“Imagine what would happen if a million women stopped working for a day: the country would be paralysed,” social entrepreneur Aurélie Salvaire said during a panel discussion at the 9th Karachi Literature Festival.
“We [women] have immense power and do so much work, but just like the British used the divide and rule [strategy], patriarchy does the same by dividing us into groups.”
The global #MeToo movement took centre stage at the discussion that was moderated by author Bina Shah and, besides Aurélie, comprised social scientist and researcher Haris Gazdar and transgender activist Kami Chouhdry.
Discussing her experiences with women across the world, Aurélie felt that compared to the upper classes, women from the lower and lower-middle classes tend to have a better understanding of feminism.
“I think the change will come from the bottom instead of the top, because we need to change the narratives. Gender equality will help boost Pakistan’s economy, so even if you don’t believe in human rights, do it for the sake of financial benefit.” Referring to a demonstration in Ireland in 1974, when all the women workers went on a strike, forcing the government into amending laws, she said women hold the power.
Kami said caretakers as well as teachers need to speak to children about gender identities. Appreciating the senate’s move to remove the need for a medical check-up to ascertain gender, she said there is still a long way to go.
“This is the first time we have been involved in the drafting of a bill about our community, because how can other genders decide on our behalf?” Gazdar said there is a need to create a sense of outrage on various forms of inequalities. “We constantly need to re-examine the definition of a man until the equalities, instead of the inequalities, become a norm.”
Kami said the change regarding gender equality needs to start right away. “Even as we speak in this session, we can see binaries with regards to men and women, and no reference to other genders or sexualities, which needs to change so we may also be recognised as equal participants in society.”
Gazdar spoke about the misrepresentation of women in the workforce, because their visibility is directly related to their rights as well as status in society.
Referring to a labour force survey he was engaged in, he said: “Less than one-fifth of the women are counted as the working force, while more than 80 per cent are actively engaged in doing the work. Economic exploitation leads to sexual exploitation, which is why it is important to address it.”
Despite putting in so much effort, women are virtually captive because of the falsification of their role in economy, he added. “Many women don’t even regard the work they do as ‘work’, rather thinking of it as a chore.”
He explained that women were engaged in looking after livestock, picking cotton and harvesting crops, yet when they were asked if they worked, they denied it. He said all the policies were framed without taking their say into consideration.
“By airbrushing the contributors out, the workers and their rights are being violated,” he said, stressing that women need to be recognised so they may speak up about their issues, including sexual violation.
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