The Resilient Woman
Editorial
This International Women"s Day, we celebrate the Pakistani woman for all that she stands for. The odds remain varied and are too many. But the woman is ready to make her mark, nonetheless.
If there was any section of society that took the idea 'education as a great equaliser" seriously, it was women. Equality of status was what they were looking for. Over the years then, they became high achievers and added more numbers, comparatively speaking, to the literate population of this country.

chances
Breaking the status quo

Despite ruthless societal traditions and narrow interpretations of religion, the rural women are doing the unthinkable
By Adeel Pathan
The rural Pakistan does not present a very rosy picture, as far as the womenfolk is concerned. It"s that part of the country where the women have 'traditionally" suffered from generation through generation. They are denied their right to education, and any opportunity for personal growth and enhancement is simply unthinkable. Sindh, for instance, is blighted with cases of child marriages, honour killings, and tribal lords forcing decisions on the fate of the local women. The Frontier women, for their part, have had to bear the brunt of the wave of extremism (and terrorism) that is sweeping the province. Yet, there is always that 'rare" breed that must rise to the occasion and dare to break the status quo.

Quest for individuality
The way they go about their daily routine is proof enough of women"s strong-willed selves and survival instincts
By Naila Inayat
When one talks about women"s individuality, one calls to mind a novel by Kate Chopin, titled 'The Awakening", set in the late 1800s. The plot is about Edna, a woman who got married and had kids because that was what was "expected of her". But she wants more from her life. She is in a kind of a quest for some sort of meaning to her existence. So Edna takes upon herself to fight the rules. She is unhappy with the expectations the society has with her. She wishes to live her life the way that she wants to. During the course of her gradual awakening, Edna discovers her own identity and acknowledges her emotional and physical needs. In short, she has now realised her position in the universe as an individual, vis-a-vis her relationship with the world outside.

uplift
Tales of resistance

History shows that women"s rights movements in Pakistan have never been separate from the society"s overall struggle for social justice
By Ammar Ali Jan
In the land of the pure, we often hear the endless accounts of oppression and tyranny against the female gender. Our society already faces complex problems while gender discrimination compounds these problems for women. However, what is missing from this master narrative about the 'hopeless" plight of women in Pakistan is the glorious, yet unrecognised, struggle that Pakistani women have waged against all attempts to silence them. Not only have they fought for their own rights, but women have been part of every major struggle for justice that this country has witnessed.

No stopping her...
Despite all the negative propaganda unleashed against her, Mukhtaran Mai has emerged as an emblem of courage
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Muktharan Mai, a resident of village Meerwala in Jatoi district, Punjab, caught the attention of the world in 2002 when she showed great courage and challenged the age-old system that was tilted against women. It was in June that year that this 30 year old woman was gangraped on the orders of the elders of her village council (panchayat). Apparently, this 'punishment" was awarded to her in retaliation for a crime her younger brother Shakoor had allegedly committed. Her brother was accused of having illicit relations with a girl from Mastoi clan. The poor boy was also sodomised by three men of Mastoi clan -- a charge that was later proved in the court.

Opportunity meets ability
Pakistani women pursuing a career can now draw confidence from the improving standards of professionalism
By Aziz Omar
Career opportunities for women today are different from what they were back in the seventies and eighties. All through the decades, the typical job offerings for qualified females were either in teaching, medicine or menial secretarial positions in firms small and big alike. Advertising and print media growth in the nineties did open the door to varied possibilities. However, it was not until the so-called electronic media revolution that kicked off at the onset of the new millennium, that professionally aspiring women really began to assert themselves.

 


The Resilient Woman

This International Women"s Day, we celebrate the Pakistani woman for all that she stands for. The odds remain varied and are too many. But the woman is ready to make her mark, nonetheless.

If there was any section of society that took the idea 'education as a great equaliser" seriously, it was women. Equality of status was what they were looking for. Over the years then, they became high achievers and added more numbers, comparatively speaking, to the literate population of this country.

Too anxious to be at par, today, we find them at all odd places and in fields where they were strictly forbidden. They are out to break stereotypes without shaking the edifice that, we think, is our strength.

