To commemorate the International Women’s Day, the South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) Pakistan held an event to discuss the challenges faced by women in Pakistan and the ways for their progress.
The event was held at the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) and was attended by rights activists, lawyers and journalists.
The screening of the Oscar winning documentary Saving Face by Shrameen Obaid Chinoy at the SAFMA auditorium was the highlight of the event. Most of the audience watched the documentary for the first time.
“It’s unfortunate that men who commit such hideous crimes know that they will not be held accountable,” said Naheed Baig, a lawyer. She regretted that a large number of acid attacks were still being carried out against women in south Punjab, where she hailed from. The frequency of acid attacks was growing, she said, partly due to lack of effective laws.
Several working women felt that despite being part of various professions, the role of women was still limited in the Pakistani society. “Our society is still male-dominated,” said Amna Ajmal, also a lawyer. “While there has been a slight shift in attitudes, women are largely still the victims,” she said. Ajmal argued while several laws have been introduced to protect women, including the Protection against Sexual Harassment at Workplace, there was a lack of effective mechanism to ensure their implementation. “Unless institutions monitoring the implementation of laws are strengthened, these laws still remain more or less useless,” said Ajmal.
“It’s not just a few individuals who subject women to injustice, it’s the entire society, especially where a woman is a victim of social taboos,” said lawyer Abdullah Malik. He said the society ended up punishing the victims instead of standing in solidarity with them. “It is the attitudes that need to be altered to allow social progress,” he said.
The discrimination that women face in the society has its roots in homes, journalist Farah Warraich said. “The day we stop discriminating against girls at homes, the society will start moving in the right direction,” she said. Warraich argued that women needed to be given dignity in the society.
“Approximately 80% of women face violence in one form or the other at some stage of their lives,” said Justice (retired) Nasira Iqbal. She lamented that the state had left the women population feeling insecure in their own society. Iqbal said while Obaid’s documentary had deeply touched her, it was time for actions and not just emotions. “I hope these emotions will motivate us towards working for a positive change,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2013.