“Pakistani women have always stood against extremism. Thirty one years ago, the oppressor was the state; today it is the society,” activist Tanveer Jahan said on Monday.
She was speaking at a rally that marched from Regal Chowk to the Lahore High Court. It was arranged by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) to mark the National Women’s Day.
More than 200 women holding banners and placards participated in the walk.
They chanted slogans against terrorism and oppression.
Activist Humaira Shiekh, from Shirkat Gah read her poem Tum Hotay Kaun Ho, at the rally.
Nabiha Meher Shaikh, of the Simorgh Women’s Resource, said, “It is essential that we honour the strong women before us and around us. People tend to think that feminism is new to Pakistan or hasn’t been around historically. This is not true...this day gives us a sense of history.” She said the day also honoured women who fought for the rights women enjoyed today.
“I’ll admit, we still have a long way to go,” she added.
Sheikh said, “As the daughter of a WAF activist, I have never questioned whether days like these are worth celebrating. Now, more than ever, women need to come out and state their demands.”
She said, “Women have been exploited under various pretexts; religion, war, conflicts, economy. Our rulers cater to patriarchal norms and are paternalistic. They view women as secondary citizens.”
Theatre director Madeeha Gauhar, said, “We are here to celebrate women’s day and speak up against the dialogue with the Taliban.”
WAF founding member Nighat Saeed Khan said, “WAF is not an NGO. It is a platform for women’s emancipation,” she said.The participants staged a brief sit-in in front of the Lahore High Court where they read poems and chanted slogans.
Seminar on female domestic workers’ rights
The South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) commemorated Pakistani Women’s Day on Wednesday by organising a seminar on Rights of Domestic Women Workers. The partnership includes Aurat Foundation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Sungi Development Foundation and Consortium Partner organisations under the AAWAZ: Voice and Accountability programme.
Participants had come from far flung areas of Punjab and Khyber Phakhtunkhwa. Speakers discussed domestic women workers plight’ and emphasized the importance of legislation for their economic and social protection. They added that many female domestic workers were facing heinous violence, including physical and sexual assaults by employers.
Bushra Khaliq from Women In Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) said that poorer women and children were more vulnerable. She said there were about 10 million female domestic workers in Pakistan, of which only 30,000 had been registered in Islamabad.
Shabnam Rasheed from the SAP–PK highlighted the importance of written contracts between domestic workers and their employers. She added that a regulatory authority under the local government system could monitor the functioning of contracts.
Aima Mehmood from The Working Women’s Organisation said that Convention 189 of the International Labour Organisation covered the rights of domestic workers. She emphasised the significance of effective legislation.
SAP-PK programme coordinator Naeema Malik gave a historical perspective of Pakistani Women’s Day and its significance for the women. She said Women Action Forum and the Women Lawyers’ Association had held a rally on The Mall in Lahore on February 12, 1983, against discriminatory laws of evidence proposed under General Ziaul Haq. She said they had put up a strong resistance, for which many were beaten up by police or jailed.
Chanan Theatre staged a play on the situation of domestic women workers and Aurat Foundation screened a documentary on women’s struggle.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2014.