Womanhood per se is not an easy state to be in. A home-maker, a child-bearer who must also raise these children, to only hint at her many responsibilities, we also celebrate those women who do not get out of their homes to make a career but stay back. In their daily grind, in the sheer existence, these women are resilient and we honour them for being so.

Women in the rural parts have stood up to the burdensome and oppressive tradition, custom, and a warped interpretation of religion. And what better role model for the rural Pakistani women than Mukhtaran Mai who has become not just an example of defiance and courage but one that has led to such a revolutionary and positive outcome for her own surroundings and the society at large. Schools for boys and girls... nurseries of change.. a perfect solution thought and implemented by the not-so-literate Mukhtaran.

Women as individuals may have appeared a cause worth fighting for a few years ago but it is one that is being asserted with full force today. Women have a point of view. Period. There may not have been much space for them in the erstwhile male-dominated reporting sections and newsrooms -- whoever invented the term 'lady reporter" -- the new media does foresee a new beginning.

Along with the woman stands, of course, the resilient man who withstands all societal pressure to help women achieve all that she wants to. The father, the husband, the brother, the son, and the man who has always stood with the Pakistani women when they fought for their rights, just as the women stood with men in the long struggle for political rights for all citizens of this country.




chances
Breaking the status quo
Despite ruthless societal traditions and narrow interpretations of religion, the rural women are doing the unthinkable

The rural Pakistan does not present a very rosy picture, as far as the womenfolk is concerned. It"s that part of the country where the women have 'traditionally" suffered from generation through generation. They are denied their right to education, and any opportunity for personal growth and enhancement is simply unthinkable. Sindh, for instance, is blighted with cases of child marriages, honour killings, and tribal lords forcing decisions on the fate of the local women. The Frontier women, for their part, have had to bear the brunt of the wave of extremism (and terrorism) that is sweeping the province. Yet, there is always that 'rare" breed that must rise to the occasion and dare to break the status quo.

"Whenever and wherever the women are provided with an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of an assignment, they never fail us," opines Sassui Palejo, the newly elected member of Sindh Assembly from Thatta district. "The rural lot is no exception."

Sassui, who has won the seat previously also, adds that those women who enter politics are faced with even tougher challenges "from their detractors as well as their colleagues."

However, she accepts the fact that opportunities for women in a feudal setup are few and far between.

Sahar Gul Bhatti, a newspaper columnist and a social worker tells TNS that she was among the "lucky" few, since her family moved to Hyderabad from Nawabshah so that she could complete her education in Sindh University.

But, she says that she was faced with resistence of another kind. "My father had to face the nasty comments of an entire lot of our relatives who were against my going to campus," she recalls.

Such issues resurfaced once she entered the practical field and began teaching at the university. But, she was not to be deterred.

"Things became easier with time," she says.

"See, change is imminent because of the globalisation and the media explosion." However, Sahar is quick to add that it is the urban society that has been the main beneficiary of it all.

Shabana, a young lady in her mid-30s, who is working in a government department, has had to face a myriad problems created by the society at large. Only she was determined "because I was sure this is what I wanted to do."

Farzana Ali, a television reporter based in Peshawar, feels that it was tough coming up in a society with its narrow take on working women -- especially those in the media. However, she admits that she was helped by a pliant family.

"Women voters turning out in small numbers in NWFP goes to show that they were kept indoors by the threat from extremist forces. But, we media people could afford to step out."

She also speaks of rural women who are marrying "of their own free will, in courts" and seeking protection in public, by calling on media at Hyderabad Press Club.

 

Quest for individuality

By Naila Inayat

When one talks about women"s individuality, one calls to mind a novel by Kate Chopin, titled 'The Awakening", set in the late 1800s. The plot is about Edna, a woman who got married and had kids because that was what was "expected of her". But she wants more from her life. She is in a kind of a quest for some sort of meaning to her existence. So Edna takes upon herself to fight the rules. She is unhappy with the expectations the society has with her. She wishes to live her life the way that she wants to. During the course of her gradual awakening, Edna discovers her own identity and acknowledges her emotional and physical needs. In short, she has now realised her position in the universe as an individual, vis-a-vis her relationship with the world outside.

The story of Edna can be related with many a young and old woman. Even today there are strong women like her who are fighting to break free of the shackles society has imposed on them, wanting to be independent.

