Sisters in the struggle: Orchestrating change through global unity

Published: May 1, 2016
‘Behenchara Corner’ set up by the Girls at Dhaba where people enjoyed tea (above). A number of visitors gather at the main stage at Beach Luxury hotel. PHOTOS: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

‘Behenchara Corner’ set up by the Girls at Dhaba where people enjoyed tea (above). A number of visitors gather at the main stage at Beach Luxury hotel. PHOTOS: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS


Our honour is not in your hands, your body or your mind. Our honour is also not in our bodies which you seek to control. It resides within us; in our minds, hearts and souls which you will never control.

Activist Tahira Abdullah directed this message to all past, present and future perpetuators of violence against women while addressing the audience comprising women, men and girls.

She was speaking at a session titled, ‘Best of Times, Worst of Times: A Year in Review’, at the first Women of the World (WOW) Festival 2016 in Karachi on Sunday. The festival has been jointly organised by British Council Pakistan and London’s Southbank Centre.

Workplace inequality

Speaking about the challenges faced by working women, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan general secretary IA Rehman said their issues include inequality in pay and harassment.

Adding to this, Abdullah pointed out that women comprise 48% of the total population. About 60% of them reside in rural areas, of which about 90% of them work. But this is not counted as ‘work’. Reports suggest that only 22% of women work, “nothing can be more humiliating than this.” Most women work but they remain unpaid, invisible and unacknowledged, she claimed.

Across the world it took women hundreds of years to be allowed into public spaces, said WOW founder and Southbank Centre art director Jude Kelly. In 1980s, equal pay law was passed in Britain but it was never actually implemented, she added.

Legislative failure

“Most of the judiciary and parliament comprises men who are interested in maintaining the status quo,” remarked Kelly. Even when women come into positions of power they are discouraged from raising women’s issues, she lamented.

“We were the generation that was meant to have it all,” said Somlian-born British activist Nimco Ali.  However, the struggle still continues, she remarked.

“I have been speaking about this issue since the last 28 years so not a lot is going to change in the next 12 months,” said Rehman when asked what he expects in the upcoming WOW festivals.

Sometimes, the reality does seem bleak but as a global community we can build a global voice. “We are here to make a better world so let’s make it,” said Kelly.

Opening ceremony

Growing up I remember being told that girls can only do certain things. But, let’s imagine a world where parents are overjoyed to give birth to girls. A world where women are not subjected to violence and harassment, said Kelly at the opening ceremony.

“There is a need for women to join men. We need to tell our stories to bring change. WOW is a cultural platform to celebrate and acknowledge tremendous achievement of women in Pakistan and around the world, said British Council Pakistan programmes director Jim Booth.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2016.

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