In 1999, no girl was permitted to receive an education in Thathi Bhanguan, a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Today, that has changed.
Decade, a new film by Atif Ahmad Qureshi and Muhammad Iqbal Akram, chronicles ten years of cultural and political development in Thathi Bhanguan, as attitudes and perceptions towards women evolved through the persuasive efforts of the village women themselves.
Any press might be good press for aging rock stars and actors, but not for politicians. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is learning that lesson the hard way following a statement earlier this week that seemed to suggest he was opposed to reserved seats for women in Pakistan’s parliament.
Speaking on Sunday at a women’s rights seminar organized by PTI, Khan reportedly told the audience that:
“Legislators in assemblies are representatives of the people. How can some women be representative of women when they haven’t even contested elections? In some areas it is not possible for women to contest elections, but political parties should hold elections within their ranks and promote women into higher leadership positions.”
The immediate and unintended effect of Khan’s remarks was to unite parliamentarians across party lines – against him. Women in parliament were quick to respond, calling Khan’s remarks “highly prejudiced, biased, discriminatory and alarming.”
Khan later clarified his original statement, explaining that what he really meant was that women should compete in special elections for reserved seats, though he did not explain how that would work considering his earlier claim that “in some areas it is not possible for women to contest elections.”
The clarification, however, did not stop the outpouring of responses from women concerned that their current level of representation was under attack.
Bina Shah, a Pakistani author and journalist warned that “forcing an already tiny pool of qualified women to compete against one another for a small number of seats will damage the gains that women are making in our fragile democracy,” and Dr. Farzana Bari, Director of the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad noted that Khan’s remedy, while possibly well meaning, overlooked the historical context of women in Pakistan’s political history.
Imran Khan must understand that women’s formal involvement in politics does not automatically lead to their substantive representation. Rather, their ability to effectively perform and represent women’s interests depends on the larger context of democracy; how they enter the political arena and to whom they are accountable. The PTI is absolutely correct in suggesting that political parties should hold elections within their ranks and promote women into higher leadership positions. However, he should not forget that political parties in this patriarchal socio-economic set-up and as gatekeepers have deprived women in general, and female party workers in particular, for the last 65 years from attaining decision-making positions.
This is not the first time that Imran Khan’s remarks about women’s rights have raised eyebrows. Speaking to reporters last year, Khan offered confusing and seemingly contradictory statements about whether he believed women should be required to follow a strict dress code in public. And in 2006, Imran Khan campaigned against a Protection of Women’s Rights Bill which he claimed was intended “to introduce a made-in-Washington Islamic system in the country.” The bill amended the infamous Hudood Ordinance promulgated by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq which criminalized adultery and made rape victims liable to prosecution for adultery if they could not produce four male witnesses.
The charismatic cricket hero has made an expansive media campaign central to his party’s election strategy. With national elections anticipated in just a few months, Imran Khan would like to keep his name in the press. But the PTI chief is learning a hard lesson this week: When the cameras are on, anything you say can, and will, be used against you in an election.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon adds his voice to the messages from over 1 million people across the globe.
Text of the Secretary-General video message in support of Malala Yousafzai and Girls’ education:
Malala Yousafzai is a global symbol of every girl’s right to an education.
On November 10th, citizens from across the globe are speaking out for Malala and on behalf of the 61 million children still not in school.
My Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, will deliver a petition in support of Malala and the universal right to education. I am adding my voice to the messages from over 1 million people across the globe.
Education is a fundamental human right. It is a pathway to development, tolerance and global citizenship.
Join us in our campaign to put education first — for Malala and girls and boys throughout the world.
Samar Minallah Khan is the recipient of the Fern Holland Award at the 2012 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards. The Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards honor and celebrate women leaders who are working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity and protect human rights around the world. Samar is a Pakistani Pashtun filmmaker and Cambridge-trained anthropologist who created a documentary on swara, a feudal justice system practice where young girls are made into child brides. Thanks in part to Samar’s campaign, swara was made illegal in Pakistan in 2004. Through her media initiative, Ethnomedia, she has produced documentaries on human trafficking, dowry and acid crimes, child domestic labor, and, most recently, forced marriage.
Shad Begum is a courageous human rights activist and leader who has changed the political context for women in the extremely conservative district of Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As founder and executive director of Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT), Ms. Shad provides political training, microcredit, primary education, and health services to women in the most conservative areas of Pakistan. Ms. Shad not only empowered the women of Dir to vote and run for office, she herself ran and won local seats in the 2001 and 2005 elections against local conservatives who tried to ban female participation. Despite threats, Ms. Shad continues to work out of Peshawar to improve the lives of women in the communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan’s democratic National Assembly recently passed a landmark bill to protect women’s rights in Pakistan. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, and deeply rooted cultural practices will make enforcement challenging in some areas, but the legislation represents and important step forward in protecting the rights of women in Pakistan and moving the country forward towards a society that respects the rights of all citizens.
In 2004, TIME magazine reported that the brutal gang rape of Mukhatr Mai “sent shock waves across Pakistan.” For her strength in standing up to challenge the practice of honor rapes and killings in rural villages, the magazine named Mukhtar Mai one of Asia’s Heroes. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof dubbed her, “The Rosa Parks for the 21st Century”. Seven years later, the latest chapter in Mai’s story has come to a close, and justice remains elusive.
Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the men who gang raped Mukhtar Mai, freeing all but one. Human rights groups in Pakistan are publicly speaking out against the verdict.
They expressed concern over the long delay in dispensation of justice. “The victim was raped in 2002 on the orders of a local panchayat. The Chief Justice of Pakistan took a suo motu notice of the case in 2005. And despite the intervention it took more than six years to come up with this decision, which is a source of concern for the women of Pakistan.”
They feared that the decision might further strengthen anti-women parallel legal and judicial systems and mechanisms in the country. “The criminal justice system too is not pro-women and is patriarchal in nature. Impunity is the order of the day.”
But Mukhtar Mai is not giving up. Her legal counsel, Barrister Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, announced plans to file a petition seeking review of the judgment, and Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian and presidential media advisor Farahnaz Ispahani Tweeted that President Zardari was personally requesting the government look into the case.
Sadly, the media response to the Supreme Court’s decision has taken a back seat to headlines defending Pakistan’s spy agency. Some of Pakistan’s more liberal journalists have spoken out against the injustice, lambasting Pakistan’s Supreme Court for “rendering a heinous crime such as gang rape almost unpunishable.” But much of the more conservative Urdu media has avoided in depth discussion of the issue. In response to one notorious case, Pakistani journalist Sana Saleem wrote an open letter to popular talk show host Mubashir Lucman for his harsh, unsympathetic treatment of Mukhtar Mai on his show.
If Pakistan’s media hasn’t paid much attention to Mukhtar Mai’s case, however, Pakistan’s government has. Last week, President Zardari instructed Interior Minister Rehman Malik to “take every measure to ensure protection to Mukhtaran Mai.”
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, politicians have spoken out against violence against women and pledged to provide security and legal aid to Ms. Mai as well as to women across the country.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Women Wing Sindh Information Secretary, Sharmila Farooqui, said here on Saturday that the government is committed to provide full protection and justice to needy women in Karachi and other parts of the country, besides providing legal assistance to rape victim Mukhtaran Mai in her decision to file a review petition in the court.
“Women in Karachi are performing their duties with dignity and courage after the government enacted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act and passed the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill last year. The government has also established a women police station in Karachi and more such stations will be established across Sindh,” she said in a statement.
This is the root of Mukhtar Mai’s cause – educating people about the rights of women, protecting women who are threatened by violence, and working to change both attitudes and outcomes in a manner that ensures greater respect and justice for women in Pakistan. Working together, government leaders and human rights organizations have the opportunity to provide a brighter, safer future for Pakistani girls and women. They deserve our support.
The democratic government in Pakistan continues to advance women’s rights as a legislative priority. Just last month, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill and appointed Dr. Shama Khalid the first woman as Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. Now, the democratic government is moving closer to passing legislation that will ban domestic violence.
Despite recent progress on the issue of women’s rights, Pakistan continues to see dramatic and violent attacks on women. According to the Aurat Foundation’s 2009 report on the Situation of Violence Against Women in Pakistan, “A total of 8548 incidents of violence against women were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan and in capital territory Islamabad during year 2009.” And these are only the cases that were reported in the media, meaning that the problem is likely vastly more severe.
The proposed legislation would go far not only in providing criminal penalties for violence against women, but in establishing an infrastructure that could help deliver a cultural change that would get to the root of the problem.
The bill lays out a broad definition of domestic violence beyond assault, including emotional abuse, stalking and wrongful confinement. Depriving a spouse of money or other resources needed to survive is also considered a violation.
The bill strives to cover everyone in a household, including elderly parents, children and husbands. It also sets up local ”protection committees,” which are required to include women and empowered to file complaints on behalf of victims.
Abusers can face months or years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if they violate court protection orders, the bill says.
Ambreen Salman, writing for the blog Global Voices, discusses the importance of supporting the democratic government in passing this legislation.
Pakistani women can achieve their goal by joining hands together and motivating each other. Educate women which will ensure awareness of what is happening to women around the world today is an essential step towards improving their situation. It is a surprising fact that women are made to do some of the things simply because of the fact that they are women. No one can change the world by themselves, but many people doing a little can make a real difference in the society. The nations that put up with the ill-treatment of women must know that they are being watched. A good number of governments are run by men who may not have the wish to transform things unless the world makes some noise.
The things which we can do at our level are:
- We can educate ourselves.
- We can be supportive of organizations that promote women’s rights.
- We can join hands and make our governments know that we are conscious of what’s happening around the world and we will not allow it.
- We can write to foreign embassies about the violence so that they can help us in promoting awareness.
- We can increase awareness.
- We can read about it.
- We can write about it.
- We can blog about it.
- We can talk about it.
Pakistan’s National Assembly has demonstrated in recent weeks that members are able to put aside party politics and unite in consensus around important issues. Without this sense of democratic unity and cooperation, the historic 18th Amendment to the constitution could not have passed. Let them show the same urgency in passing this bill to provide protections to Pakistan’s women and continue the important progress that has been made this year.