Friday September 22, 2023

Fariha Razak — Remembering a silent fighter for the oppressed

By M R Syed
February 01, 2019

“The men's attitude towards women has to change. Unless they learn to respect women and treat them as equals, this nation will not progress. Nuclearisation is not so important as the liberation of our nation from obsolete, archaic tribal and feudal mindsets and rituals. We have no concept of a thing called civilization.” These are the epic words of Fariha Razak in an article titled 'Women Are Falling Behind' published in leading English newspaper Magazine. This article also earned her and Pakistan for the first time the prized European Commissions “Lorenzo Natali Prize for Journalism” in 2000 and she became the first Pakistani writer to be recognised by The International Federation of Journalists for this coveted feat. Fariha was 44 then and already on top of her field.

Born in 1956, Fariha Razak belonged to a family who had dedicated their lives for the betterment of Pakistan. She was the daughter of an eminent civil engineer Abdul Razaq. Her father worked as Chief Engineering Advisor to the Saudi Royal Air Force and held various other senior positions, retiring from the Engineer in Chief Directorate of the Pakistan Army. He later went on to serve in politics and closely assisted Benazir Bhutto working in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Fariha's mother Nishat Afza was a poet and an eminent social worker who graduated from the Punjab University and later obtained diploma in Modern Techniques of Leadership and Management from the United States. She also served as President Free Legal Aid Centre. During her time as a Member of the Punjab Assembly she also moved many private bills and motions for human rights and for the under privileged. Fariha and her mother also had another unique distinction which has been shared by very less people that both mother and daughter at the same time were members of the Parliament.

Fariha completed her schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary, Murree and was a high performing student who excelled in studies as well as sports. She was captain of the volley ball team and was also presented with life time achievement award by the school for being an outstanding student and in recognition of her accomplishments. She studied Communications & Journalism Innovation at Stanford University, USA as well as English Literature and French from Kinnaird College Lahore, Pakistan. She also earned a fellowship in Social Justice & Democracy, at University College London, UK and was an alumnus of the National Defence University, Islamabad. She chose to work as a writer and enter the field of journalism. Her illustrious career won her various accolades as an eloquent journalist and human rights activist. She wrote over 1,000 articles over a span of 30 years for national and international publications.

Later her inspiration and friend Benazir Bhutto nominated her as the party’s candidate for the reserved seats for women and subsequently she was elected to the assembly in 2002 in Pakistan general elections from Sindh. As member of assembly, she took up significant social and human rights causes to support; specifically, karo kari, domestic violence, runaway marriages, child labour, women’s rights and forced labour. She worked extensively to create awareness about the right of minorities and the underprivileged. Fariha was successful in moving several resolutions & private bills for these causes. She was involved with multiple NGOs including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to support various significant causes. She held workshops and regularly toured the interior parts of the country to create awareness on transitional justice, conflict prevention, family planning, education, human rights and peace building. Fariha also worked towards improving the condition of poverty stricken, homeless, abused and underage children in Pakistan.

In 2003, she was honoured with the prestigious “Annual Muslim Award” by the House of Lords, London for her meaningful contribution to social and human rights issues. This prestigious award is bestowed on behalf of the Queen of England. The same year she also received by the Prime Minister of Pakistan “Madar-i-Millat Award” for her selfless dedication to improve the status of the under privileged in society. In 2007, she was awarded “Service to the Nation Award”.

Various national & international organisations appreciated her dedication towards the causes she highlighted for which she was given several awards. She was also recognised by the Pakistan British Trust on Pakistan’s 60th year for the Power 100 list of Pakistani people who have accomplished the very highest levels of achievement from within the international Pakistani community and made outstanding contributions by Pakistani men & women on a local, national and international level since independence. In short, she quietly dedicated her life to improve the human rights situation in Pakistan especially for women.

She is fondly remembered by family and friends as a person full of life who would always look out for others. She was fun to be with but also assertive and vocal when it came to serious political and human right issues. In addition to being an accomplished journalist and public figure, she was a mother to three sons. She was the ultimate working woman, friend, mother and a best friend to her kids. A true representative of a better society who spoke for the unheard, yet she stayed true to her roots. She was a single mother but none of the challenge’s life threw at her could stop her from giving time to her work, home, kids and causes that closely mattered to her.

1st February 2018 will always be a date specially remembered in loving memory of Fariha Razak. She was a true fighter and an outstanding woman of extra ordinary capabilities, a woman of substance who felt the plight of oppressed women and others less privileged in Pakistan and spoke up for their rights. She was an asset to Pakistan and will always be remembered as a strong defender of human rights and an amazing individual to anyone who had an opportunity to know her.