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You will not silence them!

So, Aurat March happened and hell frozeth over.



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


Hunza Valley: A case of educational enlightenment

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



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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‘Victim’ or ‘survivor’- rebuilding narrative of abuse

Calling the individual a ‘sexual abuse survivor’ gives more hope to the wronged



Sexual assault is an act of extreme cruelty and injustice that causes insurmountable levels of trauma on the inflicted individual. When a forcible act of abusing someone sexually takes place, the experience is one that even the sufferer fails to understand or give words to. The trauma leaves the one abused feeling used, deceived and damaged. The person then begins to see the world with a tinted lens, which casts a shadow of darkness over everything.

A reported 94 per cent of such women experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) within two weeks after the assault. Among them, 30 per cent continue to experience PTSD symptoms nine months after the incident. This disorder is characterised by intrusive, distressing flashbacks from the event, emotional numbness, social avoidance, and persistent negative beliefs about one’s self or others. It is most often accompanied by depression, or anxiety, that further cause distress to their mental, emotional, and physical state.

Sexual assault and rape is attached with a stigma all over the world. A stigma is defined as ‘a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person’ and one regarding rape and sexual assault makes the situation worse for someone who is already suffering. Removing this stigma is a step towards improvement, creating a healthier environment for the sufferer to heal in, and easing his or her hardships.

The reaction of the society in this regard is important, but the media plays a vital role in building the narrative for issues and events that happen in the country. It has the power to shape how a rape incident is perceived, through the words used in its stories and has the responsibility to use this power correctly.

When a rape case is reported, the news usually add a headline with the words ‘Rape Victim’ along with images depicting helplessness, vulnerability and hopelessness. Another image often used is that of masculine hands covering the female’s mouth to hush her up, depicting silence and weakness.

A point to ponder is, what message these images give across? The issue becomes framed in a way that the victims feel further stigmatised from the society, when all they need is healing. It is common for their images to go viral on social media, which informs the public and also gains sympathy and support for them. However, the victims of abuse become the core focus of the issue, rather than the perpetrator or abuser who should have been held under the spotlight for the world to see. Calling someone a victim not only reinforces his or her victimhood but also draws complete attention towards the sufferer, garnering increased interest about the personal details of the victim. The victim becomes the subject of the entire case.

Dating back to the 1970, books like “I Never Told Anyone” and “The Courage to Heal” collecting personal narratives of women who had experienced incest and child sexual abuse, were the first to pointedly use the word ‘survivor’, replacing ‘victim’ in an attempt to emphasise women’s resourcefulness rather than their helplessness and the decisions they had made that allowed them to stay safe and sane.

Today, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, a discussion has stirred again, in which women are uniting, to be called ‘survivors’, not ‘victims’ of abuse.

When the media calls a person who is raped a ‘victim’, it correctly defines him or her “as a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action” as defined by Oxford. But for the person who was subjected to such a heinous crime, the word ‘victim’ has more connotations. The word has a psychological impact on the person who was abused and traumatised.

While it is important to acknowledge the suffering and pain of the ‘victim’ and using the term does that, it also further reinforces the victim as ‘hopeless’ in society’s eyes and further reinforces all the stigmas attached to rape, making them feel more isolated.

The term ‘victim’ limits the scope for improvement or healing, because using this term is like taking a pen and writing the end of their story, with nothing left to hope for.

For these reasons, calling the individual a ‘rape survivor’ or a ‘sexual abuse survivor’ gives more hope to the wronged. The ‘victim’ is now a ‘survivor’- erasing the societies’ stigma towards the future, offering hope and encouragement.

In an article ‘Survivor vs Victim: The Power of Language’ published last year, Jessica Tappana, a therapist and co-founder of counselling website in Columbia writes, “When I use the term survivor, I feel that it leaves the door more open for possibility. Even if my client isn’t thriving right this moment, I still encourage them to claim the title of ‘survivor’ as we begin to walk down the path of healing.”

