To celebrate the National Women’s Day, that marks the struggle of women against a series of ‘anti-women’ laws passed by the former dictator General Ziaul Haq, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) in collaboration with the Human Rights Ministry organised an event at the National Insurance Company Auditorium (NICA) on Friday. The gathering was attended by scores of prominent human rights and women rights activists from institutions and civil society.
It was on February 12, 1983, with the Section 144 was in place, women defied the ban on public assembly and conducted a march was on the Lahore High Court, in which many Woman Action Forum (WAF) members participated to protest Zia’s Law of Evidence. The march was the first public demonstration by any group against a martial law. The protest also marked the first time in the history of Pakistan that police used tear gas and batons on women, injuring many and arresting nearly 50. Pictures of the courageous women being baton-charged by the police were plastered in many cities. Women’s rights issues were catapulted onto the national scene.
It was to highlight this momentous day, several activists and government officials gathered at the NICA. Speaking at the occassion, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar highlighted the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and reminded everyone in the audience that Pakistan was one of the first countries to accept this declaration without hesitation, “yet over the past couple of years the mindset has completely changed and now even minor bills mentioning human rights are hurdles”. He said, “It is up to all of us to bring back the system the founders of the country had envisioned for the state.”
Farida Shaheed, a founding member of Women’s Action Forum, came onto stage to narrate the ordeal that she and her fellow members went through during the February 1983 protest. The chief guest, Goodwill Ambassador for Women’s Empowerment Fiza Gillani said,”Benazir Bhutto’s vision for women’s empowerment was the inspiration for the parliament to bring forward the bill.”
Moreover, a short documentary was also screened showcasing the key roles of women in the country and the journey of the famous 12th February march. NCSW Chairperson Anis Haroon distributed bouquets as a token of appreciation to women that had strived hard to push through four women rights bill in as many months. Amongst the recipients were PML-Q Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar, PPP’s adviser to the PM Shehnaz Wazir Ali, MQM MNA Kishwar Zehra, ANP MNA Bushra Gohar. To finish on a lively note, musician Arieb Azhar came on stage to perform a few songs, including Habib Jalib’s poetry about women’s rights.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2012.