Pakistan: Women take to streets to end gender-based violence, child marriage, & much else Print E-mail
Pakistan ~ Saturday March 9 201

Women rally across Pakistan for rights, end to injustice

KARACHI: Thought-pro­vo­king seminars and protest rallies were held across the country on Friday to mark International Women's Day, which is celebrated by the global community every year on March 8.

Scores of women, men as well as transgender persons came out to participate in the Aurat March staged in major cities of the country, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad and Larkana.

The march was aimed at expressing solidarity with women from across Pakistan and to push for accountability and restorative justice against violence and harassment at the workplace, at home, in public spaces as well as at the hands of security forces.

The participating women demanded economic justice, including implementation of labour rights, and also raised other pressing concerns such as access to safe drinking water and air, protection of animals and wildlife, recognition of women's participation in production of food and cash crops, access to fair justice system, reproductive justice, access to public spaces, inclusion in educational institutions, rights of religious minorities, promotion of an anti-war agenda and end to police brutality and enforced disappearances.

In Lahore, hundreds of women gathered under the banner of "Hum Aurtain" at the press club and marched to Al Hamra Arts Council, shouting slogans against patriarchy.

In the federal capital, besides the march, several other events were organised to highlight the sufferings faced by women in the country and their contributions to social development and in various other fields.

The British High Commission hosted a multimedia training session and conference for women journalists and bloggers, in collaboration with the Media Training and Research Centre.

Addressing the conference, Joanna Reid, head of the UK's Department for International Development, said that women were the future of Pakistan and they had the ability to change things.

Besides, Serena Hotels hosted a breakfast morning to celebrate the day and to honour the women from different walks of life, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The chief guest was the president's wife Samina Arif Alvi. Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplaces Kashmala Tariq was also present.

In Peshawar, several functions were held under the aegis of different government departments and civil society organisations where participants urged the government to ensure implementation of women protection laws and policies without delay.

Aurat Foundation regional chief Shabina Ayaz, Gulalai Ismail of the Aware Girls, activist Sana Ijaz and former MNA Jamila Gilani shared their views about the significance of Women's Day and the need to raise gendered concerns.

In Quetta, the day was observed with zeal and passion as seminars were held and a procession was taken out to mark the occasion.

Major events to celebrate the day were organised by the UN Women in collaboration with the Balochistan government and the Balochistan National Party, separately. Activists of the Women Democratic Front took out a procession.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani, speaking at the Women Leadership conference, highlighted the role of women in the society and said that without participation of half of the population of the country, Pakistan could not progress and one could not expect the formation of an exemplary society.

Messages pour in Prime Minister Imran Khan in his message on International Women's Day reaffirmed his government's commitment to providing women a safe environment so that they could contribute to the country's development.

"We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring women a secure and enabling environment to play their rightful role in our nation's development," he said.

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the contributions of women on duty in uniform and at household, particularly the ones of martyrs' families, were greatly valued.

"The great Pakistani women have a role and responsibility towards the progress of Pakistan," he said in a message issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations on Twitter.

Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman, referring to the Aurat March, drew attention to a number of issues women faced, saying: "I march because women don't get the same pay or opportunities as men. Because I'm done keeping quiet about sexist jokes, about snide remarks and unspoken collusion to keep women out of decision-making. I march for my less fortunate sisters who suffer daily indignities."

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif lauded "the incredible work our women are doing to strengthen their families, communities and the country".

"The women of Pakistan have come a long way off but a lot needs to be accomplished and soon," he said.
 Pakistan ~ Friday March 8 2019

How this Women's Day is different for Pakistan

By Maria Amir

The first week of March, 2016 was a big one for Pakistan.

We lost a big cricket match and won a small one; Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won her second Oscar for 'A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness' to mixed reactions in Pakistan and we passed a bill that has been kicked around in both public and political circles for the past six years.

The most surprising context in these cases is that the government in place is the Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz.

Let's face it, historically speaking, there are a few who associate radical counter narratives ­ whether accidental or contrived ­ with the 'Noonies'.

Every year International Women's Day is celebrated with pledges for parity regarding women's rights. The occasion allows for thematic op-eds and columns (like this one) advocating that we all need to 'do more' for women.

In Pakistan, there is the annual backlash reiterating 'western agendas' and 'what about men' questions. This year is different, or better put, this year has the potential to be different.

The adoption of the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWVA) 2016 has already altered the discussion on women's rights and will continue to do so in the weeks to come.

To clarify, I do not say this because the Act itself is revolutionary or because our generally paternalistic state has somehow seen the light on women's concerns but rather because, for the first time in a long time, women seem to believe that the state is on their side.

