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Women need to value past struggle for their rights


KARACHI: “Pakistan has seen two big women’s movements. First after 1947 when the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) came about to assist the women displaced as a result of partition and second in the 1980s when the women of this country joined hands again to fight the Hudood laws,” said activist and art critic Niilofur Farrukh at ‘Narratives of resistance and resilience’ programme in celebration of International Women’s Day and in remembrance of Perween Rahman at Szabist on Monday.

Niilofur was moderating the programme, broken into two sessions, the first dedicated to Women’s Day and the second to slain researcher and activist Perween Rahman.

In her opening remarks, social activist and educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali said there were many women out there who didn’t realise that the space they had at present to do what they wanted to do with their lives was the result of the struggles of the women of yore. “Things weren’t like this earlier and they should not be taking this for granted. The ouster of a democratically-elected prime minister in 1977 and what followed are the darkest years of Pakistan’s history, which took us decades back. Then it was a combined struggle for their rights by lawyers, journalists, students and women who were at the centre of this fightback,” she said.

“Having ousted a democratic government,” Ms Wazir Ali continued, “Zia needed some support so he reached out to the religious groups that did away with other political parties and narrowed space for women.”

Before going on to discuss the current issues being faced by women in Pakistan, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Zohra Yusuf said she was sad to notice that the chapter about women in their annual report was always the longest.

“As IDPs the women uprooted from North Waziristan have their presence resented by local communities anyway. But women and children, who are 73 per cent of the entire lot displaced, also suffer when their own elders and men beat them and push them aside while queueing up for rations,” she said before discussing the other crimes against women during this past year including the stoning to death of Farzana Parveen outside a court and the burning to death of a Christian couple on charges of blasphemy where the wife was pregnant.

Ms Yusuf also said that some 600 women were gang-raped and 828 raped while one in five was subjected to violence on average every year. She praised the unknown woman in Pakistan who puts food on her family’s table and said that the people of Pakistan really needed to embrace feminism and secularism in their true sense.

In her presentation, activist Nuzhat Kivai of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) paid tribute to her colleagues who are no longer with us. “It is not about their leaving us but about how they left their mark,” she said while talking about journalist and rights activist Najma Sadeque whose daughter Deneb Sumbul is now continuing her good work, lawyer Shehla Zia, journalists Ameneh Azam Ali, Najma Babar, Razia Bhatti, Saneeya Hussain, Nuzhat Amyn and educationist Anita Ghulam Ali.

Laws about violence against women and amendments to the laws were discussed by Sarah Zaman of the War Against Rape, Advocate Rubina Brohi of the Aurat Foundation, Farhat Parveen of NOW Communities, Sindh ombudsman retired Justice Pir Ali Shah.

The second session of the programme dedicated to Perween Rahman, who was killed on March 13, 2013, saw a panel discussion with Tasneem Siddiqui, Anis Haroon and Anwar Rashid that brought out the different facets of Perween’s life.

“When she graduated as an architect from Dawood College of Engineering and Technology, Perween wasn’t happy designing houses for the rich. The restlessness in her soul took her to town planner Arif Hasan first who then sent her to Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan [to work at the Orangi Pilot Project]. Most young people would get tired of working for the poor, but Perween worked for them for 30 years before being murdered on her way home from work. It was her passion that made her do the good work that she was able to do during all those years,” said Tasneem Siddiqui.

“Perween worked for the interests of the poor. She wanted the common man to have all civic facilities and to better his life while exposing the ones coming in the way of that,” said Anis Haroon.

Anwar Rashid said: “Perween belonged to the elite class herself. In the beginning, she couldn’t even converse very well in Urdu, but she worked alongside Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan in the narrow congested lanes of Karachi because she felt the pain of the poor. And throughout this the media-shy girl kept a low profile.”