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PAKISTAN

You will not silence them!

So, Aurat March happened and hell frozeth over.

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Toxic masculinity, feeling threatened and puny, came out in droves to scream and demonise the challengers, hoping that feminism would cower and vanish. That was expected. And the women were ready and laughing, not willing to play on the back-foot anymore but to crack a whip and gallop forward, hitting every troll out of their way. Hence, it wasn’t the crying men who caught my attention, but the complaining herd of women who demanded heads of all these powerful feminists on a platter as compensation for bruising patriarchy.

From Veena Malik to Kishwar Naheed. From your everyday gharelo mom to doctor bahu. There were walls of texts shunning feminism and women’s march, tons of posts in groups, hysterically denying any association with the shameless slogans paraded by the ‘fallen’ women who participated or supported the Aurat March.

“I am not a feminist!”

“I’m not that kind of feminist!”

“I’m not a victim just because I cook/clean/obey!”

And I found myself wondering: what drives a woman to say that? What makes her not be on her own side? What is this instant need to disassociate herself from a cause that claims to be there for her own good?

Why are Pakistani women so afraid of the F-word: feminism?

I believe it is a lack of acceptance fuelled by a perpetual state of denial. And it’s found in all kinds of us, and I wanted to say a few words to them.

There’s You. You’re an educated woman, coming from a privileged family, married to a good man. You are free to speak your mind, make friends, have fun, choose how to dress, curse, smoke, laugh and run your house the way you like.

On occasion, you’ve asked your husband to warm his own food, told him you weren’t in the mood for intimacy even when he was, and thankfully he hasn’t punished you for any of those times because he isn’t a beast.

You have it all. But you don’t represent majority of the women outside your bubble. You don’t even represent all the women inside your bubble – the woman who decided to stay single, the woman who got a divorce and decided she’d still be happy about it, the woman who chose a career other than the ones approved by your social class, the woman who chose to use her privilege to lend voice to the disenfranchised.

You think since you’ve never experienced oppression, it must not exist, and any woman demanding more than what you have must be mad because what more could a woman want? Shouldn’t all the women desire what you desire? You think you don’t need feminism because you’re already liberated, without ever wondering what it would be like if you ever challenged the norms of your bubble.

Then, there’s You. You’re a mother of boys. And maybe girls. You’ve given them your life, raising them, teaching them right from wrong and you’re satisfied, and yet you crave validation from society for being the perfect mother.

And then you see this placard that highlights a behaviour in men that you noticed in the men you’ve lived with, the men you’re raising, and your peace of mind is destroyed. You recognise that behaviour. It is something you know you have permitted and tolerated in your own men and the men around you, and you’ve taught your girls to be wary of it and deal with it just as your mother had taught you, because ‘boys will be boys’.

And it scares you. Now, you want to emphatically deny that that behaviour will prove to be as toxic as these other women say it did in their experience. You cannot bear to imagine your son being called out similarly by one of them. Surely, those women must have done something to deserve the insults they complain of. Surely, those girls should’ve been taught to stay within their limits like you dutifully taught yours. Surely, your father/brother/husband/son is not like those men because you know how to respect them properly and you will never give them any reason to treat you ill. Because God only knows what will happen if you did…and I’m guessing probably you do too.

And You. The proud Muslimah. You have all the correct religious citations to shoot down any and all offensive slogans in the name of Islam because you learned it at home, from your father, on your own, and earned approval of all the men in your life for being knowledgeable. You dutifully remind all that men are superior, that women must cover, that good wives always obey, that women already have rights to inheritance as ordained by God so why all the fuss?

Meanwhile you wilfully ignore that men are superior to women not by virtue of being men but by virtue of their responsibility to protect and provide for women in their care and fulfilling their rights. Any man who isn’t fulfilling this responsibility isn’t superior to any woman in his life by any means, let alone a woman in the public sphere.

You ignore that men are told to cover their person as well as avert their gazes before women are ordered to cover their person in Quran.

You forget that religious morality is the same for both genders. You forget that a good wife by Islamic standards isn’t required to cook, clean, keep house, attend to in-laws, change her name after marriage to accommodate husband’s name, warm food for husband or find his missing undergarments. All such duties are cultural.

However, a good husband is certainly required to be gentle never forceful, warm his own food if necessary, find his own socks, knock or announce his entrance before entering his own house and room so that the wife would know he’s coming, ensure she is happy and comfortable, and respect her privacy.

You forget that in our culture, women are denied their inheritance for multiple reasons. You forget that in our culture, women have been killed for serving cold food, slipped off bikes for not sitting astride, been raped despite their burqa and hijab.

You forget that 79 percent of our women do not manage their periods hygienically because they don’t know how to and many of them die of toxic infections because people like you would rather let them die than spread awareness about menstrual health. You forget all this and more. Because it suits you to toot your own horn of self-righteous ignorance and pretend it’s all good.

And finally, there’s You. You who doesn’t want to be associated with the reputation that comes with the stigma of being a feminist. You want to be known as the conforming one, the nice one, the one who isn’t at odds with religion even though you don’t really know what religion says.