"It is heartening to see that the modern-day woman is challenging the conventional gender roles. Her place is not limited to the home as a mother, sister, wife or daughter. In fact, she is a lot more as an individual," says Naushaba, Professor of Social Sciences at a local college.

Manahil Kareem, member of a women"s club, feels that the increasing visibility of women in the public arena has paved the way for many others to venture into jobs and politics. They are employed in urban-based factories or rural textile mills, middle class daughters are entering multinational corporations, female athletes, glamorous performers and so forth.

However, there is a rub. The term 'individuality" is likely to be confused with notions of 'feminism" and 'female chauvinism".

Naushaba believes this "is closer to the idea of the 'new woman" that first emerged in the late 19th century and was aimed at changing gender norms. Expressing autonomy and distinctiveness, the new woman represented the tendency of rejecting her mother"s ways in favour of modern choices."

Therefore, other than what a woman has to offer to this society what we are in search of is her problems, her point of view and how she keeps herself going amid pressures of work and home.

"For me what is of utmost importance is my education and the fact that I want to make something of my life. Getting married is not the top priority, especially when I see my friends around who are always down in the dumps," says Hina, a college student.

"I have always wanted to discover more and more about my personality, what my areas of interest are, how I can excel in life," says Sara, convincingly. "My mother has always been very supportive in this regard. Perhaps, this is because she never got such an opportunity in her early days. She wanted to pursue higher education but could not due to the conservative environment of her family."

In the same way, Sehrish -- a teacher based in Peshawar -- says, "Two years back I got engaged. I knew my fiance since my childhood. I always considered us soul-mates. But we broke up because he fell for some other girl who could help him establish professionally. I was dejected also because I was without a job. That was when I made up my mind that I will never let anyone take advantage of me or my family"s poverty."

Sonya, a theatre actress, shares her experiences in the following words, "People in our society look down upon us for various reasons. Initially, it would stress me out but now I have learnt not to give a damn. Logon kaa kaam hai kehna. I am proud of being myself. At least I don"t have to go begging my husband for money. Financially, I am not dependent on him and he knows it, too. I have no complaints with life now."

Dr Shazia, who practices at Lahore"s Ganga Ram Hospital, opines that most of the working women or even the housewives go through severe psychological trauma, because of the way they are treated by their husbands and also the in-laws.

Sultana, a beggar, says persuasively, "It"s tough being out in the street all day long, under the blazing sun, just to secure some bucks."

Concepts such as 'individuality" or 'self esteem" are alien to women like Sonya. But, the way they go about their daily routine -- whatever it may be -- defying all odds on the way, is proof enough of their strong-willed selves and their survival instincts.




uplift
Tales of resistance
History shows that women"s rights movements in Pakistan have never been separate from the society"s overall struggle for social justice

In the land of the pure, we often hear the endless accounts of oppression and tyranny against the female gender. Our society already faces complex problems while gender discrimination compounds these problems for women. However, what is missing from this master narrative about the 'hopeless" plight of women in Pakistan is the glorious, yet unrecognised, struggle that Pakistani women have waged against all attempts to silence them. Not only have they fought for their own rights, but women have been part of every major struggle for justice that this country has witnessed.

Women rights" movement in Pakistan had started with the very inception of the Pakistani State. The All Pakistan Women"s Association (APWA) emerged as a group advocating women"s representation in the new parliament. The Women"s Guards were part of the new State"s initial defense machinery while Fatima Jinnah had already created a name for herself with her untiring efforts in the struggle for independence, alongside her brother, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Fatima Sughra, at that time only 14, was the first person to hoist the Pakistani flag on an official government building during a protest campaign against the British and had the honour of receiving the first Gold medal of service in Pakistan"s history. It is ironic that the State that would later oppress the female gender had not only its first flag hoisted by a woman, but that flag was also made from a woman"s duppatta!

Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, a veteran of the women"s rights movement, was one of the founding members of the Democratic Women"s Association (DWA) in 1948. DWA was a radical women"s rights group that worked closely with the socialist movement in Pakistan and linked their movement to the cause of the working class.