This is the birth of a tenuous, tremulous trust between women and the powers that control them. It remains to be seen whether it is warranted.

They will no longer hide their abuse

My own cynicism on the Act took a bit of a beating a few days ago when I received a phone call from a group of friends. I had worked with these five women when I was a full-time journalist; two have experienced acid attacks and are disfigured. The other three were raped by members of their family.

Every one of these women left their home and is now struggling to make a living in Lahore.

I have been trying to assist them with this exercise in whatever capacity I can. They sporadically call me and tell me how their kids are doing; we occasionally go shopping together or watch a movie. It's always Bollywood, they opt for anything with Hrithik Roshan; I'm told it's his eyes. None of them talks of their respective pasts.

On Tuesday evening, they called me and asked whether they should report their cases to the authorities. I was stunned; I asked them what made them think they should.

Two of them mentioned that 'now the law was on their side', they asked me if it was 'true' that their family members could be punished under the law.

Women who I have witnessed hiding their histories of abuse suddenly told me they wanted to put it on record and this is the trust I am referring to. It has never existed before and for good reason. I am not sure if it ought to exist now. Nevertheless, in these cases, it does and that needs to be acknowledged.

Putting a face to crime
None of us can testify yet if this law will work or if the authorities will do their part in prosecuting abuse but one end of this equation is emerging. It has been a little over a week since the passage of the bill and two cases have been registered under it ­ one old and one new.

On February 29, Bassara Bibi filed a case against her husband over abuse under the Women's Protection Act. However, in the past few days there have also been several reported honour crimes across the country, so one must manage expectations.

Many have credited Chinoy's documentary and its Oscar nod for directly pushing the bill through. The documentary was screened for the prime minister and other political leaders and this move personalised the issue; the rest can be relegated to good story telling and the power of film.

Also read: We need to change the conversation about Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Here's how.

There is a case to be made for making statistics personal and for 'putting a face' to crime. Chinoy's documentary featured one woman's story that struck an emotional chord that 7,010 reported cases by Aurat Foundation in 2014 did not manage to do.

And yet, telling women's stories is inherently problematic in a social rubric where women face the brunt of the blame for the violence they themselves experience.

Here, the state will have to be responsible in how it frames the narrative surrounding this Act.

What does our culture stand for?

The religious right has already begun chiming in with the usual suspects ­ 'Western propaganda', 'against Pakistani culture'; Maulana Fazlur Rehman has expressed his concerns that the law will promote divorce and it is already being challenged in the Federal Shariat Court (FSC).

Such voices immediately ground us in the binaries we face when we speak about women in Pakistan.

Explore: 9 things Pakistani women don't need to be afraid of anymore
Just because the state is finally supporting women's rights does not mean it is standing against men…unless those men are violent.

To imply that punishing violence against women is an exclusively 'Western' notion is tantamount to condoning it and calling it a part of our 'culture'.

One constantly hears the phrase 'there is no 'honour' in honour killings' in which case punishing perpetrators of honour crimes should be promoted. It is about time we stop parroting one narrative on policy and another in practice.

When it comes to practical implementations of this legislation and room for abuse, there are gaps. Our procedural bodies and our law enforcement will require sensitivity training on these issues.

We need to work towards creating female-spaces where crimes such as rape, acid attacks and domestic violence can be reported to female police officials, and where women can perform the medical procedures.

Such measures may help address the major concerns most women have of reporting violence in the first place i.e. fear of police treatment, intrusive questioning and family pressures to silence the issue.

As for the punishment end, what should serve as punishment? These questions still need to be deliberated and the passage of the bill into law by no means caps that process.

Why not pull for a system where men convicted of abusing women or honour crimes are imprisoned and their labour and wages are used to fund girls' schooling, female-entrepreneurship programmes or women's shelters?

It is about time we recognise that what is considered 'criminal' under the law and what is considered criminal in practice is not always the same. Pakistan has many laws that we do not implement and thereby, while they may be framed as 'criminal' under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) they are not regarded as such.

Crime is categorised in social consciousness by its counterpart 'punishment'. 'Honour killings' are a crime against humanity but we will not believe this until people who commit that violence or kill in that context are punished for it.

We can and should argue about how, when and in what context we will implement this law but not about the need for it.

This Women's Day affords us all with an opportunity; for once there is sufficient momentum surrounding women's concerns in and outside Pakistan.

People are listening to us and this makes it especially important that we are mindful about what we say.

We need to speak for inclusivity, and for justice, and we need to do so in a language that brings people to these causes rather than drives them away.

