fouzia in America

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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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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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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Legislations Passed – The Silver Lining

Read My Article:

Today is a day to highlight the most pertinent issues confronting women, to celebrate our achievements, to identify the  gaps and, most of all, stand in solidarity for change. Today is not a Hallmark day to merely say, “Happy Women’s Day!”
The most prominent achievement for women in the past few years has been the passage of new progressive legislation for women. Perhaps this is the time to reflect on well we have utilized those advances. How many steps forward have we taken and how far back have we slipped. On the whole, we can say that regardless of the passage of good legislation, we cannot move forward unless we all are willing to make it work.
Taking a quick look at the progress made on the implementation of the seven laws passed over the last four years, it seems that the highest marks can be given to the Benazir Income Support Program, the anti-sexual harassment legislation and empowering the NCSW. Although quite different in nature these are the only ones that have an organised mechanism for implementation.
The Benazir Income Support Program Act culminated in a project that made its mark by directly assisting thousands of women to develop themselves. Although there were concerns that the new Government might allow it to lapse, a wise decision last year will allow the program to continue and build upon its achievements.
On the sexual harassment front, within the first year after passage, over 1000 cases were filed and the figure has steadily risen.  However, many complainants are facing increased pressure to drop their cases and several accused have been able to save themselves through high level connections. Nevertheless, the banking sector, including the State Bank, several federal government agencies, such as NADRA, as well as HEC and many universities have shown outstanding results, setting a precedent for the future. At a ceremony in December last year, awards were given to eight organisations and individuals that had built exceptionally supportive work environments. While these achievements might appear limited, the change in people’s attitudes has been revolutionary. Although the private and government sectors are steadily improving, the offices of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Ombudsmen in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, established to support the victims of this crime, have been working below expectation. Collectively, they have employed an insensitive working model that has failed to support victims by making unnecessary delays and failing to understand either the legislation or the issue.
The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) was re-established early last year under a revised Act. The revised legislation provided a stronger legal basis for the Commission, which is the national watch dog body on women’s issues. However, while the legislation provided autonomy for the Commission, the bureaucracy got its revenge by making the the passage of the implementing rules an unnecessarily long and drawn out affair. As a result, the impact this institutional reform is yet to be seen.
As the devolution aspects of the18th Amendment gather momentum, the provinces have been gearing up their new legislative agenda. Although women’s issues have not been seen as a major priority, there have been some commendable efforts. Sindh started off by passing its domestic violence bill.  Passage of this bill by a province was a bittersweet victory as civil society had failed for nine year to get it passed by the federal parliament. Balochistan followed suit, but with a weaker version. Nevertheless, we give them high marks for their intention and action as an amendment has been promised to fix some critical gaps in the text.
Despite world-wide attention on Pakistan, the amendment to the PPC that criminalized acid burning has not made much difference on the number of cases registered or convictions obtained during the last year. The reason is that this was supposed to be a set of two pieces of legislation, an amendment in the PPC, plus a comprehensive law that fully tackles the full challenge faced when filing a complaint, collecting evidence, and conducting a judicial inquiry. That comprehensive bill was never passed and now must approved by each province individually. Although one feels that In the face of the gravity of this crime, you might wonder who would oppose such a badly needed law, nevertheless the provincial governments have not yet considered it important enough to be taken up for a vote.
The implementation on the PPC amendment on anti-women practices, covering such crimes as forced marriage, exchanging women to resolve local conflicts and preventing women from inheriting their rightful share, has only seen limited results since being signed in December 2011.  Such issues, deeply rooted in the patriarchal nature of our society, have strong backing from the local social elite. Faced with such powerful resistance, the resolve of our state machinery quickly withers.  As with acid burning, domestic violence and rape, these are crimes are committed as an expression of power over women. These will not disappear merely because they are now illegal.  Their impact will be diminished only when our society condemns their perpetrators.
While reviewing the progress in recent years, one point stands out clearly: Implementation of pro-women laws, where it is done at all, results from the efforts of committed groups or individuals that push the process.  In many cases, these committed individuals are themselves complainants who have felt empowered by the new statutes, no matter how painful their journey might be.  These activists know they are cutting against the grain of our society, but they continue to struggle in order to reduce the pain our society inflicts on its own women. These activists are resolute in their efforts because the people in power, who should take it upon themselves to implement these laws, fail to do so because they are too busy resisting or covering their own tracks.

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


  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.


  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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Mehergarh’s Training for grooming future politicians in Pakistan

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I had a euphoric feeling after the course for those wanting to join active politics concluded at Mehergarh Center near Isalamabad, Pakistan.

sharing an article from Friday Times, which describes the experience well.

