Almost three decades ago, on February 12, some 200 women activists took stand against the patriarchal mindset in Pakistan and held a demonstration in Lahore. They were beaten up by the police and met with shelling and stone-pelting in military dictator Ziaul Haq’s era.
The Uks Research Centre in the Defence Housing Authority neighbourhood on Tuesday held a dialogue for change titled ‘Understanding Women’s Rights and the Feminist Movement in Pakistan’ to commemorate the valor of those women, and discussed issues that are either not taken up by our media or are presented through a misunderstood narrow and tunnel-vision approach.
Uks works on media monitoring as well as advocacy, especially on gender issues. The research centre has planned to celebrate the efforts of those women who marched in Lahore for their rights for a month till March 12.
A platform made by men and women emerged in 1980s in the Ziaul Haq era. The Women’s Action Forum was the force behind that march, shared Uks Director Tasneem Ahmer. “The motive of that [forum] was [to produce] a resistance movement.” She was in Karachi back then.
February 12, 1983, she recalled, was the day when protesters marched in Lahore and they met with shelling, stones and police batons.
“Habib Jalib got a head injury in that march,” she said and added that several other women were hurt.
Since then, she said, they had been celebrating February 12 as women’s empowerment day and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made this day Pakistan’s National Women’s Day.
The co-founder and director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights, Farieha Aziz, shared how feminism is considered as an abusive word in our society. “It is believed to be anti-men,” she pointed out and added that in the rest of the world there’s a war going on against the patriarchal mindset, whereas in our society liberalism is just a lifestyle. “We don’t have any space for liberal political thinking,” she said.
In 1980s, she shared that there was a political social change against certain pieces of legislation that came into existence in the Ziaul Haq era. Women didn’t have equal citizen opportunities back then.
Speaking on the Women March, she said that interestingly, the backlash of the Aurat March was that it was criticised by men as well as women. After seeing slogans such as ‘Khana khud garam karlo’ [heat your food yourself], the general opinion has been that these are non-issues. But when women of the Aurat March talk about domestic violence and rape, they are considered immoral women who want to spread the culture of divorce in the society.
“There was opposition in parliament to domestic violence legislation,” she said and added that earlier any woman who used to report rape was put behind bars.
A senior lecturer at the Bahria University’s department of media studies, Javeria Shakil, shared how 80 per cent of women were actually against the Aurat March, according to a survey conducted and published in a daily Urdu newspaper. “The local Urdu magazines teach how women have to behave obediently in their lives,” she said and added that there were no articles in Urdu magazines that said women could give a counter reply to abuse and file a complaint. These concepts of women empowerment, she pointed out, had to be explained, and other than TV channels, the women’s digests could play a major role.
In the year 2006, the women’s protection act came into existence after decades of struggle. Laws are there, but Aziz asked to see the behaviour of courts and police stations. She then shared the case of an acid attack victim. She spoke of the behaviour of doctors with the victim, who was a 35-year-old mother of four. “Doctors were asking me if I believed her story?” she recalled. Even if a girl has evidence, she’s burnt, still scepticism will be there, because over the years women have been painted as liars, she said.
Ayesha Khan of Collective for Social Science Research in the dialogue session asked the younger generation to have the sense of history of feminist struggle since the time of Ziaul Haq and what had been the accomplishments. The Women’s Action Forum in resistance to Zia, she said, prompted one of the biggest changes that society witnessed, i.e. working on improving Hudood laws and such other laws against women started.
Since women started making it to the parliament through the reserved seats, she said, there had been several changes in legislation. “Until we have women in politics and more women in assemblies and more women in political parties, we cannot make the changes that we need.”
Award-winning Pakistani screenwriter and director Bee Gul, who has also written critically acclaimed TV play such as Dar Si Jaati Hai Sila, shared her experience of bearing pressures when she tried to challenge the hierarchy of a home in her play.
Merey Paas Tum Ho drama-famed famous Pakistani writer and director Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, in one of his interviews, had said how a man always sacrificed himself in serving his mother, sister and wife. Gul in reference to that asked why a man did that. “Let a woman do that,” she said and asked men and women to come on equal terms, in which men also performed the house chores and women also worked and earned.
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