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WHAT IF THE DRIVER OF THE BUS IN KHAIRPUR ACCIDENT WAS A WOMAN

WHAT IF THE DRIVER OF THE BUS IN KHAIRPUR ACCIDENT WAS A WOMAN

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An major accident, took place in Khairpur near Teri bypass on November 11 where a bus collided head on with a truck, 60 people died and many more injured. The media was totally taken up by the news for a few days nothing else but this news was shown, stories of those who died, interviews of their relatives, officials, traffic arrangement, identification of the bodies, etc. I could not even get the name of the driver who basically was driving very fast and banged the bus straight into a truck while overtaking. His name was not even mentioned in the initial FIR despite that he earlier had a speeding ticket, he took too many passengers and the passengers said he went to sleep.

Show hosts said all the roads should be made a double lane roads, others blamed the quality of roads, some did say this new practice of mixing CNG and petrol to get a faster speed for these vehicles is bad, others said the highway officials are responsible.

My question is what if this was a woman driving this bus? The whole media would have talked about nothing but how irresponsible women can be. They have gone to all woman political leaders and women activists to say, “ab bataen??” (‘Now respond to this!!’) The main news would have been – aik aurat ke haathon 60 logon ka qatal (60 murdered at the hands of a woman). The talk shows would have discussed revoking driving licenses of women

Drivers. Religious scholars would have discussed the negative consequences of giving such liberties to women in this Islamic republic of Pakistan and would have suggested banning all women to drive and insisted that they should stay at home.

The family of the woman driver would have been interviewed, her relatives, her extra curricular activities and people’s opinion about her. In general the news stories and the discussion around it would have revolved around the woman and the fact if women of Pakistan have acceded all limits and if new laws should be made to curtail it.

In the actual reporting of the Khairpur accident the mention of the driver is pretty trivial with not even a name that is prominent in the news. Reasons for the accident reported in a media report after investigation reveal speeding as if the bus went faster itself and collided with the truck.

What I am saying is neither humorous not too far out. If you remember when during the elections one woman politician slapped a polling booth worker the media exploded with ‘what are these women doing’. Women politicians and women activists were interviewed with cynical questions, ‘ab bataen??” Implying that now that you have seen how women themselves can violate other’s rights you should never ever mention any talk of rights again ever. As if one woman’s act was a slap in the face of all men and gave an excellent excuse to all those who want this debate on women’s emancipation to end.

Why are women not seen as individuals who can do good and bad deeds? Why do we have to be clustered in the name of our gender when its time to beat us, yet there continues to be a societal blindness when it comes to gender based discriminatory patterns which should be seen in categories of men and women?

Among many of the male privileges in our society, one is that men are never glued to their gender and stereo typed in a way women are. No one will say ‘Oh! a man was driving no wonder the bus had an accident.’

 

 

 


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THANK YOU ! WE ARE TIRED OF THE OOZING MARDANGI IN OUR POLITICS

The narratives about womanlihood that are suddenly floating around on the political landscape are shocking. Sheikh Rashid calling Bilawal Bhutto Bilo Rani was enraging, and that too in crowds that are talking of a new Pakistan and in the presence of so many women. I am in a shock reading the criticism of Bilawal Bhutto after his debut rally in Karachi on the social media. Regardless of the content of his speech the criticism especially of educated people has focused on him not being a macho enough of a man for the taste of the macho guys around. It is the symbolism of manlihood, womanlihood and the mindset of the Pakistani political ethos right now, which is disgusting.

For many I would have to explain why I am upset at the putting down of a man calling her a woman as that might not be obvious to those who use such swear words in routine. Calling someone a woman or feminine as a put down is a slap in the face of half the population of this country. I would assume it is also a slap in the face of those aware men who do understand that this reflects the sick patriarchal and macho mindset that still prevails and thinks that woman is a lower being, a joke, a put down and a swear word. It is the same crowd that does not hesitate using swear words about mothers and sisters in their routine language and unfortunately modern education has not done anything for them in this regards.

My second point is that we are sick and tired of the macho manliness, thank you very much! In a country where muscular body, big mustache and a turban in case of rural and a big muscular body, empty brain and macho talk of women in case of urban areas is the cool standard of masculinity, we are tired of men killing their daughters and wives. We are tired of men raping 2 -6 years old girls. We are tired of men blowing bombs; we are tired of men beating women, even their life partners. Rather than respecting the mother of their children, raping and brutally murdering them. I am not talking of ‘criminals’ I am talking of men who are very proud of being a MAN and are very proud to be killing their family women for so called “honour”. I am sorry but there is something very wrong with the way our society has painted the “masculinity”.