Training ground

“Soon after partition the demonization of politicians started and the state was made into a garrison state” said Raza Rabbani, addressing a group of aspiring politicians. Mehergarh, a human rights center, had arranged a five-day residential training for young leaders who want to get into active politics.

The participants were from Nagarparker, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Omerkot, Mach, Quetta, Turbat, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnager, Faisalabad, Mandi Bahauddin, Lahore, Peshawar, Lower Dir, Mardan, Charsadda and Gilgit Baltistan. These were men and women who had either won local bodies elections or stood for a seat in the provincial elections, but lost’ people who believe in democracy and are determined to transform politics into an issue-based process. They aim to create a space for the lower middle class and the poor in the larger mainstream.

“If I had not arranged chairs in political gatherings I would not have got the insights I did as a politician”

Addressing a young participant’s concern about party workers not getting party tickets and outsiders parachuting into higher positions, he said, “If I had not arranged chairs in political gatherings and spent time as a worker I would not have got the insights I did as a politician…those who parachute in, do crash when the parachute gets punctured! The attributes to aspire for as a politician are hard work, commitment and honesty”. The participants were thrilled to talk to an admired senior politician. Those from Balochistan thanked Raza Rabbani profusely for standing up for the smaller provinces.

Young leaders were also grateful to talk to other politicians during the course of the training. Daniyal Aziz from PML N has been an inspiration for those who had run in the past for local bodies and had been a apart of the movement for restoration of the third tier of Government. Daniyal gave a comprehensive session on how to fuse the desires of the public with strategic issues that might not be so popular, in one campaign. He gave practical tips on keeping connected to the grassroots, staying away from thana systems of getting votes and organizing villages for their own development.

On the one hand, the training covered the democratic system of Pakistan and concepts of a fair electoral system, on the other, it provided practical sessions on political campaigning, media strategy, fund raising and alliance-building.

Asad Omer from PTI, an elected representative from Islamabad in the National Assembly, also conducted a session. He is new to mainstream politics and so chose to elaborate upon the decision to choose politics for contributing to social change in Pakistan. He also focused on being committed to facing all kinds of challenges since most civil society representatives are not aware of the culture in the political arena.

An array of resource-persons came in to contribute to this effort of transformation. Mohammad Mushtaq, DS Legislation from the National Assembly gave them a briefing on reserved seats for women and legislative procedures. He strongly condemned the stereotypes of politicians, emphasizing that the myth that MNAs get a lot of money from the State is not true. Their salaries are low and facilities few.

We have to respect our civilian government in order to team up and transform our systems

One of the participants who stood in the elections this year said he only got a couple of thousand votes but now realized that he had not planned his campaign for a win. Neither did he actually believe that he would win. The training also included making introductary speeches where participants convinced their fellows to vote for them and got feedback on whether they were convincing in terms of agenda, slogans and reasons for running. This created a lot of enthusiasm, as for many believing in themselves was the first challenge.

The training was facilitated by Dr Fouzia Saeed, who has been working closely with parliamentarians in Pakistan and has been studying the US congress for the last one year. Mehergarh has been engaged in the capacity building of youth leaders since 2005. It has organized leadership trainings for women and community leaders, and believes in strengthening democratic institutions. It has consistently worked on propagating pluralism to create a space in our society where a democratic culture can be nurtured. Mehergarh was also the secretariat of AASHA, the alliance against sexual harassment, where it played a key role in lobbying for anti sexual harassment legislation.

“In the time where everyone in the electronic media and in the society bashes politicians, Mehergarh is determined to bring respect back to the elected representatives. We have to respect our civilian elected government, our parliamentarians and our democratic institutions, to be able to team up and transform our systems”, said Maliha Husain, Executive Director and main organizer of the training at Mehergarh Center.

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Sexual harassment charges: Shameless elite and the daughters of this nation

Sexual harassment charges: Shameless elite and the daughters of this nation

Published: July 30, 2013 in Express Tribune, Pakistan

The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case, says Fouzia Saeed.

ISLAMABAD: Recently, two universities have let down women students by protecting predator professors from sexual harassment charges. Quaid-e-Azam University, where serious convictions on charges of sexual harassment set a positive tone for the implementation of the anti-sexual harassment law a year ago, has now waivered under the pressure from our shameless elites.One would imagine that after charges of sexual harassment of students have been proven against professors, they would be embarrassed and resign or hide somewhere, but in our dear country they shamelessly fight back, while their friends who obviously do not think there is anything wrong with pulling a student into their office for sexual fulfilment or asking for sexual favours in exchange of better grades, diligently support and protect such culprits.