You don’t want to be the witch the beloved men in your life demonise lest your own father/brother/husband/son shuns you, labelling you as the ‘fallen’ woman. You feel the way to be thankful for your privilege is to be loyal to the ones who provided you with it. Therefore, you cannot allow yourself to recognise the truth of another woman’s pain.

You cannot validate another woman’s pain without the context of another man in the picture so you can pinpoint and say that see, he is bad but not my man, not all men. Without that picture, the broad sweeping statements screaming of atrocities against women threaten you because they threaten your men who might see themselves reflected in those statements. Your men cry and you rush to dutifully comfort them and dismiss the anti-men propaganda. Or it could be that your men may say nothing because they’re not those men, and you think since you’re okay, you have no reason to raise your voice.

That’s quite okay. You can choose to remain silent for all your multitude of reasons. But you may not demonise or trivialise or criticise another woman’s trauma simply because it was different from yours.

You don’t get to dismiss what she puts on her placard simply because it is different from what your life has laid out for you. You don’t get to dictate what language she should use because while you, cooped up in your cocoon, may have cared to never notice that these are the words and the actions that countless women have suffered through for decades. They have every right to shout them back. To expose the ugly. To be here. To claim their space.

You can join in. Or stay out. But you will not silence them!

Humeira Ajaz is a US-based freelance blogger, novelist, and a dark chocolates and Pakistani drama enthusiast. She tweets @humeirakazmi

OPINION

Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan

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As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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OPINION

Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.

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This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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OPINION

Hunza Valley: A case of educational enlightenment

Educational initiatives that have enlightened Hunza’s local communities are exemplary for others

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The Hunza Valley in Pakistan is known for its breathtaking beauty, lofty mountains, lakes, historical forts and fruit orchards. But equally enthralling are the educational initiatives that have enlightened Hunza’s local communities and are exemplary for others.

Hunza is a mountainous valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. Situated in the extreme northern part of the country, Hunza borders with the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan and the Xinjiang region of China. Hunza was an independent principality for more than 900 years, until the British gained control of it and the neighbouring valley of Nagar between 1889 and 1891 through a military conquest. The former princely state survived until 1974, when it was finally dissolved by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The centuries old history of the area is reflected in its rich cultural heritage and ethnic diversity. With mass migrations, conflicts and resettling of tribes, people of the region joyfully recount their historical traditions. They are also famous for the longevity of their lives.

But another trait which makes the people of Hunza distinct from the rest of the country, is its high literacy rate. While the literacy rate of the country is slightly above 50 percent, which in many rural areas is even lesser, the literacy rate in Hunza is believed to be nearly 80 percent, with some claiming it to be even more than 90 percent. What is the reason that a far flung, remote area perched at the top of the highest mountainous regions of the continent has been so successful in educating its people?

The evolution of education in Hunza valley was initiated in the year 1912 when the government of British India founded a primary school in Hunza state. But a major role has been played by the Ismaili Muslims, who make up nearly 90 percent of Hunza’s population.

In 1946, seventeen Diamond Jubilee Schools were established under the guidance and funding provided by Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims. Aga Khan Education Service played an important role in improving quality of education by arranging teachers training programs. Aga Khan Academies opened in Hunza which were later upgraded to Aga Khan Higher Secondary School for girls, with well trained teachers qualified from foreign universities. Locals also established community schools in late 1990s. Karakoram International University and its campus in Hunza provides quality education to students and degrees with scope of local and international markets, e.g. Tourism and Management.

Some unique initiatives include Al-Amyn Model School and Hassegawa Memorial Public School which are funded by Japan. These schools help re-establish the broken link between school and home. Here parents and grandparents are invited to share their wisdom with the younger generation. Parents come to know that their knowledge is not obsolete and that the younger generation can benefit from it.

Public schools are also opened by the Government of Pakistan which play a vital role in providing quality education to both boys and girls,
Being educated not only means to know how to read, write, think, or even being able to conjure new ideas, but having a cultured sense of oneself and the surrounding. In this sense, apart from being educated, the minds of people in Hunza are liberated from dogmas, and they encourage gender equality and critical thinking, which has led to the development of its pluralistic society.

Women have become an integral part of the local economy, including those who weave Hunza’s famous handicrafts. Both girls and boys study music in music schools established by USAID and Aga Khan Cultural and Support Program (AKCSP).

The world famous female mountaineer Samina Baig, international cricket player Diana Baig, female atheletes, models and singers are a depiction of gender equality and freedom from stereotypes. Although some of the remote mountainous regions of northern and northwestern Pakistan have been scarred by militant fundamentalism and terrorism, Hunza has largely avoided such associations, and the crime rate is extremely low.

Perhaps, this is why renowned international publications Washington Post and Foreign Policy Magazine have termed Hunza as a “success story for moderate Islam…. Once a hard Himalayan town where resident barely had enough food, Karimabad, in the Hunza Valley, is now one of Pakistan’s most idyllic spots and has become an oasis of tolerance, security, and good schools.”

Thus, an educational enlightenment including cultural, moral, social and economic progress of the community as well as the inculcation of deep respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, has helped eliminate poverty, and the promotion and implementation of secular pluralism and the advancement of the status of women in Hunza Valley.

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