Despite a plethora of women having played a decisive political role in both pre and post-independence eras, the mere mention of the word feminism still strikes Pakistani people’s nerves.
In a bid to unravel the conundrum, a talk was organised on the last day of the 2nd Sindh Literature Festival on Sunday. Titled ‘Feminism and Democracy’, the session was moderated by journalist and academician, Azadi Fateh, and had activist, eminent scholar of International Relations and human rights, Dr Khalida Ghous, Pakistan Peoples Party senator, Sassui Palijo, and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz Senator Sorath Thebo as panellists.
Speaking of the two theories in the Pakistani context, Khalida observed that people in Pakistan, and in Muslim countries generally, lack an understanding of feminism. It is grossly misunderstood as being in clash with Islam, she said.
The construct of feminism in our society is such that women have been categorised. Explaining the general trends of feminist movements that surfaced in Pakistan, the scholar stated that there were two types of feminists, ones who explained the idea through Islam and the other who have declared themselves secular feminists.
“Feminism is a need today … socially, economically as well as politically,” Khalida stated. Senator Sassui Palijo also referred to feminism and democracy not being mutually exclusive. She cited the suffragettes’ movement in Britain that gained women the right to vote as an example of how feminist and democratic values merge with each other.
“People have this misconception that feminists want a separate world for themselves,” she said. In her view, the feminist voice for nurturing democratic values is larger than parliamentary platforms. “Since the 1960s, our women have played a defining role in pro-democracy movements, at times even outside the confines of the parliament, including through grassroots movements, political movements and social justice activism.”
Speaking of the need for feminism, Senator Sorath Thebo said, “While women are unsafe on roads and in their offices, Tania Khaskheli’s murder speaks volumes about how even the confines of their homes cannot protect them from violence.”
Tania, a student, was gunned down by a powerful feudal lord and his henchmen on refusing the former’s marriage proposal. According to the senator, democracy is the only system that could bear positive fruits for the overall progress of the country.
‘Go beyond numbers’
Responding to the moderator’s question over the level of independence Pakistani women have achieved over the past decades, Khalida straight out pointed to the amount of men who were at that moment walking out and those who had already walked out a few minutes into the session.
Referring to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf spokesperson, Fawad Chaudhry’s, comment on Ayesha Gulalai being nominated an MNA on a reserved seat, she said that the 30 percent reserved seats quota for female parliamentarians is nothing to be celebrated. “While it does help in increasing the number of women in the parliament, it does not help increase the space for women to participate in formal politics. Democracy will not deepen unless we don’t look beyond these numbers,” she observed.
She called for men sitting in the parliament to play their due role and change their mindsets. Sassui, while responding to Khalida’s critique, acknowledged that while much had been achieved by through the parliament, there was still a lot that needed to be done.
“Men and women deciding together is what will strengthen the parliament. Legislations alone will not do the job,” she added. Senator Sorath also called for legislations to be writ oriented and not mere documents. She further endorsed the opinion that our society needs to change its mindset.
‘Zara Hut Kay’
As is said that two is better than one, SLF’s concluding day session ‘Zara Hut Kay’ was a practical demonstration of the phrase, adds our correspondent.
With the witty journalist duo, Wusutullah Khan and Mubashir Zaidi, as panellists and the power packed journalist and author who manages to rattle many a conscience with his 100-word stories, Mubashir Ali Zaidi, as moderator, the audience had their day’s fill of laughter as well as intellect. The session was as distinct as the title – borrowed from the TV talk show the journalists’ conduct – suggests.
As the host began discussing the kinds of talk shows that have become a part of the mainstream media, the debate led to a discussion over a recent incident of a certain TV host announcing his decision to join a political party and then not showing up at the presser where the joining was to be made official.
Khan quipped that he had even congratulated the anchor on Twitter. “Actually it wasn’t the anchor who delayed his inclusion in the party, in fact it was the political party that missed the opportunity to be a part of the anchor,” Khan said as the audience broke into a fit of laughter.
Journalism’s no-go areas
Asked if the two journalists were terrified by incidents such as attacks on journalists Ahmed Noorani, Hamid Mir and Umar Cheema, Zaidi repined that he did not believe in following any red lines as a journalist. “But as a supervisor, I care about the journalists working under me. I ask them to not unnecessarily step over the red lines. Instead I take it upon my shoulders to carry out such tasks.”
Advising journalists to keep testing their free space instead of confining themselves to self-assumed red lines, Khan added that senior writers and journalists should take juniors under their wings and train them on how they can report on issues that are considered sensitive in Pakistan. “They should educate the next generation of journalists on ways to say or pen down sensitive issues and criticise in a way that is polite and minimises the threat to their lives.”
Reporting and social media
With social media gaining more importance and space, Zaidi said formal media now feels pressured because of videos surfacing on the internet. “Had there been no social media, Mashal Khan’s murder would not have been reported the way it was.”
Khan recalled that they were the first to discuss Mashal’s lynching on their TV programme as the rest of the media was a bit reluctant to report the truth.
“Even the mainstream now needs a push to take up an issue. It’s unfortunate that people call us brave for raising such issues when it is the collective responsibility of all journalists to break their silence over any kind of injustice and bigotry.”