Two recent cases in Quaid-e-Azam University, where teachers repeatedly sexually harassed students, were investigated thoroughly by a committee set up by the university for this purpose. In the past, the committee has also given honest and brave results. After investigation, the committee recommended that Inamullah Laghari be terminated and Abdul Samad Mumtaz be charged with minor penalties. Charges were proven in both cases. All parties had no complaints on the process and made no verbal or written record of any concerns on procedural grounds. After the committee made its recommendations to the university syndicate, the culprits realised that they would be convicted and started lobbying for a diversion. ‘Technical grounds’ is usually the back door.

The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case. It is the job of the committee, authorised under the law, to do the inquiry. The syndicate only ensures if procedure was followed and endorses the recommendations.

In this case, they did not even bring in the inquiry committee members to ask them questions about the procedure. They simply constituted a new committee. This is the most negative precedent they could have set. This has opened the process to anyone wanting a custom-designed committee when they do not like the decision. In the new committee specially put together for the accused, members like Dr Qaisar Mushtaq — who is a person known to have sided with sexual harasser professors earlier — have been included. As some members made noise to protect the culprits, others watched silently. For how long will our shameless elite remain silent and allow the humiliation of the daughters of our nation?

In the case of Punjab University, a brave decision to terminate the services of a habitual sexual harasser, Iftikhar Baloch, was applauded two years ago. The notorious professor who maintained a bedroom next to his office on campus for his flirtatious activities kept using political elites to come back. Even then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former governor Latif Khosa put pressure on the university to take him back. Recently, interim governor Ahmad Mahmud used his window of opportunity to get his friend back in the university.  A woman high court judge decided that it was up to the governor to take the final decision. Very conveniently, the governor did the necessary paperwork and signed the orders to reinstate him. The university resisted, but the pressure took more of a ‘desi’ turn.

We make a strong appeal to Punjab Government to intervene and keep such predators out of our universities. Also stop them from threatening brave officials of the university who have resisted pressure for the last two years and have stood their ground. Also, for Quaid-e-Azam University, the PM and the HEC should send a strong message that the syndicate cannot go against the law. Legislation and procedure has to be followed. If they argue the soundness of the procedure, they should call the full committee and get a presentation from them. If they see any gaps or have suggestions to strengthen the procedures, they should make those to the committee legally authorised to investigate.

The legislation will only be effective if the intention of our elite and senior university officials is to bring some dignity to these houses of learning. We need to clean up our universities and educate the shameless educated elite — those who harass, those who protect them and those who remain silent and do not put their foot down.

The author is an authority on anti-sexual harassment legislation in Pakistan and has been monitoring its implementation.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.

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A mountainous valley of Pakistan that fell victim to a Taliban take over in 2007 and became a symbol of women’s oppression is bouncing back. Women, who had been banned from voting in 2008,  are determined to vote in the upcoming elections in May 2013.  Malala’s stand on girls’ education in the face of the Taliban, who burned 260 girls schools in the area, was representative of the courage of the women of Swat. They faced severe oppression following the militant take over. Their mobility was restricted, with their world reduced only to their home.  The militants often carried out public floggings of women on the pretext of immoral behaviour. But nothing will stop the women of Swat from bouncing back.

In the 2008 elections, the communities were forced to prevent women from voting. Less than 10% of the polling stations reported women voting. This push back was galling as women of Swat have always been aware and connected with their surroundings. In the upcoming elections, women have declared that they are determined to make their voice heard by voting. The Election Commission of Pakistan has decided to support them. There has been a long standing demand from women’s organizations to cancel the result of the polls in constituencies where women are not allowed to vote. In some tribal parts of Pakistan, men make a pact so none of the parties will allow women to vote. Our civil society and media has protested against this issue. Now the Election Commission has decided that no constituency’s result will be declared legitimate if less than ten percent vote of the voters are women.

But not only will women vote in these areas, but two women have surprised the nation by declaring they will run for elections from these highly tribal areas.  Nusrat  Begum from Lower Dir and Badam Zari from Bajaur are contesting in the upcoming elections.

Khadim Husain, a pro-democracy scholar, stated, “The attack on Malala drew a clear line between civilization and barbarity in Pakistani society”. He said Malala’s discourse emerged over 100 years, by progressive community leaders who gradually modernized Swat and resisted authoritarian rule.

The militant takeover of Swat and the Pakistani military’s operation to defeat them in 2009 resulted in over two million people displaced. The hardships people suffered, especially women, brought a renewed empowerment for women of the valley. The civil society within Swat, and the other parts of the country became activated and engaged in the rejuvenation of the valley. But it is the people of Swat, the poets, the progressive leaders, the political party workers who have made sacrifices to rekindle their progressive traditions. They believe in speaking out.  They fought for freedom.  They fought for the right of Malala and other girls to be educated. And now the women are making a clear statement by demanding their right to vote, knowing they can elect real leaders for  change.