Women power - Harris Khalique - Friday, March 18, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=36836&Cat=9&dt=3/18/2011

Beginning with Pakistani Women’s Day observed on February 12 in our country, and International Women’s Day, celebrated across the world on March 8, a hundred years of women’s struggle for their rights are being celebrated. On this occasion, the women of Pakistan embarrass us as men and make us proud as a nation.

The restricted space of my column permits me to allude to only two things today although there are so many other achievements of our women that deserve both mention and praise.

First and foremost is the remarkable courage shown by our women parliamentarians when it came to condemning the assassinations of both Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

Earlier, there were attempts by other legislators as well but the resolve shown by Sherry Rehman to bring amendments to discriminatory laws and controversial clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code in the face of religious fanaticism and the threat of physical elimination sets an example for many.

After Taseer’s life was taken, it was Marvi Memon who tabled a resolution to condemn the murder in the National Assembly. It was Nilofer Bakhtiar who said prayers in the Senate when men claiming to be progressive otherwise refused to stand up. These wounds were still unhealed when Shahbaz Bhatti was made the next target. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Farah Naz Isphahani, Bushra Gohar, Nafeesa Shah, Nosheen Saeed and some of their other women colleagues in both the parliament and provincial legislatures were unequivocal in their condemnation of these murders. They made public appearances, wrote articles and took it upon themselves to represent sanity and forbearance in this society.

These women belong to different political parties and subscribe to dissimilar opinions when it comes to interpreting political realities. But their belief in a civilised and tolerant social order, a responsible state, and their understanding of the plight of both women and minorities in post-Zia Pakistan brought them together.

It is so unfortunate that these women are ridiculed by expedient friends and bigoted foes alike for having no direct constituencies of their own and for being elected on reserved seats and therefore taking a stance which could be unpopular in certain segments of the population. If we go by this argument, we should be reminded that all senators are indirectly elected and why shouldn’t we hold the same dismissive views about both Rehman Malik and Babar Awan who hold key ministries and enjoy incredible decision-making authority?

What our women in the assemblies and the Senate have stood for is no small achievement. They have demonstrated responsible behaviour that is expected of parliamentarians. Hats off to them.

The other silent revolution coming about in our lives is reflected in the achievements of female students. When we see fanatical men blowing up their schools in some parts of Pakistan, girls continue to lead in all our school and high school examination results.

Also, something little talked about is the sheer number of young women making it to higher education in Pakistan today. The large universities of Karachi, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Bahauddin Zakariya (Multan), Quaid-e-Azam (Islamabad) and Peshawar are dominated by female students. So are the medical colleges, law colleges, and architecture and engineering schools where women either constitute a majority or their numbers increase each year.

There was a demand voiced by conservative groups once that there should be separate universities and higher educational institutions for women in the country. They should be worried about men now. If not all, many of these bright women will be at the helm of affairs over the next couple of decades. A change is coming, silently.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements.

Email: harris.khalique@gmail.com

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