I am reminded of Shaan, the actor, when he started his acting career. Before him Punjabi hero never sang or danced, he always was with a gun or a dang. When Shaan joined he was modern looking , clean shaved, singing and dancing. We were very happy with this transformation of the Punjabi films but someone must have started criticizing him or his directors, because soon he was back in Sultan Rahi macho mode. The same style of speaking with big mustache, guns and dangs to stay afloat. He had to work hard to make his space.

It is time we stop seeing the manlihood in aggressive, violent and macho sense and start appreciating a civilized attitude, non aggression, good manners and intelligence as good attributes for men to have. I do not have much hope for Mr. Shiekh Rashid but the new generation of men might take a different route than its predecessors. It is also time for male politicians and our educated lot to start respecting women and stop using them for put downs and swear words. Enough of Bilo Rani, enough of using phrases like ‘wearing bangles like a woman’, enough of phrases like dopatta pehen lo (wear a veil). If social scientists and gender experts and so many women failed to change the men then brain surgery might be the answer.

 

Fouzia Saeed

Pakistan Fellow at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Washington DC   @FouziaSaeed

 


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My experience of working with the women’s ministry

Elitist NGOs, some high-flying consultants and the top brand of development donor agencies still miss the Federal Women’s Ministry. It was so nice to have that small club for women’s issues, mutually beneficial to all players — well, except the women of Pakistan. Long after the Eighteenth Amendment devolved this subject to the provinces, nostalgic sentiments came surging back and small groups continue to lobby with donors to pressure the government into bringing the ministry back. The donors nod profusely in agreement, as going to the provinces is cumbersome. They question the government’s ‘commitment to women’s issues’. Of course, hardly any of these donor countries have a women’s ministry at home, yet all of them have critical women’s issues of their own to address.

Let’s look at the history of the ministry.

The Division of Women’s Development was founded in 1979. Please remember that the most devastating laws against women, the infamous Hudood Ordinance, were brought out in the same year. The division was created right before going to the United Nation’s Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen in 1980. With all the restrictions and black laws against women, the government wanted to improve its image for the international audience. However, the government continued to trample on women’s rights for a decade while this division became a part of the establishment.

The division was upgraded to a full ministry by Benazir Bhutto’s government in its effort to revive women’s rights. The intention was good and some projects were initiated, but moving the bureaucracy was a serious challenge as it remained resistant to women’s empowerment throughout its existence. The social stigma attached to working at the ministry made this the last choice for postings. As a result, most secretaries were placed there as their last stop before retirement, with a turnover of up to four secretaries a year. With the exception of Salim Mehmood Salim, the others were least bothered about their portfolio.

This ministry was not based on substantive themes, like agriculture, for example. It was also never intended to be an implementing ministry, but to advise other ministries on women’s issues, which almost never happened and its influence on national policy was close to zero. In the 35 years of its existence, the ministry has hardly anything to show as its own initiative. The list of achievements in women’s empowerment were pushed by either strong political leaders or by civil society networks.

By and large, conservative men occupied key mid-level positions and hardly any of them supported the idea of women’s empowerment. They stalled on all progressive measures advanced by political leaders and continuously undermined the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), established in 2001. Each chair of the commission had to fight with the bureaucracy to get access to their allocated budget and staff. The ministry’s own staff blocked amendments to the NCSW’s law for seven years until 2012, when the commission got its independence in the last government.

While the commission was still intact, the donors who had women’s empowerment as a priority steadily poured funds in the ministry’s bottomless pit to ‘build its capacity’. One after the other, ministry officials set up units inside the ministry with highly paid consultants who would act on behalf of the ministry, hosting big events, so that donors could be consoled that the ministry had improved because of their efforts. These consultants departed as soon as the funds dried up, leaving the ministry with the same bitter men. Over the years I have seen at least six donors engaging in the expensive exercise of ‘capacity building’ and repeating each other’s mistakes. I used to call this ‘propping the ministry with toothpicks’. One heavily funded project on large-scale gender mainstreaming placed in the ministry turned out to be such a disaster that most of the funds were never used. The project evaluation had to be revised thrice so that the donor would not look so bad.

Although I have engaged closely with the division, and then the ministry, since 1987, I learned the details of its operations during the advocacy for the sexual harassment policy and legislation. From 2001 to 2010, I noticed, via first-hand exposure, how this ministry had become a major hurdle in the path of women’s empowerment. In the years 2008 to 2010, when the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment was lobbying for the anti-sexual harassment bills, the ministry did everything in its power to quash the bills. It was only the political leadership that saved the day. At the tail-end of the process, in 2009, I watched the secretary, like a child who could not have his way, purposefully presenting the bills to a Cabinet meeting in such negative way that former information minister Sherry Rehman had to cover it up with her positive comments.