It is about time that people who value 'our Pakistani culture' begin to protect what this culture stands for -it either promotes violence or it does not. If it does not, then the state standing up for the integrity, agency and security of half of its citizens simply cannot be bad thing.

 Friday 8 Mar 2019

Women take to the streets of Pakistan to rewrite their place in society

Campaigners will march on International Women's Day to protest against harassment, child marriage and 'honour killings'

By Sabrina Toppa, in Lahore

: Supporters of the leftwing Pakistan Peoples Party participate in a rally in Lahore to mark International Women's Day 2018. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

During Jalwat Ali's school days in Lahore, there were limited spaces to gather with other women, never mind flood the streets with punchy placards.

Public spaces often feel constricted in Pakistan, as though under critical male scrutiny. But over the past few days, Ali has been recruiting dozens of women, from garment workers to domestic helpers who barely get a day off. "To solve any problem, we need to make a collective effort," she says.

On Friday, a series of International Women's Day marches will be held in several Pakistani cities, calling for women's place in society to be rewritten.

Organisers hope the aurat march ("women's march") and aurat azadi march ("women's liberation march") will bring a cross-section of society on to the streets to draw attention to the struggle for reproductive, economic, and social justice across Pakistan. The marchers will be protesting against sexual harassment in the workplace, child marriage, "honour killings", wage inequalities and limited political representation.

The aim is to reach ordinary women in factories, homes, and offices, says Nighat Dad, an aurat march organiser in Lahore.

"We want an organic movement by women demanding equal access to justice and ending discrimination of all kinds," she says.

Her fellow activist, Leena Ghani, points out that Pakistani women have a history of taking to the streets, famously during military dictator Zia ul-H aq's martial law in the 1980s: "Many women before us have paved the way for us. There is a tradition of women being politically progressive in Pakistan."

While Pakistan has made major strides towards gender equality -achieving greater workforce participation, reserved seats in parliament, and anti-discrimination laws for women -poorer, marginalised women and transgender citizens continue to struggle, Ghani says.

Designer Shehzil Malik has created a series of striking posters for the aurat march that counter typical representations of Pakistani women as docile and subservient. "These women mean business," says Malik.

Speakers at the Lahore march range from a woman fighting to reform marriage laws to the women who worked on the landmark Punjab Domestic Workers' Act -legislation that outlaws child labour in homes and provides maternity benefits to workers.

"The aurat march will allow us to display unity with other workers and women," said Arooma Shahzad, a key campaigner on the new domestic workers' laws.

: Students in Lahore mark International Women's Day last year. (KM Chaudary/AP)

Others, like Laaleen Sukhera, a writer with three young daughters in Lahore, will march to protest against Pakistan's regressive family laws. After years of failing to receive adequate child support and alimony, Sukhera's acrimonious divorce was an unpleasant awakening.

"The time for change is now," she says. "The Pakistani mindset tends to be Victorian. The system frequently grants mothers custody, but makes life a living hell for them, with little or no support for raising kids."
Women are also protesting against discriminatory policies in universities, where male and female students are afforded different levels of freedom. "Most university hostels have a relationship of mistrust and constant surveillance of women," says Wafa Asher, 21, a university student in Lahore participating in the aurat march. "There is over-policing of dress and behaviour and early curfews for women."

A Pakistani university recently caused a furore on social media by banning women from wearing skinny jeans and sleeveless shirts.

"Given the issues the average Pakistani woman faces -sometimes with nowhere to go -creating a space that recognises a woman's right to be there is integral," says Kanwal Ahmed, the founder behind women-only Facebook group Soul Sisters, which has attracted nearly 150,000 people.

: 'The unsung heroes of Pakistan's burgeoning feminist movement': women in Lahore go about their work. (Rana Sajid Hussain/Light Rocket/Getty Images)

With more than half of Pakistan's informal sector consisting of women, the plight of female workers is also a central theme. For months, the government has not paid the all-female staff at Pakistan's first and only Violence Against Women Centre, the founder Salman Sufi said. The centre in Multan has handled almost 3,000 cases of abuse, rape, and domestic violence, and has been a key instrument in combating gender-based violence that other government departments neglect.

For Ali, these women on the economic margins are the unsung heroes of Pakistan's burgeoning feminist movement. They face conflicting pressures between their work and family lives. While Pakistani women are increasingly participating in the labour force, their husbands often refuse to take on household chores, she says. "There's a double, triple burden on these women," Ali adds."When they go home after a full days' work, they face the same problem in their domestic lives -work."

The aurat march is a step forward, she says. "We can't work in silos or as members of different groups. Our demands are for all women -these injustices affect us all," Ali says.