Pakistan: The 30th woman Print E-mail
Sunday July 10, 2005-- Jamadi Us Sani 02, 1426 A.H.
3. Political Economy

The 30th woman

Last week we published the list of 29 Pakistani women who have been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize. The list could have been longer

That Pakistan has at least 29 internationally recognised women to fight all kinds of discrimination is a reassuring thought. To be honest, many of these preliminary nominees had been unknown to us, and their services have been taken note of nationally only now. But then perhaps 29 is too small a number, and the list could have included many more who have been using peaceful means to forward their agenda of greater freedoms in the country. It is about additions, not about replacements.

It is a long debate whether segregation on gender lines is ever advisable. Not everyone is in favour of such a division, and there is a strong argument that this kind of gender statements runs counter to the broad campaign itself.

There is, in fact, no shortage of opinion on the issue, ranging from a total rejection of the award as the international establishment's way of either rewarding their foot soldiers or placating and pacifying certain cadres, to the more sedate pointing out of the names which are missing from the list.

There is no such thing as an ultimate list. It can be presumed, however, that the names finalised are a result of a process of deliberation, and the initial list must have been longer. It is said that until quite late, the number was in the mid-30s.

We don't know if the two Bhutto women, who have slugged it out in the political arena while violence around them consumed three male members of their family, were in the run at any stage. The criterion for selection, that puts premium on non-violent struggle towards peace and progress, wouldn't rule them out. It can be argued that Nusrat and Benazir have had no more controversial careers than some of the preliminary nominees.

The Bhuttos' most vocal anti-discrimination advocate in recent times, member of parliament Sherry Rehman has also failed to make the list, along with such mainstream figures as ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, respected educationist Anita Ghulam Ali and current minister Zubeida Jalal who earned a name for herself by opening schools in her remote Balochistan hometown, to name but a few of them.

Sherry Rehman has been in the forefront of the fight against honour killing and the legal cover the practice enjoys. While she has been kept out, Nafisa Shah, another former journalist who earned a name for herself by highlighting the plight of honour-imprisoned women of Sindh, is included. So far, she has been introduced as one of the two women nazims of Pakistan in the first local government after the Mushraffian reforms, which indicates that mainstream politics does not disqualify a person from selection. If the brave newsperson in Nafisa Shah remains unknown to the citation writers, it will mean that the journalists of Pakistan will remain unrepresented in the selected group. A bit odd for a country where women have been the pioneers of investigative journalism.

The artistes do have a presence in Madeeha Gauhar and Sheema Kirmani, but the two are there more as activists. Nahid Siddiqui who has been defying the prudes for so long fails to make the grades. Maybe, the same yardstick would also rule out Parveen Shakir's inclusion.

Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan has been among the three and thirteen of the progressive people in Pakistan. She has been in the vanguard of women's movement for many decades, as a leader of the Democratic Women's Association. The streets in Lahore are witness to Tahira Mazhar's struggle long before the current crop of women activists made their mark. Tahira Mazhar in recent times has been a prominent member of the first group of Pakistanis going the full distance in an attempt to establish friendly ties between Pakistan and India.

The inclusion of such names in the list as Kishwar Naheed does suggest that development work in the sense that the term is generally understood is not the only criteria for these nominations. This makes people wonder why someone as distinguished as Fehmida Riaz is missing from the chart. Fehmida's extremely provocative poetry has been long seen as an emblem of progressive thought in the country. She has been considered too hot to defend even by the gatherings of progressives. Her omission from the list of nominees for Nobel would add to this reputation of hers.

And what about Mukhtaran Mai not getting a nomination? Is it controversy again that blocks her way?

-- Asha'ar Rehman