I thank the Eighteenth Amendment Constitutional Reform Committee for pushing against the vested interests in the donor, NGO and consultant community to rid us of at least one of the big hurdles to women’s empowerment. To the policymakers, I ask, if all social sectors have been devolved then why should the women’s portfolio be returned as a federal subject? With the capacity of the federal level openly witnessed in the past decades, they should not raise questions on the provincial capacity. For donors, the Economic Affairs Division is sufficient to channel your funds to emphasise gender issues in sectoral projects at the provincial level. It is rather difficult for us to structure our country to suit others’ convenience.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2014.

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ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWS ARE APPLICABLE TO UNIVERSITIES IN PAKISTAN

Although everyone would be more concerned about the attacks in Waziristan, I do want to share this article which  clarifies some of the misconception created by the print media. It is disheartening that one has to work so hard to get a positive impact from a law, but everyone picks up something negative so fast. I don’t know if the amendment will pass or not but the way he has talked to the press has thrown our work back about two years. We have been trying to control the damage for the last five days  Anyway here is my clarification. If you know people in the universities kindly help me circulate this article widely. Now that we had the universities adopting this law we don’t want to have any sliding back.

The anti-sexual harassment law is applicable to all institutions, government, private, civil society and as the text of the law regarding this clearly states, “to the educational institutions” as well (Section 2 Paragraph 1). A recently proposed amendment in the Senate created an impression that the law is not currently applicable in the educational institutions. This is totally incorrect. I will explain the challenges this law is facing because of some elitist elements, which are persistent in harassing others and pull all strings to get away with it.

The amendment moved recently in the Senate has a positive intention. We have given our inputs. If approved, it should expand the definition of sexual harassment which will help cover, in a better way, all complainants who are not employees of an institution but are harassed by an employee. These include students as well. We hope the government will look at such changes in a positive manner.

The law, Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2010, was signed on March 9, 2010. In January 2011, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) dispatched a detailed guideline for all universities to comply with the new law.

The law has a provision for an appeal process. If you approach the Inquiry Committee of the institution, either party can go in appeal to the ombudsman. You can also go to the ombudsman, under section eight which states that, “Any employee shall have the option to prefer a complaint either to the ombudsman or the inquiry committee.” In such a case, either party can take the decision for a representation to the president. But no one gets to appeal twice. Perhaps a future amendment can also make this more explicit.

The university controller of examinations of the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) was forcefully retired by the university for physically harassing a young female student. The story was corroborated by many witnesses. A frenzy was created within the syndicate. Most respected Supreme Court Justice Nasirul Mulk, who happens to be on the syndicate of the QAU, ruled that the law is applicable to universities. The controller took the case in appeal to the ombudsman where the university’s decision was upheld. He tried his luck in the high court but did not get anywhere. He then took the case to another appeal — to the president. The second appeal is not allowed under the law. The president sent the case to the law ministry where, we are told the ministry said the law doesn’t cover student grievances. We disagree with this opinion as the definition clearly states: “Harassment means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes … or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request …”. This was a classic case where a senior controller examination abused his position to create fear of reprimand and physically harassed a young female student in his office and was fully covered under the law and fully within the HEC policy which the university officially adopted.

More than 40 complaints of sexual harassment, mostly by students against professors, have been resolved so far. Five major cases have been tackled in QAU itself. Thus, I would like to make it clear to the senators to kindly not frame their discussion in terms of whether this law should include universities or not. This is damaging for our implementation process. The universities are already included. They will be going against the law if they do not establish the complaint mechanisms. Any help in further strengthening the act by them will be welcomed.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2014.

 


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HOW PAKISTANI LEADERSHIP CAN AVOID A POSSIBLE CIVIL WAR

taliban pic Decades of indecisiveness about taking an action against the militants in Pakistan in a comprehensive manner has led people to be mistrustful of the main institutions of the country: the military, the government, the parliament and the judiciary. While all make big statements against the Taliban, all have had instances where they looked the other way or showed a soft corner for them. People are puzzled by a half-baked strategy where partially our institutions supported the enemy, partially looked away and partially acted against them to keep a pretext of fighting the war.  Last week’s strikes on Waziristan by our military were a sudden change from the peace talk mantras going on for a while. People waited in vain for a comprehensive explanation from the government announcing this change of policy, outline of a future strategy and instructions for people to position themselves in the context of what is about to happen.  Meanwhile, many people evacuated from Waziristan to Bannu in anticipation of more attacks.

