‘Social media harassment, narrow mindedness new obstacles for women’

ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: Various seminars, poetry recitals, poster competitions and conferences were held across the twin cities in order to mark International Women’s Day, which is observed on March 8 each year.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) hosted a Women’s Day conference titled ‘Opening up Spaces for Women Rights Defenders’ on Wednesday. Focusing on physical security challenges and the newer threats of online harassment and surveillance, the conference brought testimonials of HR defenders through video clips to participants.

Human rights defenders face threats and incidents of violence, discrimination and harassment and women are even more vulnerable.

Pakistan National Commission on the Status of Women member Nasreen Azhar said progress had been made over the many years of activism as young women had entered diverse professions and even the women of rural areas were more aware.

However, she said, there are new difficulties and new obstacles due in part to social media and also due to increasing religious narrow mindedness.

Renowned writer Kishwar Naheed recited a poem and shared a series of anecdotes to illustrate the need to compromise and be tactful and to pander the egos of those oppressing women in order to create space for women. She gave the example of Samina Baig, who climbed Mount Everest with her brother, who stepped back and allowed her to be the only one to summit the mountain. She also shared the inspiration for her poem which was an experience in a rural area where she wanted to photograph a woman working with her husband breaking rocks. She had her head covered and had jewellery on.

The local men had not allowed her to take the picture. Nothing has changed for that woman, who continues to labour and live with innumerable restrictions, she said.

(L-R) Renowned dancer Sheema Kirmani, Lok Virsa Executive Director Dr Fauzia Saeed, poet Kishwar Naheed , HRCP’s Nasreen Azhar and Pakistan Hindu Council representative Mangla Sharma at the national conference on Wednesday. The other picture is of students participating in a painting competition at the Rawalpindi Arts Council. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad & APP
(L-R) Renowned dancer Sheema Kirmani, Lok Virsa Executive Director Dr Fauzia Saeed, poet Kishwar Naheed , HRCP’s Nasreen Azhar and Pakistan Hindu Council representative Mangla Sharma at the national conference on Wednesday. The other picture is of students participating in a painting competition at the Rawalpindi Arts Council. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad & APP

Pakistan Hindu Council representative Mangla Sharma spoke about the security and minority issues. Hindu women in Pakistan do not participate in seminars and sessions, no because they are not educated but because there is a sense in the community that activism and politics are not acceptable fields for women to engage in, she said.

Ms Sharma said that when she first stood for elections, people had wanted to know if she had asked the community leaders for permission. She also spoke about the changes and developments in Sindh laws where there has been some progress but other things are on hold.

Lok Virsa Excutive Director Dr Fouzia Saeed said human rights defenders rarely get the space to sit and discuss security and other issues they face.

She added that it is important to transfer the ideology and strategy of activism to young people.

“A lot of activism now happens on Facebook which is a safe space where one cannot be attacked. Real life activism is different, the dynamics are different. We need to show the youth how to think strategically in order to elbow room for ourselves, where and when to fight and where to be non-confrontational,” she added.

The Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) celebrated women’s day with a poetry recital titled ‘Khawateen Mushaira in Pakistani Languages’.

The poets taking part recited poems about women in their various roles including poems titles, ‘Maan’, ‘Main Aurat Hoon’, ‘Baraan’, and ‘Yeh Pyaar Kahan Tak Jaye Ga’.

The event was chaired by renowned poet Parveen Tahir, who also read a few of her Ghazals and poems. Participants read their poetry in Punjabi, Urdu and Pashtu.

Nasia Durrani from Peshawar translated her Pashtu poem Baraan, or Rain, in Urdu and it was about the relationship between love and rain.

She told Dawn she had also faced many hurdles in starting a career as a poet.

“My husband was very supportive and it is because of him that I am attending this event today. But before I was married, I was not allowed to publish my poetry or read it to anyone,” she said.

Mr Durrani has now published two books.

Robina Shad, a young poet who is blind, presented ghazals regarding the feelings of a young woman in love and received grand applause from the audience.

PAL Chairman Dr Qasim Bughio said poetry has an immediate and positive impact on minds and that women are playing an active role in the development of society which can no longer be forgotten or ignored.

Women’s Day events were also held in the garrison city including poster exhibitions and seminars by educational institutions.

However, breaking with tradition, the divisional and district administration did not arrange for any such event this year.

A poster competition was arranged by the Rawalpindi Arts Council (RAC) with the theme of the ‘Present Government’s Initiatives towards Women Development’.

More than 60 students participated in the event, all of whom highlighted the initiatives taken by the Punjab government for the betterment of women.

The various themes were that of women ombudsmen, harassment laws, education, property issues, establishment of inquiry committees and other important matters.

The first prize went to RAC’s Waqas Ahmed, the second to Namia Saleem of Girls College Dhoke Ratta, the third to Romaisa Ahmed of the Punjab College of Commerce and the fourth to Ayesha Rashid of the same college.

Speaking on the occasion, Mishal Malik, the wife of Hurriat leader Yasin Malik, said women played an important part in the Pakistan Movement and play an important part in the development of the country. She said women should know their rights and not compromise on them. She talked about the sacrifices Kashmiri women had made for the right of self-determination.

The Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) also organised an event in regards to Women’s Day with the theme ‘Be Bold for Change’.

Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Maryam Aurangzeb was the chief guest at the event which was also attended by Nepalese Ambassador Sewa Lamsel Adikari, Ambassador from Tajikistan Jonov Sher Ali and RCCI President Raja Amer Iqbal.

Ms Aurangzeb highlighted the initiatives the government had taken for the empowerment of women and for protecting their rights. She said various laws had been introduced in regards to women the last few years including the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace (Amendment) Bill 2014, Anti Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2013 and the Anti Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Amendment) Bill 2014 and called for the better implementation of these laws.

The minister said committees have been constituted in various organisations to deal with complaints of harassment of women at workplaces and stressed on the need for training and raising awareness.

She appreciated RCCI’s initiative for establishing a fund for releasing women prisoners from Adiala Jail who were not able to pay their fines.

RCCI President Raja Amer Iqbal said the chamber is establishing an incubation centre for businesswomen to provide them with a platform to display their products and hold meetings of the promotion of their businesses.

The Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) hosted a Women’s Day event as well. FJWU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Samina Amin Qadir said true liberation comes with the socio-economic emancipation of women. The varsity’s dean, Dr Naheed Zia Khan said opportunities should be provided for women inside the house and outside.

Dr Sarwat Rasool said March 8 is a day for celebrating women’s achievements and their extraordinary potential. She said it is time to reflect on the barrier that still remain and how they can be overcome.

Many of the hurdles the women of Pakistan are facing can be eradicated via education, she said.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2017

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