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March 8, 2021

Call for removing hurdles in women’s educational progress, political participation

March 8, 2021

Although several women groups, particularly the Aurat March (Women March), and political parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pakistan Peoples Party have planned to hold different programmes on Monday (today) to mark International Women’s Day, several events have already been held in the run-up to the international day.

International Women’s Day is celebrated all across the globe every year on March 8. In Karachi too, dozens of programmes are held every year with the main objective of spreading awareness of women’s rights in society.

‘Break shackles’

The 2nd Women Conference, which had kicked off at the Arts Council of Pakistan in Karachi on Saturday in connection with International Women’s Day, concluded on Sunday.

During various sessions of the two-day event, the speakers attached great importance to women’s empowerment, and called for removing the obstacles and breaking the shackles that hamper their educational progress and growth in different sectors.

In Sunday’s first session, titled ‘Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahi’, the speakers — including Zehra Akbar Khan, Nasir Mansoor, Fatima Majeed and Bushra Arain — spoke on women’s issues. Renowned literary figure Kishwar Naheed moderated the session.

During a session titled ‘Challenges in Education’, senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa stressed the need to change the education system so that children become interested in reading on their own. Sadiqa Salahuddin, Dr Fouzia Khan, Dr Sahar Imdad and Ejaz Ahmed Farooqi also spoke on the occasion.

In a session on health, Sindh parliamentary secretary Muhammad Qasim Soomro, Dr Hazoora Shaikh, Dr Haroon Ahmed, Dr Shershah Syed, Dr Ruqqia Soomro and Huma Mir were the speakers. A session on social and digital media activism was also held.

A day earlier, Noor Zaheer, a noted writer from India and daughter of the Marxist intellectual Syed Sajjad Zaheer, said while addressing the programme over the internet that holding women’s conferences is important to discuss women-related issues.

“We will continue shouting slogans until our words are heeded,” she said. She pointed out that countries headed by women fought harder and better against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eminent Pakistani writer Noor-ul-Huda Shah said while referring to the Aurat March that a group of women had raised their concerns regarding their rights differently last year by shouting slogans like ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi’ (my body, my will).

“The slogan became a matter of honour. I have not been a part of any feminist movement, but the way men reacted to this slogan turned me into a feminist.”

She said that in a society where women continue to produce children like machines, when misunderstandings are created against rights, this is what happens when the slogan is raised that the protector of a woman’s body is a man.

Renowned writer Kishwar Naheed recited her poem titled ‘Sinful Women’, while leading Indian actor Shabana Azmi congratulated the 2nd Women Conference via a video message.

During a session, speakers, including known women rights activists Sheema Kermani, Mahnaz Rahman, Malika Khan, Shahnaz Rahu and Hani Baloch, discussed the topic of ‘My Life is My Choice’.

In a session titled ‘Economic Empowerment of Women’ that was chaired by Huri Noorani, Kazim Saeed briefed the participants about the economic empowerment of women. Various performances by women were also arranged for the programme.

‘Address barriers’

The Working Women’s Collective, a women’s rights body, organised an event in connection with International Women’s Day in Baldia Town. A large number of women working in factories attended the event and shared their issues.

The speakers said that the preference for sons due to their apparently productive role in society dictates the allocation of household resources in their favour.

They said that male family members are given better education and are equipped with skills to compete for resources in the public arena, while female members are imparted with domestic skills to be only good wives and mothers.

Sajida Baloch, a community leader, said that many women have lost their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has further limited their economic participation. She said that the cultural restriction on women’s occupational choice is one of the factors that restricts women’s participation in the overall growth of society.

Naghma Sheikh, a political activist, said that there are no constitutional restrictions on women’s political participation, but the male domination of political parties and the lack of financial resources available to women who want to enter politics are the barriers that need to be addressed.

Women workers who attended the event said that there are so many issues being faced by them and yet they have been unable to resolve them. “This may be because the male members of families are seen as more important, and even as the heads of households,” pointed out one of the event’s participants who works in a factory.

‘Implement law’

In their statement released in connection with International Women’s Day, the Hari Welfare Association expressed their concerns over the apparent lack of seriousness and commitment of the provincial government in implementing the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act 2019.

“More than a year has passed but not a single step has been taken to implement the law, which not only recognises women’s work in the agriculture sector, including farming, livestock and fisheries and related sectors, but also promotes and protects their right to participation in decision-making and fosters empowerment.”

They said that the law guarantees various long-denied rights to female agriculture workers, but getting benefits through the law is an extremely difficult task — if and when implemented. “The Act provides for the registration of women agriculture workers in the register of women agriculture workers to be kept at the union council level.”

They urged the Sindh government and the labour department to notify the board, set up field offices across the province, register female agriculture workers and notify rules under the law. They also urged the government to provide a genuine representation of female agriculture workers in the board and tripartite councils through wider publicity and promotion of the law.

Aurat March

The organisers of the Aurat March have announced that this year a sit-in will be held at the Frere Hall on March 8. They warned of extending their protest if the government failed to meet the demands listed in the 15-point agenda of the Aurat March within the stipulated time frame.

Addressing a news conference at the Karachi Press Club on Friday, Tehrik-e-Niswan founder Sheema Kirmani, who is a renowned classical dancer and a member of the organising committee of the Aurat March, had demanded that the government effectively implement the laws formulated for the protection of women.

Among the key demands of the Aurat March are putting an end to forced conversions, deploying women and transgender persons at police stations, establishing desks to facilitate women and transgender persons at police stations and in courts, and increasing the number of female medico-legal officers.

They urged the Sindh government to pass the proposed bill against forced conversions into law and to enforce the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010. They demanded the inclusion of representatives of feminists and transgender organisations in federal and national standing committees.