A vacuum of decision making at the highest level, gaps in communication with the people, no joint stance of political forces and seemingly erratic attempts of retaliation can give wrong signals to the powerful and deeply entrenched militant enemy at this point. Such conditions can lead to a civil war if not handled properly. Recent announcement by the PM to form a four member committee is a good step forward. Here are some critical points to consider if Pakistan wants to avoid going into a civil war.

Bringing political leadership together: 

The current attacks in Waziristan seem to be led by military decision makers, with elected leadership giving it a civilian cover. These might have played the role of a catalyst in pushing the Government in making announcements of their next steps, but it should not be seen as the basis for future long term strategy. The government should actively seek consensus on the strategy of all political parties and bring them on one page. Merely announcing a negotiating committee or the beginning of a process is not enough. The consensus building should take place within the Parliament and not outside so that this institution gets stronger. The stronger the ownership of the political leadership the better they will be prepared when the negative consequences come. Later they will not be blaming each other and playing political games by saying this was not a good decision. The religious political factions who are sympathizers or pro-militants might not come together fully, but at least the main popular parties should join hands and build solidarity.

Get Experts in the team:

Pakistan is not the first country to face such a problem. Insurgency, militancy and such guerrilla warfare is something many countries have dealt with over decades. There is a whole field of study around conflicts.  Security experts around the world are available for their opinions and insights to contribute to the strategy for countering militants & negotiating with them. Many of these are Pakistani also. There are also local experts within Pakistan with good knowledge of the militant groups, their members, even knowing which members can be approached and who are the hard liners in these gangs. Pakistan has its local experts, among civil society, academia and journalists, who should be included in the closer circles and teams. Civilian government should not only count on military intelligence but should have its own civilian base of expertise who know and understand these groups and can guess their reactions. Sharing secret information from other countries involved in this war might be useful for the civilian government rather than restricting themselves to a few traditional sources of information.  In addition, the members of the negotiating team should not be all conservatives or taliban sympathizers. Pakistan has made this mistake many times, for example, Ijazul Haq,  son of dictator Zia ul Haq, was sent by the last Government to negotiate with the management of Lal Masjid and he came back after giving them a personal donation of one lakh rupees for the illegitimate madrassa built upon land that was not even theirs.

 Military Operation and citizens: 

It is important to have a buy-in from the people of Pakistan. The state has created high levels of confusion over the authenticity of the insurgency so have people romanticize Mujahidin and protect Taliban. The Kashmir affairs cell in PTV never stops working and the propaganda of showing Mujahidin martyrs and Taliban as anti USA and therefore ‘heroes’, is never ending on our media. The coverage of Hakimullah Mehsood is the most recent example where he was shown as a hero by the newspapers and many leaders. If there has to be a direct confrontation with Taliban we need to have Pakistani people join hands also. A clear message from the government and the State is necessary to clearly define the enemy and get the backing of the people, as was done in Swat. This will help the masses face the negative consequences if any in the form of internally displaced people, killing of innocent civilians, in case the negotiations fail.

The enemy is difficult to define:

It is easiest to fight an enemy outside. An enemy within the boundary of a country is difficult to fight. But it is most difficult when the enemy is not definable. As in some countries, this is not a fight between different ethnic or religious groups. Some may think that our enemy could be identifiable by big turbans and big beards holding guns and bombs but that is not so. The ‘taliban phenomenon’ is complicated. There are those who undermine the government through violence. There are those that pave the ground through propagation of a pro-taliban ideology and develop a volatile religious wicket to play on and gain power. There are those that have infiltrated into every sector, media, civil service, judiciary, police, political parties, civil society, business community and the military. These people continuously undermine the State and the Government and propagate the narrative of the militants. It is very difficult when the supporters of the enemy are deep into every institution of ours. In addition criminal elements have also joined the militancy in many cases who have different objectives to be in the fight. It could get difficult to separate out the militants and the purely criminal elements who are using the situation to gain their own benefits.

The present Government has come with a strong mandate. People are looking towards them for the required leadership. With the other political players they do need to take a lead, develop a strategy, not piece meal but a long term strategy with back up actions ready. They should have teams of experts dedicated to different parts of that strategy. The Prime Minister should talk to the people and build the motivation needed to take this enemy on. It is the elected Government that has to move ahead and the people should back them up regardless of which party they belong to.


