By: Peerzada Salman
KARACHI: A heated and contrasting exchange of ideas was witnessed at a ‘Gender sensitisation session’ with the print media, organised by NGO Individulland Pakistan in a local hotel on Thursday.
The event was part of a project (with partnership of Aurat Publication and Information Service Foundation under USAID in collaboration with the Asia Foundation) initiated to sensitise media persons about gender equality.
Individulland’s Shaukat Ali Ashraf told the over 40 journalists about a baseline study on the gender equity programme conducted by his organisation in 23 districts of the country involving 1,150 respondents apart from 180 media persons.
He said it was discovered through the research that Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were deeply conservative societies. Even in areas which were semi-conservative, male domination was prominent, with men making all the important decisions. He said despite that, the media had reached a majority of the homes and men and women had access to the media. Men, it was discovered, read newspapers more than women, since most households didn’t get newspapers (men had the facility of flipping through them at offices, shops or restaurants). He said that negative social practices (dowry, honour killing, etc) had affected society’s psyche, though because of the media’s expansion issues like family planning were now being openly discussed.
Mr Ali said the baseline study was carried out in the KP’s five districts. It’s a deeply conservative society based on ancient tribal customs and traditions religion too played a significant role there. Balochistan was also termed a very conservative society and in two out of the six districts Pishin and Chaghai women were not available to take part in the study.
Sindh was found to be a semi-conservative society where the people’s behaviour was a reflection of their belief rooted in social practices and traditions. Punjab had a conservative rural mindset with a semi-progressive urban mindset.
With regard to perceptions of the 180 journalists from six cities of the country, it was found that even seasoned journalists weren’t clear about the basic understanding of the phrase ‘gender equity’. Most media personnel felt that even when there’s gender equality in society, it shouldn’t challenge religious and socio-cultural norms.
The session caught pace when gender specialist Rehana Shaikh made journalists take part in an exercise. She asked media persons to think in pairs about what were the things in their childhood that made or forced them to think separately as girls and boys. This resulted in a wide variety of answers, which she wrote on a board. One journalist said cooking and cleaning was only attributed to girls; another said he was admonished not to cry like a girl as a kid; a woman journalist said girls were dubbed naaqisul aql (devoid of brains); one pen-pusher said he and his brothers were allowed to speak in a loud voice but not their sisters.
When the exercise was over, Ms Shaikh argued that the things written on the board had unevenness to them. She then raised the question whether those do’s and don’ts were formally written anywhere. She remarked when a child was born, no tag was attached to it. When the child started to grow up only then society imposed rules on it, moulding its behaviour. This socially constructed identity, she opined, was called ‘gender’.
She said when a man stepped out to earn for his family, it’s the economic compulsion that made him powerful. She said socioeconomic norms were linked with women’s development; it wasn’t an issue of capacity “women could also earn if given the chance. It’s our unjust attitude which was the real issue”.
In the latter part of the session, Shaukat Ali Ashraf gave sets of cards to the participants and requested them to suggest the things that they found important or unimportant in the discussion and the ways through which the media could play an effective role in highlighting the issue of gender equality.