"DWA was the first group to celebrate the International Women"s Day in Pakistan on the 8th of March, 1948," recalls Tahira Mazhar, who actively participated in the event. "We were not aligned with the government and believed in a struggle for women"s rights as well as a fight for a classless society."

Opposition to the government had severe consequences. The government refused to give permission to the group to acquire a meeting hall to celebrate the International Women"s Day in 1949. This did not deter these women.

"We celebrated the second International Women"s Day on the streets. We gave a clear signal to the government that we will fight for the emancipation of women, come what may," reiterates a defiant Tahira Mazhar.

Ms Tahira believes that the (women"s rights) movement in Pakistan has never been completely separate from the society"s overall struggle for social justice. "We worked with our male comrades in strikes and other forms of resistance. Within the radical movement, we pushed the agenda of women"s emancipation."

Describing one such strike in a Batapur shoe factory in the 1950s where the government banned the entry of women activists near the striking workers, Tahira remembered with a smile, "We all wore burkas to escape the authorities and reach our striking male comrades."

The visit to Pakistan by Paren Borocha along with other women resisting the US occupation of Vietnam in the 1960s and the warm welcome they received in Lahore showed the maturing of the women"s movement in Pakistan which it increasingly integrated into the international movement for social justice.

Despite these successes, the Pakistani state was able to restrict the momentum of the movement with the backing of the US during the 1980s. The regime of General Zia-ul-Haq had banked on Islam to attain some form of legitimacy for itself. Women were the most affected during this era. The Hudood Laws and other Draconian measures against women led to the formation of the Women"s Action Forum (WAF) in 1981.

"WAF was a reaction to the oppression against women in the 1980s," claims Nighat Khan, a noted scholar on gender issues and a social activist. "WAF was the first group to organise a large protest against the Zia regime on Feb 12, 1983. This historic protest on the Mall road saw the likes of Asma Jehangir, Shahtaj Qazalbash, Tahira Mazhar and Habib Jalib gather to voice their opposition to the discriminatory laws against women. Needless to say, most of the demonstrators, including Jalib, were arrested."

The unique feature during this period was that despite the oppression against women, for the first time the struggle for democracy was being led by a woman, Benazir Bhutto. Not only was she confined to the walls of different jails around the country, but female members of PPP such as Sajida Mir and Shahida Jabeen were tortured in the notorious Red Fort.

"The election of Benazir as prime minister was a historic moment for women in Pakistan," asserts Tahira Mazhar. "Her performance in government is debatable, but the fact that after all those laws formulated against women, a woman was elected by the people of Pakistan as their leader was a slap on the face of the oppressors."

Women have not only been active agents of change in urban spaces, they have also played a pivotal role in rural movements.

"Women in rural areas, contrary to the popular belief, have been extremely active in all political activities," claims Nighat. "The Hari movement in Sindh was the first mass movement in Pakistan. It was initiated after Mai Bakhtawar (Benazir"s daughter is named after her) refused to accept the laws formulated by feudal lords and was consequently murdered. This led to a massive revolt amongst the Haris and to this day Mai Bakhtawar remains a folklore legend in Sindh."

More recently, the Thaapa women"s brigade was set up in Okara military farms to fight for the rights of tenants against the encroachments of the military. In May of 2002, some military officials tried entering the villages of the tenants. However, they were met by stiff resistance from the women of the Thaapa brigade outside the village while men preferred staying inside their homes. These women not only physically fought against the military personnel, they also forced them to retreat. More than a dozen women were injured in these clashes. However, to this day, they have stood firm and, despite repeated threats, refused to give an inch of their land to any outsider!

The list is long and one article cannot do justice to the heroic struggle of women against the tyranny of society and the state. Even today, we see the likes of Bushra Aitzaz, Asma Jehangir, Firdous Butt, Tehmina Daultana and many others asserting themselves in spaces previously considered taboo for women. The many freedoms won by women, as well as the media and civil society, have come about as a result of a long struggle. The greatest tribute to those who took part in these struggles is to guard our freedoms as well as further their cause by working for the emancipation of the oppressed in our society.

 


No stopping her...

