Women who were once thought of being an entity not sacrosanct went through painful struggles to successfully change this perception. Yet their success does not seem as bright today.
The status of women could have been much better today if the, “Rollback in General Zia’s era had not damaged [women’s] movement for equal rights,” said Fahmida Riaz, a well-known Urdu poet, writer and feminist.
During an interaction with writers, poets, journalists and civil society at South Asia Free Media Association (Safma) on Tuesday, Riaz said that she was angered at the knowledge of women being considered ‘unclean’ beings.
She vented her anger through one of her poems, Wo zane napaak hai (She is an unclean being) included in one of her early compositions of poetry, Badan Dareeda (Exposed body).
Talking to The Express Tribune, Riaz, a poet of resistance who went through the hardships of detention and exile during Zia’s era, said women were still struggling to elevate themselves to a level where they are seen as equal to men.
“No doubt they have done a lot. Today’s woman is more educated, she works in different fields but she is not yet empowered enough,” said Riaz. “I question these advocates of hijab (veil) for women. I think it’s a matter of choice, not necessity, just like a beard is for men,” she added.
Perturbed by the present condition of the country, Riaz said no clear future is visible. “It is a secret situation where people are in the dark. They do not know what lies ahead,” said the poet, who went through hardships in her life but never gave up on her mission and beliefs.
Fahmida Riaz remained an activist in her academic life. She spoke and wrote against the ban on student politics during General Ayub’s regime. In the 1980s she and her husband lived in exile in India after both of them were jailed by the dictator for their liberal and politically charged views.
She has been a prominent voice in the feminist struggle in Pakistan, where her poems, both directly and indirectly grind down at the foundations of male dominance.
“Some women thought they could not survive without men,” said Riaz, before laughing at her words and asking “Why not?”
She was appointed the managing director of the National Book Foundation in Benazir’s first term and was later persecuted during the first Nawaz Sharif government, being labelled an Indian agent and becoming virtually unemployable. She had to work three simultaneous jobs to support the needs of her young children.
In the second Benazir government, she was given a post at the Quaid-i-Azam Academy, which also ended when the government was dismissed.
Recently, she was removed from the position of Urdu Dictionary Board managing director after a Supreme Court order on over sixty-five political appointments.
She read lines from her poetic prose, ‘kia tum pura chand na dekho ge?’ (Don’t you want to see the full moon?), written in 1980, at the beginning of the era of another dictatorship in the country. It sounded very contemporary and extracted praise from everyone present.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2011.
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