Women’s Excellence Month: The shushing and shaming ends now
No matter how much the world wants to, it cannot sweep women under the carpet, dust off its hands and pretend it never happened. Gender equality is still an issue. But the misogynists would have you believe otherwise.
Even though the world has advanced in various fields, human rights seem to be the point where evolution screeches to a halt. I have had my fair share of confrontations with patriarchy. There were times when my strength surprised me. And there were times when I hung my head in resignation. Every woman knows that when she stands in a ring against patriarchy, you win some and you lose some.
There was a time when I used to think that we need to invert the rhetoric surrounding the discourse on women. The words ‘supressed’ and ‘mistreated’ had started to make me cringe. I used to ask myself if that is all women were about.
But I assured myself, women are strong, and hence, it’s time to banish those weak words from the conversation on women.
The truth, however, is that the discourse on women will not become richer with the deletion of those words. How is adding ‘strong’ in place of ‘uppressed’ really going to help? Will a woman fleeing honour killing nod in agreement when the world tells her she is strong? Or will she feel more understood when the world recognises that she is being suppressed? Will substitution of words change the position of women in the world overnight?
If only words held that kind of power.
The truth is that the discourse on women does not need to be reversed, it needs to be diversified. The word ‘strong’ needs to be strung along with the word ‘suppressed’, because a woman’s experience is not one-dimensional. It is the ostensible nature of the dialogue on women which is the problem.
I came to this conclusion when I came across an initiative by the Peshawar School for Peace that dedicated the entire month of August to celebrate the positive role that women are playing in all aspects of Pakistani society. It provided a safe space to the women of Peshawar to come together from various cultural and religious backgrounds to connect and learn from each other. Every Saturday, the women gathered to share ideas that focused on various themes.
It is important to highlight such positive initiatives taking place in cities like Peshawar, which mostly garners attention on the suppression of women. This city, just like women themselves, is doing a lot more than the world sees. After meeting the female community leaders of the city, all my distortions regarding women cleared up. So the special string, on which I bead my words for women, had two more shiny pearls – hope and pride.
“It was a pleasure meeting with all of you and hearing about the remarkable work you are doing through the Peshawar School of Peace. Fostering social cohesion and promoting inter-faith dialogue through early childhood education is a fundamental step towards building more tolerant and inclusive communities which is sorely needed in Pakistan. We were pleased to hear that the School has a higher proportion of girls enrolled especially since there continues to be vast gender disparities in education.” – Jamshed Kazi, United Nations Women Country Director.
The Women’s Excellence Month officially ended on August 29th with amazing sessions lead by Noor Zia Afridi and other inspiring women who focused on their strengths and didn’t let anything come in their way.
Noor Zia’s struggle against discriminatory tribal customs particularly resonated with me. She was barely four-feet tall when she defied the norms of FATA and continued her education. In December 2008, she collaborated with her sister, Farida Afridi, and established the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA) in the Jamrud subdivision of Khyber Agency. Farida was a Pakhtun feminist and was murdered by the gunslingers of misogyny. She was shot on her way to work in Hayatabad, Peshawar. Farida’s voice was the only source of reason in a place where women’s’ rights was considered an alien concept. The militants, through their brutality, wanted to ensure that women don’t step out of the house, and God forbid, get a job.
However, they did not manage to extinguish Noor Zia’s passion. She has carried forward the struggle with zeal and isn’t afraid. She said losing Farida gave her the courage to do more. Noor Zia is the recipient of the prestigious Front Line Defenders Award from the Academy Award winner Sean Penn in 2014. Listening to her session on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) led me to truly understand the reality of women in the world.
The reality is that there are still verdicts being slapped in our faces that say that for every brother that elopes, two sisters shall be raped. The reality is that women’s bodies are still being traded like they are the property of men. The reality is that women are made to carry the shame, honour and respect of the men in their family, as if they are not a being in themselves.
All this shushing and shaming needs to end now. Stop having your mothers, sisters and daughters carry the burdens you’ve shrugged off. You do not own them. God did not sheath them in shame and drop them at your door step. The shame isn’t theirs. It is yours.
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