Women's empowerment: Reflecting on the highs and lows

Published: February 12, 2011
‘Much has been done but much still needs to be done’.

‘Much has been done but much still needs to be done’.

ISLAMABAD: It all began on February 12, 1983, when outspoken lawyers, doctors and activists stood up against the discriminatory treatment meted out to women in the country.

“It wasn’t like the way people struggle these days. That movement stood for education of women, alleviation of poverty,” reminisced Rights and Social Activist Nageen Hyat, who was part of the movement back then.

They were protesting against cutting education to girls, schools being bombed, teachers being victimised and killed, and the imposition of burqa in wake of the so-called ‘Islamisation’ of Pakistan.

The movement was instigated by Women’s Action Forum, founded by Hyat in 1981, after Fahmida and Allah Buksh were sentenced and stoned to death under the Zina Ordinance.

The security forces tried to silence their voices by charging them with batons and throwing them in the lockup. But their voices were not crushed, and the day went down in history as “National Women’s Day”. The day reflects the force used by women representatives for acquisition of their legal rights.

Commemorating the day, Aurat Foundation and Oxfam-GB jointly organised an event to pay tribute to “Women’s Leadership at Grassroots Level: Actions & Achievements” on Friday at Islamabad Hotel. Prominent social figures including Asma Jehangir, Nageen Hyat and Dr Samina Khan among others actively participated in the event.

Hyat said, “Most laws are un-Islamic and against women and minorities. The Islamisation process was forced upon the nation from 1979 onwards and the Hadood Ordinance with its retrogressive measures became firmly entrenched in Pakistan’s political and legal system.… Change can come only through education.”

Mukhtaran Mai, the chief guest and an icon of struggle and courage in Pakistan and abroad, shared snippets of her poignant struggle, “I’m uneducated and hail from a conservative and average origin where women do not have a strong social or financial status.

“I did not even know what organisation meant before 2002, when I mustered up the courage to form my own. We all know what happened. Yet I was fortunate enough to meet educated women through the foundation. They lent me support and I mustered the courage to stand up. Today I’ve built a school, a shelter home and a resource centre for girls.”

Aurat Foundation had invited representatives of groups of women leaders to share their stories of struggle for gender equality and political rights with women from grassroots invited at the event.

Women’s Leaders Group comprises fifty women leaders from thirty districts of Pakistan, who are provided leadership training by the foundation.

The foundation’s Chief Executive Office Naeem Mirza started by narrating the story of injustice and violence against Haleema Bhutto. He read out an appeal by her, demanding justice. She said, “If they [the government] can’t give me justice after sitting on Benazir’s seat, then what good are they for?”

The session took a sombre air, moving many to tears.

Haleema Bhutto, from Ghotki is currently entrenched in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad. In March 2010, her husband declared her kari, and the village panchayat declared her punishable by death. To save her life and struggle for justice, she came to Islamabad. She will remain persistent until justice comes.

Then representatives of the foundation from different cities gave in-depth accounts of their activities and work for women.

Notably, Qamar Bano from Jacobababad founded the Madiha Welfare Centre to cater to women with disabilities and teach their skills.

Another centre for education and skills’ development in Rawalpindi has so far registered 600-700 girls, who will get educated till matriculation, according to Razia Sultana, the foundation’s representative from Rawalpindi.

Women might have marked the day as their own, but their fight is far from over. Women still face numerous threats and dangers in the name of honour, said an emotional Dr Amna Solangi. Similarly Supreme Court Advocate Sarkar Abbas highlighted the discrimination being faced by female lawyers, especially in elections in bar associations.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • arsalan nizam
    Feb 12, 2011 - 11:26AM

    what empowerment??? our girls of today have the same mentality their grandmothers had of a woman’s sole aim in life is being a baby producing factory & keeping her ‘majazi khuda’ happy enough so he won’t leave her.
    The girls of today after doing MBA’S,MBBS or bachelors choose to get married & not work & have a career.A hundred years ago they used to not have an eduaction & sit at home,today they have a master’s degree & rot away at home.That is not progress.
    The women’s rights activists have failed miserably in convincing married women to have careers.As long as our girls are financially dependent on their husbands they can never be free.Recommend

  • ashfaque chandio
    Feb 12, 2011 - 12:43PM

    pakistani women aren’t empowered,won’t be empowered because they still have no concept of self respect & being self sufficient.They continue to be deliberately dependent on their husbands for giving them their ‘pocket money’ to buy the things for their survival.They don’t work after marriage.

    As long as our girls continue to beg their husbands for money for their own survival their condition won’t improve.Recommend

  • Feb 12, 2011 - 4:06PM

    only women can empower other women. all women should give up watching stupid serials, adopting ridiculous fashion and they should get educated and work devotedly. I got angry at those girls who talk only about getting married and becoming princess and do not care what happens to the rest of the world.Recommend

  • Feb 12, 2011 - 5:32PM

    Aurat Foundation’s Unfulfilled Promises to Haleema Bhutto Family.

    Please watch the video in which Haleema Bhutto family desribes how Aurat Foundation is exploiting their case.


  • Feb 12, 2011 - 5:40PM

    Dear Maryam Usman:

    You reported as:

    ….She said, “If they [the government] can’t give me justice after sitting on Benazir’s seat, then what good are they for?” ….

    In fact, Haleema Bhutto pointed out Aurat Foundation.

    The victim family can be contacted directly for confirmation at: +92-300-7457704.


  • Feb 12, 2011 - 6:16PM

    Thank you for highlighting the women issues.

    Earlier, Aurat Foundation official was accused of taking signature of the Haleema family on blank Stamp Papers and usurping the financial aid in the name of this victim family. Latter, shifted blame of embezzlement of financial aid on COO.

    This can be confirmed to Haleema family on their cell number.


  • Feb 12, 2011 - 6:28PM

    Pls. find a news item published in an Urdu daily. Key Message is following.


    Aurat Foundation planted a fake story in a English newspaper which says
    “Aurat Foundation providing residence to the Haleema Kaari family in G-6 Sector and food for 6 months.” In real, the victim family only got 20,000 Rs.

    Latter, Aurat Foundation’s COO, disowned the English story in the presence of Mumtaz Gillani, then Minister of Human Rights and admitted it is baseless and fake story but not planted by AF.

    The COO further promised to the victim family to organize press conference to apologize the poor family.


  • merium azmi
    Feb 12, 2011 - 7:52PM

    Women in Pakistan are not at all free, they live by approval and appraisal of their parents, siblings, relatives, husband, susral and then their kids..their life revolves around what they think and feel. In a lot of house holds rich and poor, women work and support their husbands but then rather than getting rid of their useless alcoholic and druge husbands they continue to support them and act that this is so normal. women continue to take what ever abuse emotionally or physically a man is giving them by saying, he protects us…i wonder HOW??? The only time women of Pakistan will be free when they stop asking permission from any one around them and make their own decisions.Recommend

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