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Muktharan Mai, a resident of village Meerwala in Jatoi district, Punjab, caught the attention of the world in 2002 when she showed great courage and challenged the age-old system that was tilted against women. It was in June that year that this 30 year old woman was gangraped on the orders of the elders of her village council (panchayat). Apparently, this 'punishment" was awarded to her in retaliation for a crime her younger brother Shakoor had allegedly committed. Her brother was accused of having illicit relations with a girl from Mastoi clan. The poor boy was also sodomised by three men of Mastoi clan -- a charge that was later proved in the court.

In a society where women are supposed not to challenge men and accept the inevitable, Mukhtaran proved herself extremely tough and courageous. But the life she chose to live at that time was not her own; it was dedicated to the cause of improving the lot of hundreds or thousands of women who were vulnerable to acts of violence and discrimination in this male-dominated society.

A woman of a weaker resolve would have committed suicide or lost into oblivion due to shame but Mukhtaran decided to fight on and took her rapists to the court.

In the court she demanded prosecution of her attackers of which six were sentenced to death. Later on, five of them were acquitted and the death sentence of the six commuted to life-term. Those who have followed the case closely are of the opinion that Mukhtaran"s lawyers could not prepare and plead the case properly.

While she was struggling against all odds to find justice, the government of Pakistan was bent upon maligning her. President Musharraf even said during a visit to Canada that certain Pakistanis were trying to secure visa of a western country by claiming that they had been raped. This statement of his was condemned widely by the national and international media. But the worst part of the story is that the then federal minister Neelofar Bakhtiar -- a woman herself -- led a volley of assaults against Mukhtaran who needed her help at that time.

Almost six years down the road, Mukhtaran, despite all the negative propaganda unleashed against her, has emerged as an emblem of courage and resilience. Her book, 'In the Name of Honour: A Memoir" turned out to be a bestseller. Besides, her life and struggle was the theme of many documentaries produced after the gory incident.

Today Mukhtaran Mai runs an organisation in her village by the name of Mukhtar Mai Women Welfare Organisation (MMWWO) and maintains her website www.mukhtarmaiwwo.org. Under the organisation she runs two schools which were set up with the help of compensation money that she had received from the government.

Mukhtaran tells TNS that out of the Rs 500,000 her family received from the government as compensation money, a sum of Rs 250,000 was spent on buying land for the school. The remaining was spent by her father during the pursuance of the case in different courts. She says that today 1,000 boys and girls are studying in these schools. She is hopeful that this education will go a long way in transforming the destiny and mindset of the people of her area.

She is also thankful to The New York Times writer Nick Kristof who reported her ordeal in his writings. She says that numerous readers from all over the world responded after reading the column and many of them sent hefty donations that helped her expand and sustain operations of her organisation. "Even the Canadian High Commission that has helped me earlier also has extended two years" funding for the project," she adds.

Her organisation also runs a 'Crises Relief Center for Women" that provides immediate support to survivors of rape, domestic violence and Karokari. The victims of such acts are provided immediate shelter, medical and legal aid, psychological counseling and access to media and other organisations working for women"s rights and the concerned government departments.

 

Email: [email protected]

 

Opportunity meets ability

By Aziz Omar

Career opportunities for women today are different from what they were back in the seventies and eighties. All through the decades, the typical job offerings for qualified females were either in teaching, medicine or menial secretarial positions in firms small and big alike. Advertising and print media growth in the nineties did open the door to varied possibilities. However, it was not until the so-called electronic media revolution that kicked off at the onset of the new millennium, that professionally aspiring women really began to assert themselves.

A worthy example of such a woman who has accessed various platforms to express herself is Ayesha Tammy Haq. Possessing three law degrees from various British law schools, she seems to have the right amount of arsenal to voice her opinion. Whether that is through hosting her biweekly television talk show, radio show and newspaper column, Ayesha seems to perfectly embody the spirit of the modern woman. "These days, the educated Pakistani women are contributing actively in every aspect of media-related work. From production to direction, sound and video editing, research and management, the conventionally perceived fairer sex is working shoulder to shoulder with her male counterpart," she remarks, decisively.

Even though she has led a married life, Ayesha claims to have not been 'domesticated" as such, as she has never had any children. "I really admire women who balance their time between their professional responsibilities and obligations at home. It is a remarkable achievement for those females who have been able to impart strong ethical and social values to their offsprings whilst building up a successful career."