In Pakistan, the particular stigma attached to rape is regarding the shame it brings to the individual and her family. It is something to hide from the world, to live with and carry this shame for the rest of life. Calling the victim a survivor would turn the ‘shameful’ incident into an event that this person ‘survived’ implying that they still have prospects for a better future.

Sexually abused women are not irrevocably damaged in soul and body, and if they do not acknowledge this, they are in denial of their strength. We can equip them with that courage by not letting their abuse define them.

We can start by calling them ‘survivors’, undefeated and brave; so that instead of bowing down their heads in shame, they can keep their chin up, look towards a positive future, and proudly say, “I am a survivor.”

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Six Pakistanis were among 49 killed in New Zealand mosque massacre



Out of 49 people who were killed in mass shootings in New Zealand’s Christchurch on Friday, at least six belonged to Pakistan, Foreign Office (FO) Spokesman Mohammad Faisal said on Saturday.

“Sohail Shahid, Syed Jahandad Ali, Syed Areeb Ahmed, Mahboob Haroon, Naeem Rashid and his son, Talha Naeem, have been pronounced dead by the authorities,” Dr Faisal said in a tweet.
On Friday, at least four Pakistani nationals were reportedly injured and five others had gone missing after violent gun attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. Three Pakistani however still remain missing and a search for them is underway.

The FO confirmed the death of six Pakistanis shortly after a list was issued earlier on Saturday. The list included: Zeeshan Raza; father of Zeeshan Raza; mother of Zeeshan Raza; Haroon Mahmood, son of Shahid Mehmood; Sohail Shahid, son of Muhammad Shabbir; Syed Areeb Ahmed, son of Ayaz Ahmed; Syed Jahanand Ali Talha Naeem; Naeem Rashid.

Naeem Rashid and his son Talha Naeem tried to intercept the shooter, but they were shot dead in their attempt. Naeem and Talha, who hailed from Abbottabad, were injured as they attempted to overpower the attacker and later succumbed to their injuries.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi also spoke to the media about the terror attack on Saturday.

“We are waiting for identification of [missing] Pakistanis. Obviously I’m getting more worried with time as we have not been able to contact them [the missing Pakistanis] and I fear that they might be on the list of martyrs. But nothing has been communicated to us officially yet and to say anything before an official confirmation will be speculation,” he said while condemning the attack in strong words.


Meanwhile, a right-wing extremist who filmed himself on a shooting rampage flashed a white power gesture as he appeared in a Christchurch court on Saturday and was charged with murder.
Australian-born 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant stood in the dock wearing handcuffs and a white prison smock, as the judge read a single murder charge against him. A raft of further charges is expected.

The former fitness instructor and self-professed fascist occasionally turned to look at media present in court during the brief hearing that the public were excluded from for security reasons.
Flanked by armed police he made an upside-down “okay” signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe. He did not request bail and was taken into custody until his next court appearance which is scheduled for April 5.

A short distance from the court, 39 people were being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds and other injuries inflicted in the massacre.
The wounded included a two-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, who was in critical condition.


In a separate development, an imam who was leading prayers at one of the mosques said the Muslim community’s love for New Zealand would not be shaken by the massacre, reported The Telegraph.

“We still love this country,” said Ibrahim Abdul Halim, imam of Linwood Mosque, vowing that extremists would “never ever touch our confidence”.

Halim gave a harrowing account of the moment during Friday prayers when gunshots rang out in the mosque, replacing peaceful reflection with screaming, bloodshed and death.

“Everyone laid down on the floor, and some women started crying, some people died immediately,” he said.

But, he said, New Zealand Muslims still felt at home in the south Pacific nation.

“My children live here” he said, adding, “we are happy”.

He said the majority of New Zealanders “are very keen to support all of us, to give us full solidarity”, describing how strangers exchanged hugs with him on Saturday.

“They start to… give me big hug, and give me more solidarity. This is something very important.”

At least 49 people were killed and 20 injured in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday when at least one gunman opened fire on worshippers in two separate mosques.

The attack, which came around the time people were attending the mosques for Friday prayers, was the deadliest in the western nation’s history.

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