PAKISTANI WOMEN’S DAY: ‘ THE FIGHT CONTINUES SINCE 1983 ‘

On February 12, it was an historic and eventful day in the history of Pakistani women and its observed as “National Women Day” in my country to mark the catastrophic events that took place on 12 February 1983.

This was when we Pakistani women were dismissed as nonentities within the country and under special assistance of so called democratic foreign powers that colluded towards the devastating long term effects on us, events of and around 12 February will never be forgotten by any Pakistani women in her life time.

It was on 12 Febuary 1983 when some 100 Pakistani women activists took out a rally in defiance and against Gen Ziaul Haq’s religio-military dictatorship in the city of Lahore. The women activists defied the military order against public gatherings, to protest Gen. Zia’s anti women laws that upheld the testimony of a male as equal to that of two females in a court of law. Lest we forget, the Law of Evidence was among a series of laws that Gen. Zia imposed in the name of Islam.

All this was done with the supreme model of democratic ally USA, because with this partnership General Zia needed to appear devout Muslim in order to prove his credibility to lead the “nefarious jihad” in Afghanistan. For Washington has propped up Gen. Zia in order to counter the Russians in Afghanistan. Their strategy of turning the Afghan’s war of national liberation into an Islamic jihad or holy war against the “God-less Communists” made Pakistan the front liner state in this nefarious and horrifying war that is still going on in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Today is it not funny to hear ignorant westerners having the gall to inform that my country is a primitive piece of joke, as western hands are also partly instrumental in shaping today’s Pakistan as it is, appalling for women.

Another law imposed by the the military dictator was the Hudood Ordinance, including the Zina (adultery) law that made sex outside marriage a criminal offence, and rape a private offence. So a woman who had been raped had to prove her innocence or be accused of adultery. (Face palming). Now these Wahabi-inspired ideology and legal system that Gen. Zia introduced resulted into sky rocketing number of women inside prisons and these were mainly on girls and women. Some women were whipped, however the higher courts over turned all the sentences of stoning to death that some lower courts prescribed, but Taliban who back then were the “mujahedeen” army of God didn’t prescribe to this and continued to demand their version of Sharia imposition on Afghanistan and Pakistan. That includes stoning and flogging women to death in public, which are in reality Middle Eastern barbaric customs imported forcefully on the South Asian soil.

This battle is far from over today, this is the battle that angers my heart beyond words can describe. I cannot sit and do nothing. And this exactly how the women rights activists felt back then, a group including famous lawyersAsma Jahangir, Shehla Zia and other forwarded a petition to the Lahore High Court Chief Justice as a protest against the discriminatory laws. And then defying military ordinance, 100 of them stepped on the roads, flanked and supported by Habib Jalib, a veterinary Pakistani revolutionary poet, left-wing activist politician who opposed martial law and state oppression. They were attacked by the police with batons and many were beaten including Habib Jalib who perhaps was being given a lesson for his never ending support to women rights cause and Pakistani feminism.

That day women were beaten, and mass arrests took place. But the message since then has remained the same that we the Pakistani women will continue our struggle for rights as equal citizens, and for a society upholds, in theory and practice, its obligations to all citizens.

Today the military dictator who started this has long gone, but the evil forces he unleashed and nurtured have turned into a never ending nightmare for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Others carried on his work including Gen Musharaf etc who stayed silent as the multiplication of actors including the dangerous Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda and so on.

Today, it is far more important for human rights concerns to separate religion from the state, completely and effectively. For in the name of Islam, these groups attack unarmed civilians particularly women and children, desecrated graves, beheaded innocents and in past two decades undergone expansion of their theatrical war to attack and threaten girls schools and polio campaign in Pakistan.

This is simply not a version of Islam we can accept at any cost and we refuse to surrender by being bullying in name of religion.

We, the Pakistani women resolve to condemn all atrocities of religious extremism, of traditional discrimination against women and minorities, and of all hegemonic forces of women’s oppression.

As we have celebrated Pakistani Women Day, and annually renew our pledge for winning this fight, not just for the sake of Pakistani girls and women, but for our rightful place in the society and world peace order.

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‘Trafficking of South Asian Women Migrants Workers ‘

Every year millions of women from poor communities across South Asia migrate to find employment so they can send money home to support their families. But many end-up being deceived and trafficked into jobs with extremely low wages or don’t get paid at all.

Their movements get restricted, their living and working conditions are very poor and they often suffer threats and all sorts of abuse.

Last year,UK Department for International Development (DFID), the International Labor Organization (ILO) & the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) launched the newWork in Freedom” programme to fight trafficking of women and girls from South-Asia. This programme is tackling the issue through its multifaceted approaches that work on addressing the pertinent reasons behind the continued exploitative trafficking of South Asian women.

It is my humble opinion that south asian women’s status in global-sphere is somewhat very limited, dehumanized and degrading.

