Aisha Gazdar’s has worked in the field of women’s development and journalism and as writer and researcher for a number of documentaries. Her short film, Silent Voices: Home-based Women Workers in Pakistan tells the stories of home-based women workers in Pakistan in a gritty and realistic style won the CLiFF/Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) Award which is given out to the film that best raises awareness around health and safety issues. She spoke to The Express Tribune about her film.
What made you decide and choose this topic for a documentary film?
In 2008 we, Films d’Art, had made a film on the problems of women workers which included both formal and informal sectors (like factories, agriculture, as well as home-based and domestic work) for Piler, an organisation working for workers’ rights. That film was called Yeh Haath Salamat Hain Jab Tak and has been shown on a private channel and Piler shows it to raise awareness about the issue.
Sungi Development Found-ation approached me to make a film solely on home-based women workers in the country. There are millions of workers involved in the informal economy and the majority of them are women. We don’t realise how much work is being done by the home-based women workers who work endlessly for unbelievably low wages. To take just one example, 12 pairs of sandals are prepared (stones sewed on or pasted), cleaned, packed and put in boxes for a mere Rs15!
The problem is that as yet they are not recognised by law which means that they cannot demand a minimum wage nor can they get any kind of social security benefits. A policy has been made by the government with the collaboration of non-governmental organisations like Sungi, but it still has not been made into a law.
Silent Voices: Home-based Women Workers in Pakistan was made to create awareness about the problems of home based women workers, and to lobby with policy makers to bring in the legislation.
What problems did you face in making and showing your documentaries?
The problem is really with getting documentary films to be seen by as many people as possible. I think independent documentary film makers have to work really hard to get their films shown on private or state channels.
How did your journey begin?
The journey really begins with my father, the late Mushtaq Gazdar.
As I child I had worked in his documentary films and commercials, before doing voice-overs and then research and script writing and being his assistant. He died very suddenly in late 2000 after finishing a documentary on women’s trafficking across Asia. I did not come into full-time filmmaking until 2001 and in fact the film on the atom bomb which I went on to make was also started by my father.
What other films have you made earlier and what is in the pipeline for the future?
I have made a docudrama on the horror of the atom bomb called Roz-e Qaza. It has been shown on television and at the Kara Film Festival in 2004.
Then there is long documentary on women’s rights in South Asia called Another World is Possible: CEDAW in South Asia for which I travelled to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
We have also made films for corporations like the First Women’s Bank and an oil company OMV and produced a song for the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Technology and Sciences Archives which was shown at Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s death anniversary in Larkana.
I am currently researching for a film on karo-kari (honour killings) in Sindh and am also working on another project on the politics of resistance in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune December 5th, 2010.