Diarising women’s progress

Women are no more just in the traditional fields of health, education and fashion design

Dr Pervez Tahir December 23, 2022
The writer is a senior political economist based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

Uks, meaning a reflected image, is a civil society organisation that monitors gender representation in media, researches emerging trends and creates awareness about inclusion and negative stereotyping. It produces an annual diary that provides a handy portrayal of women in media. The inaugural edition in 1998 covered the first 50 years of women in Pakistan. Images picked up from print media between 1950 and 1977 did not show noticeable gender discrimination. Women are seen enjoying, playing, working and dressing as they pleased. To Tasneem Ahmer, the team leader, these are “Images that are perhaps unimaginable today.” Under the conservative and obscurantist dictatorship of General Zia, a period of regression ensued. Ironically, a separate Women’s Division was established in this very regime and a chapter added in the Sixth Five Year Plan 1983-88 on women’s development. These paper plans failed to cover up the women’s resistance in the 1980s against oppressive laws. Women’s rights movement led to the formation of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The diary walks us through these heady days.

The latest 2023 diary offers a whirlwind tour of 75 years of women in Pakistan. Here is a sample. A Bedari editorial in 1986 described the state of the women as “a jungle of pale leaves”, a line from Faiz. Women’s Own laments in March 1998: “Between gunfire and continued acts of violence against women, the nation celebrates ‘Women’s Day’.” “Ads without women” was a Dawn editorial in 1981, while The Nation took up the gauntlet against those challenging the Muslim Family Ordinance, 1961 during the aborted attempt to become Khilafatul Muslimeen by MNS in 1999. SHE minced no words: “The Hudood Ordinance must go”, and the Daily Pakistan observed in September 2004 that the feudal dominated parliament failed to protect women against murders in the name of tribal traditions. In December 2012, Business Recorder criticised the routine denial of women’s right to vote in places like Dir and Mianwali. Najma Sadiq’s brave piece on “Our brand of Islam” appeared in Dawn in July 1983. On March 21, 1982 the Evening Star reported women’s demand to cancel Dr Israr’s TV lecture. A cartoon by the famous Younus Lodhi of the Frontier Guardian is also in the diary. It’s caption, “I beat her first and ask questions later” stirred quite a debate at the launch of the diary in Islamabad last weekend.

Besides social and political empowerment themes, economic empowerment stories get their due. Women are no more just in the traditional fields of health, education and fashion design. Their presence is visible in science, technology, IT, flying, business, media and many more. On February 1, 2000, Urdu daily Ausaf published a survey of women stalls in the Sunday bazaar.

Like other workplaces, they had issues of facilitation and harassment. The News quoted Maliha Hussain of Mehergarh about increasing organisational interest in providing a dignified work environment. Express Tribune reported in September 2021 the approval of domestic workers bill by a Senate panel. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many men to work from home. For the first time, they had to recognise that the majority of women had always worked from home. It is their contribution to the informal economy that keeps the economy going, despite huge macroeconomic failures. The speech at Karachi University by ambassador Ra’ana Liaquat Ali on what a university is supposed to do and IA Reman’s article on Asma Jahangir add significant value. The Pakistan Times, Viewpoint, Hussain Naqi’s Punjab Punch and some Urdu and regional papers would be missed. But Kishwar Naheed’s “We sinful women” says it all!

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2022.

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