By MALEEHA HAMID SIDDIQUI
KARACHI: It was heartening to see women stand up to the tasteless remarks of a prominent male anchorperson at the 9th International Conference on Women Leadership, organised by Triple E, at a hotel on Friday. And these were no ordinary women.
Model and actress Mahira Khan, former information minister Sherry Rehman, former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza and broadcast journalist Reham Khan were among the many speakers at the conference who articulated their vision confidently and unapologetically. Some of the male speakers may have kicked themselves hard for their patronising little speeches.
Fouzia Kasuri narrated her political journey with her party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. By becoming the first female member of PTI back in 1996, Ms Kasuri said that this gave her the advantage of travelling to all parts of Pakistan and meeting incredibly courageous women. “I have worked with some of the bravest women.”
But when poverty and injustice continue to prevail it means that “no one really has got freedom”. Equitable resources especially in education and health remain inaccessible to most and “only the ruling elite enjoys Pakistan” and said that this was not really democracy. She exhorted her fellow women politicians to not be tied to the decisions of their male colleagues and said “political parties need to be a lot more involved in training of women”.
Soon after Reham Khan, accompanied by Faisal Vawda and Khurram Sherzaman of PTI, made her entrance, which was around 7pm, and then there was complete pandemonium. Camerapersons swarmed around her, people besieged her fishing out their cell phones taking photographs, begging others to take their picture with the ‘first lady of KP’.
Anchorperson Dr Danish of ARY News who had come on to the stage as the emcee tried bringing in some semblance of order requesting cameramen and besotted fans to take their seats, however, some persistent fans were undeterred and continued photographing her standing afar or surreptitiously going behind the sofa where she was sitting and doing the needful.
Mahira Khan, who recently starred in the box-office hit film IBin RoyeI, spoke about perception of women particularly in terms of their attire. “While I was coming here to the function, I was thinking what to wear at the conference. I thought I should wear a shalwar kameez and not a pair of jeans and shirt as perhaps I may be perceived as not Pakistani enough or may reinforce the perception that this is how actresses dress up,” she said, wearing a simple white jeans and shirt outfit.
For her the inequality of perception about women was one of the crucial things that need to be addressed in media and popular culture. She was encouraged to see that both men and women were hosting morning TV shows, women were heading TV channels and films were, also, opening with the heroine’s name. “We will only be equal if both men and women work together.”
Sindh Senior Minister for Information Nisar Ahmed Khuhro thought that women are much better than men especially because they look after the family and thereby looking after the generation. He paid tribute to his leader Benazir Bhutto saying that her commitment and resilience were unmatchable.
Dr Fehmida Mirza commented on the Independence Day enthusiasm on the streets of the city and for her Unity, Faith and Discipline as enunciated by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a complete formula applicable to every community regardless of their religion and ethnicity. Coming to the theme of women leadership, the former NA speaker said that it was important to also recognise the efforts of the housewife “who plays a huge role in strengthening her home and family”. She spoke about the beginnings of her political journey and the role of Benazir Bhutto in shaping her political career.
“On her urging I came into politics and I fought and won election on a general seat.” Giving a glimpse about what it was like for women in the assembly she said that they were relegated as backbenchers and it was only when a contentious issue was raised in the house that women were asked to sit in the front and join their male counterparts in creating a ruckus. Things began to change when she became the speaker and encouraged women to sit on front rows, 98 bills were passed during her tenure and she was also instrumental in the formation of a bipartisan parliamentary caucus.
For Sherry Rehman it was a foregone conclusion that women were better than men. Why should women be shy, she asked in reference to a poetic verse about women uttered earlier by Dr Danish.
Moreover, women were much more than mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. “Our identity is through our self. I don’t need anybody else’s name. I never changed my name [after I got married]”. She also highlighted the unacknowledged work done by numerous women in the field of politics and the double standards prevalent in the elite class about women ending her fiery speech with the following remarks: “We can do it all and we must have it all.”
Finally, Reham Khan came to the stage and right at the beginning took a jab at Dr Danish’s poetry. “For quite sometime I have been patiently enduring his verses.” Taking a leaf from Mahira Khan’s about women’s attire and people’s perception, she said: “People have this perception that if a woman is well-dressed then she spends all day grooming herself. You can either become a prisoner of people’s perception or you can change their perception.” Utilising PTI’s slogan of tabeeli in her speech, she said: “Tabdeeli must come about in the thought process of a woman.”
“Being a victim means that people will treat the woman accordingly and if a woman is the opposite then people will be forced to change their perception.” She said that she was dismayed by how the media projects women politicians especially in terms of their looks and their clothes.”
Addressing Dr Danish, once again, “Next time we will pre-select the verses that you will recite at such a forum,” she said laughingly. She advised women who were at top positions to give fellow women opportunities to grow.
“This does not happen often enough as for some reason women feel very insecure about other women. Women must support other women.”