, of South Asia Partnership, Pakistan, and Mangla Sharma, former MPA Sindh.

They appreciated the findings of the research paper which clearly showed the strides made by women in the political sphere, where they even scored many firsts; like the first speaker, foreign minister, prime minister, women’s parliamentary caucus and their role in many women friendly laws.

The discussion paper on ‘Adolescent Girls’ was authored by Rabeea Hadi, and she highlighted the grave threats they young girls and many violations of their rights that lead to physical, mental, emotional and social threats for them.

The panelists -- Sadiqa Salahuddin of the Indus Resource Center, Nisma Iqbal of Zindagi Trust, Manize Bano of SAHIL, and Robeela Bangash -- highlighted the different nature of threats they now face which have not disappeared but have evolved into newer ones. The final plenary, moderated by Uzma Zarrin of OXFAM Pakistan, highlighted the importance of indepth research and conversations on the selected topics. The panellists Sajjad Abro of SHADE Jaffarabad, Harris Khalique, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Mahnaz Rehman, resident director of Aurat Foundation, Sarah Zaman, researcher on violence against women, and psychologist Asha Bedar acknowledged that most of the problems related with the rights of girls and women stem from the role assigned to them as women. Of the issues related to their worth and their choices, now one visible change is that despite the patriarchal structures many young girls have awareness as well as the vocabulary to articulate their issues. The engagement modality has changed because of the political engagement.

The closing remarks to the discussion and questions session were made by Professor Farkhunda Aurangzeb, member of the National Commission of Human Rights. She was also Pakistan’s signatory on the Beijing Platform for Action on Women.

The evening concluded with a mushaira featuring leading poets of the country with a clear feminist stance. It was moderated by Sadia Baloch of NOWCommunities and presided over by Tanveer Anjum. The agenda for Day 2 (February 21) includes presentation and discussion on the research papers on women in the place of work and climate change with a feminist perspective. It will conclude with a tribute to renowned performing artist Sheema Kermani, including a performance by her.