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March 9, 2019

‘Pakistani women have made great achievements’


March 9, 2019

Pakistani women have achieved excellence and singular honour for Pakistan. This was stated by Nargis Rehman, chairperson of the Pakistan Women’s Foundation for Peace (PWFP), while speaking at a function to highlight the Pakistani women’s plight and achievements at a local hotel on the occasion of International Women’s Day on Friday.

“We are proud of our women who have been Nobel laureate, nuclear physicists, mountaineers, fighter pilots, CEOs, Oscar winner, parliamentarians, writers, teachers, film makers, engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, and sports women, and all ours sisters who work in fields and the slums round the clock for the welfare of the less fortunate,” she said in her highly erudite discourse.

Their achievements were remarkable, said Rehman, more so when considered against the backdrop of the fact that women in Pakistan still had to contend with a tribal-feudal-patriarchal order, anti-woman social constructs, misogynistic traditions, weak governance and poor structural reforms.

She cited the example of other countries which, she said, ranked really low on the graph of women’s rights and development overall. She cited the example of Rwanda, which, she said, had been the victim of a savage civil war and strife. But, she said, in the graph published in 2014, it had come to enjoy the sixth position on the graph. “We must learn from the examples of such countries,” she said.

Bangladesh, she said, was 48th on the gender gap report. “How did it earn that position after going through years of poverty, poor governance, social backwardness, and gender discrimination?” she queried.

Fifty-seven per cent of Bangladesh’s export-oriented industry was led by women, she said. “Today Pakistan faces critical challenges, most of all, the state of our beleaguered economy. To emerge from our debt traps and the aid pits, we have to prioritise the empowerment of half the country’s population to become effective players in the rebuilding and energising bust economy,” she said.

Former federal minister and former senator, Javed Jabbar lauded the role of Pakistani women in every field. As for misogyny, he said that while it certainly was an obnoxious thing, there was misogyny in every part of the world. “It happens in the United States. It will take centuries for the world to shed this unhappy trend.”

While he acknowledged that the situation in Pakistan was not perfect, he said that there were portents pointing in the positive direction. He narrated his own experience and said that he and his colleagues worked with women in places as backward and overly conservative as Dera Ismail Khan and he said that now in that very Dea Ismail Khan, we had women taxi drivers.

Then, he said, there was the shining example of former federal minister Zubeida Jalal from southern Balochistan. “There’s lots of change that has taken place for the better but lots still remains to be done.”

Civil society organisations, Jabbar said, had a very vital part to play to change the attitudes. Justice (retd) Shaiq Usman said that the whole dynamics had changed over the last 15 years and at a venue of lawyers there were more female advocates than male ones.

Praising the legislative machinery, he said that progressive legislations were being passed and not only that but also implemented. He cited the legislation on child marriages brought by the government and said that these were also being implemented.

Referring to the murder of Afzal Kohistani on the basis of a controversial video, he said young people should start off a social media campaign to wipe out such an obscurantist menace. Dr Khalida Ghaus of the Social Policy Development Centre (SPDC) acknowledged that women had made progress against all odds but cautioned that we must not bank blindly on the statistics provided by foreign media about our social problems and that they were not all that authentic.

Tanveer Ahmed of the NGO, HANDS, said that we must take stock of what all we’d achieved. He said that there should be ways to ensure that at least 50 per cent of all school pupils should be girls.

Komal Mahindra from Washington DC said, “We are focusing on women because we are working on women’s empowerment.” Pakistan, she said, had the lowest rate of women’s participation, at one percent. Seventy-three per cent of the women had no role in nation-building at all.

Others who spoke were Akram Khatoon, former head of the First Women’s Bank, and students Javeria Rais of the Lyari University and Sehrish Salamat. The function was rounded off with a vocal performance by Fizza Javed and the Coke Studio band. Among the numbers she presented were, “Bole Ke Lab Azad Hain Tere”, and “Ajj jane ki Zid Na karo”.

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