Having worked in various legal capacities in international law firms and at home, Ayesha still manages to take time out for some practice and consultation. "I feel that in Pakistan the corporate attitude has really changed and more and more women are exercising their legal rights."

She has dealt with a number of sexual harassment cases and has witnessed the female victims" resilience and determination. She attributes such bold traits to the media"s role in propagating awareness, education and the development of a strong civil society.

Pakistani women pursuing a career can now derive confidence from improving standards of professionalism.

 

A large number of teachers in primary schools are women, both here and elsewhereHow much time do you think it takes for a child to read and write fluently, I asked a lady who has been teaching starters for three decades now.

"Four to five years," she said. "Yes, to be able to read and write and write with interest and feel responsible for that, it takes that much time."

Children enter school at a time when they have just discovered their newfound freedom -- that of living without pampers. To teach those who have yet to learn how to sit -- reading and writing is no mean feat. The credit goes to the teachers.

"Classes now start at Minus 2. My son has been to school for ten years now and he is only in class 7," says father of a young child.

The teacher adds, "It is important to understand the child. We do not force a child to do anything against his wishes and leave him on his own when he needs rest. A teacher"s capabilities are tested in training the weak child."

"Making learning enjoyable is a teacher"s job and she can always make it fun," says Shah Gul who got Montessori training from St. Paul"s School in Lahore in 1980 and has taught in various schools since then.

Apart from reading and writing skills, teachers have a strong role in building a child"s confidence in himself/herself. Games and testing one"s skills has always been fun. In my early days at school, I remember children walking one by one in a line in the centre of the class from one end of the room to the other with a bell in their hand. The whole class would clap for the child who would reach the other end of the room while toeing the line and without causing the bell to ring. This would be so reassuring. Anyone unsuccessful here was never scolded.

God has accorded a teacher with a status next only to parents. And rightly so.

In Calcutta, people make way for teachers on bus stops and leave seats for them. Women teachers are called 'Ma" there, a friend from Calcutta tells me. They accord so much respect to their teachers. A large number of teachers in primary schools are women, both here and elsewhere.

-- Saadia Salahuddin

 

By Sarah Sikandar

"I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are -- or, at all events, that I must try and become one."

-- The Doll"s House

A housewife remains is perceived as an epitome of perfection (think motherhood!). An excellent cinematic example would be the Nicole Kidman starrer Stepford Wives. The film shows a family moving from New York to the quiet suburbs of Stepford. The wife is irritated by the women in the locality who are obsessed with household chores and looking beautiful. The movie closes at the discovery that these 'perfect housewives" have chips in their brains that regulated their behaviour as good, submissive wives.

A mother of a five-year-old, Maimoona opposes the fact that women can only assert themselves by speaking out loud. "A woman"s resilience lies in her silence" because the words that come out of her mouth are subject to relative response.

But that is, probably, the fear of opposition. Women who stay at home have a limited circle of people they move around in. Since silence works for them in that situation they think it is the best option.

Physically, a house allows a small space for the woman to exercise her authority and cope with pressures. For someone who has no catharsis in the form of work or job this space is the only option. "People think stay-home moms are partying all the time," complains Amina, a mother of two. "The pressures that we face each and every day -- economic pressures, complaining husbands and dissatisfied children -- are just too much. The sad part is, we have no outlet. But I tell my husband I need time for myself."

In that 'time-for-myself" Amina just forgets "about my husband and children and spend time with friends. I guess that is my way of showing my resilience."

Sameera, a mother of two daughters, acknowledges the fact that women like her "come from privileged backgrounds -- something most of us don"t accept. We are not victims as we like to think of ourselves." She is talking about women whose husbands and mothers-in-law support their personal decisions. "Most of the women in my family work. Even my mother-in-law herself worked. So she says she will accept my decision if I decide to work."

Saman has been married for fourteen years. She recently took admission in a local college to pick up from where she left. "That is my idea resilience. For me it is a positive energy and is not characterised by arguments and nagging. I told everyone in the family, despite their objections and disagreements, that I am going to continue my studies. Gradually, they all began to accept." For that you need to have the courage and the nerve to take opposition.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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