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Five-year quick analysis of Pakistan’s Situation & Happy 2014

TEN THINGS PAKISTANIS SHOULD BE PROUD OF OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS

  1. Devolution of powers and legislative authority given to the Provinces. Re-distribution of finances, NFC award and strengthening of a Federal structure.
  2. Taking off 58 2B and retuning powers of the Prime Minister from the President
  3. Completion of five year govt & a smooth and respectful transition to the next civilian government, without any intervention of the armed forces.
  4. Passage of pro-women legislation (7 laws between 2010 to 2013 after a gap of 50 years). Teaming up of civil society with the Parliament and a clear political active role  of women parliamentarians.
  5. Pakistani nation never voted more than 10% for the religious right.
  6. Active engagement of Pakistani public in elections in the face of violence and death.
  7. Willingness and initiation of peace talks with neighbours  (India).
  8. The beginning of a transition from a Military to Civilian Rule
  9. (eg. military budget-lines discussed in the parliament, court cases on ex ISI head and Chief of Army Staff, no overt interference by military since 2008).
  10. Strengthening of Election Commission and Council of Common Interests
  11. Continous progressive and democratic movement with brave people who would sacrifice anything for the country and the wellbeing of their people.

TEN THINGS PAKISTANIS SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT 

  1. Our pattern of self bashing and disrespecting ourselves as a nation.
  2. Bashing the politicians only- increasing risk of instability and not standing behind our democratically elected governments.
  3. Lack of joint strategy of all stakeholders on militancy – including citizens themselves
  4. Lack of recognizing and unintentionally participating in the narrative of pro-militancy that is seeping into every sector. (trying to delegitimize Malala, organizations that work for progressive change shift focus on drones vs Taliban attacks, increasing moral bashing, who is a good Muslim and who is not. giving every debate a colour of religion.
  5. Continuous isolation in the international scenario which leads to suicidal tendency. very egocentric view of issues. not understanding the vulnerability of our country
  6. Lack of accountability for bureaucracy
  7. Lack of joint front of Pakistanis internally and diaspora, with a joint strategy of putting Pakistan-first and influencing the international dynamics.
  8. People get swayed by ‘selective justice’ which doesn’t always build the institution of justice. Lack of accountability of justice system, especially at the lower and mid level, which should be the backbone of the system
  9. People have learnt to criticize more and active participation less. Capacity of a country is collective. Lack of teaming up of citizens with the government or within themselves to come up with solutions and lobby for them. We need a shift from complaining to engagement mode.
  10. People become gullible to little information & propaganda by media or agencies. Transparency of how much money is coming from countries like USA for the military, government budget support, NGOs etc. (‘amriki agent’, or ‘anti islamic’ have become the most common beating sticks for whoever tries to talk sense).

HAPPY 2014!


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Unending woes: The naked truth about fishing

World Fisheries Day is celebrated across the planet on the 21st of November, and is marked by celebration and solidarity of all fisherfolk.

In most countries, the key issues revolve around over-harvesting, marking international water boundaries and sanctioning countries that refuse to follow international conservation norms.

However, our Pakistani fisherfolk are still struggling for basic personal dignity. Extortion by the coast guards is a daily routine for those going out to fish every morning. Villagers are forced to comply to extortion demands or face serious harm and humiliation.

About one week ago, a few fishermen grew tired of this daily extortion and refused to pay. In return, they were forced to strip naked in public, saying they needed to check if they were Muslims or Hindus. When they again resisted, they were beaten until they stripped.

On November 19, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum organised a huge rally near the coastal village of Ibrahim Haideri to protest the illegal actions, but no action has been taken against the offending Guardsmen. Unfortunately, the norm in Pakistan is for the victim to be punished for complaining of abuse. So, instead of being worried about this open protest, the Coast Guardsmen have increased their harassment of the fishing community.

The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum is headed by Mohammad Ali Shah with members from all over the coast of Sindh and Balochistan. In the past, the Forum struggled against abuse by Rangers who had been given monopoly over fish trading contracts by the Government. The fishing communities were not allowed to sell their catch to anyone but the Rangers at whatever price demanded. After nineteen years of struggle the PFF was finally able to end the exploitative arrangement with this official mafia, only to find that the Sindh government had given similar contracts to landlords in Manchar, Shahdadkot, Badin and Sanghar.

Why is it that powerful people who violate rights live a great life in our country with full confidence that no one can touch them, while those without political power are humiliated and struggle each day just to survive? We continue to reinforce this system by supporting similar abusers in the name of party loyalty, patriotism, hero worship or, often, just for petty personal gain. The poor, who have little access to the corridors of power, hesitate to complain for fear of retaliation because they know that wrongdoers are rarely punished by our courts without political backing.

Perhaps our next Chief Justice can use his influence in the Law and Justice Commission to focus on reforms in the lower judiciary rather than pursuing selected flamboyant cases. For today, would it be too much to ask the Government to stop the constant abuse of the fishing communities and take the offending Coast Guardsmen to task?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2013.