This feeds into the heinous system that allows for the continued lowly status and manipulation of women from this region. This project is like a breath of fresh air because it is aiming to make migration safe for girls and women, travelling to work in the domestic labor and garment sectors in the Middle East and within South Asia.

It has also introduced a unique measure of using “mobile phones” and capacity building of language skills to assist migrant women in getting the much-needed help they would be requiring to get out of a nightmare.

The project is concentrating on three key departure countriesBangladesh, India and Nepal — and major destination countries – India, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Please watch this heart wrenching video to hear a glimpse of what some migrant women workers went through.

Say no to Trafficking & Illegal Labour Manipulations!

Source: Work in Freedom Report

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Gender Disparity: ‘ South Asian Women Fight On ‘

In recent years, the South Asia region has made some progress towards gender equality. The ratio of female-to-male life expectancy in South Asia, while behind East Asia, is now ahead of sub-Saharan Africa.

Indian Women Paving Paths

There is still a long way to go in about bringing the much-needed positive change towards the existing patterns of patriarchy that afford men privileges over women’s minds, souls and bodies. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that millions are still stuck in the dinosaur age, suffering acute Neanderthal syndromes.

A development organization, IFAD through its Gender and Development Division has decades spanning contribution in making head-ways to counter patriarchy and gender gaps.

Through their work, IFAD reports following noteworthy progresses and areas of concern: 

1.South Asia has also seen women’s increased political involvement, with their parliamentary participation rates higher than those in East Asia.

2.The 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) shows that South Asia raised its position from the lowest ranked region in 2009 to the fourth ranked region in 2012 in overall discrimination against women.

3. However, the report also notes that the changes in ranking between 2009 and 2012 should be interpreted with caution and that better quality data − rather than an improvement in discriminatory social institutions − could also contribute to an improved score.

4. This culturally diverse region has typically lagged behind on gender equality issues. Boys still outnumber girls in primary school enrollment in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Furthermore, across the region, girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school and almost half of all adult women are illiterate. In 2005, 48 per cent of young women were married before the age of 18.

5. Out of the nine countries in South Asia, only Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka have laws that prohibit domestic violence.

Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto record on women rights, debatable

6. The region is confronted by skewed gender ratios owing to the continued preference for boys in society, at least in part because of the dowry system. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, patriarchal norms isolate women in their homes by placing restrictions on their mobility and prohibiting contact with the opposite sex, especially in rural areas. This has significant implications for their employment, voice and representation in public life.

Despite challenging circumstances, IFAD and its many partners working in South Asia have made significant strides in improving the lives of women and girls in the region, as shown in the stories that follow.

Economic empowerment: South Asia has one of the lowest rates in the world of women’s participation in the labour force. Women earn less than men and have limited economic opportunities, often toiling as self-employed labourers across all sectors.

 Voice and participation: Inequities cannot be addressed until there are more women in decision-making roles in the public and private domains. It is true that some countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have had women heads of government. Others have used affirmative action, such as quotas, to boost women’s participation in decision-making bodies and change the focus of development agendas. However, there is often a large gap between representation and voice.

In Pakistan, for example, women are virtually absent from water user associations even though they own some agricultural land. And if they do attend meetings, they have little influence over decisions.

Women’s decision-making power in the household is also low compared with other Asian regions, but it does increase with wealth and economic empowerment.

Workloads and benefits: In South Asia, the widespread disparities can be observed from the most insignificant to most significant important issues, women work longer hours on domestic chores in comparison to men. Their work overall is benefited by men, most agricultural laborers and workers are women but they earn less and have no decision-making power over their limited incomes and its uses.

Srilankan women in workforce

South Asian patriarchy continues to feed into the cycle of keeping women poor and in vulnerable conditions, so that they can be controlled within the heinous societal roles set out for them.

IFAD’s on-ground work has also resulted into many outcomes that can help to continue addressing women’s inclusion and empowerment within the region.

LESSONS LEARNED AND GOOD PRACTICES

IFAD’s Asia and Pacific Division has implemented projects that address gender equality and women’s empowerment in different ways. Some of the lessons learned and good practices implemented in South Asia include:

  • Self-help groups. Self-help groups are an effective way to strengthen the decision-making and economic power of women in South Asia’s patriarchal societies.
  • Women-specific value chains. Supporting women-specific value chains by providing micro-credit coupled with technical and social training has improved household-level gender relations. It has helped increase women’s mobility and their participation in family decision-making, and brought them greater control over their profits.

-National gender coordinators. Country-level gender coordinators, such as in India, have improved gender outcomes by providing direct support to project design and supervision.

The region is known world-wide for its non-friendly attitudes and traditions that continue to threaten women’s lives. At the center of the rotting core — South Asian women themselves and  have taken it to task to work on improving their lives and continue to display their positive interest and enthusiasm  progressing towards their rightful places in the societies. 

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