.. by Shahzadi Sofia Baig
Sunday March 8 is the annual occasion to commemorate international Women?s Day with this year?s motto, ?Each for equal ?. Why anyone would take issue with celebrating the social, cultural, economic, political or historical achievements of women is beyond me, particularly when women form half of our population. Tackling gender violence, fighting discrimination of women in the workplace and ensuring that all members of society have equal access to education and jobs is enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan which guarantees equal rights to all citizens.
Last year, the provincial government in KPK passed a controversial resolution condemning the Aurat March deeming it ?obscene and shameless?. Our provincial assembly went so far as implying that the March is somehow funded by foreign NGOs and agencies. This is patently untrue since March organizers have went out of their way to show how local donations by motivated citizens are the sole source of funding. Just recently a prominent Pakistani writer used foul language to shut down a woman on live television and again implied the Aurat March is part of some Western Agenda. To be true there are other aggrieved groups including transgender individuals and minorities who have gravitated to the movement, but the fundamental issue is one of equal rights for all within our accepted religious and cultural norms. As a mother, I cannot understand why any man deny his child the same opportunities. To quote my daughter, ?How can anyone be against his own mother, daughter, or sister in the face of injustice.?
Like any mother, I worry about the safety of my university aged daughters who travel to classes and are active in student politics and activities. Whether in North America, Europe or Pakistan, violence against women is a global issue that demands a firm response everywhere. Reminders of violence against women are not infrequent, even in the West. Despite all the legal protections and regular homilies regarding women?s rights, violence continues unabated and we are left with pointless dirges. Not five minutes from our current home, a female physician was murdered by her neurosurgeon husband after enduring years in an abusive relationship. I know my family in Pakistan would contend that such killings are not unusual in North America among European origin peoples, but this incident involved the son of an Indian Gujrati immigrant from Tanzania killing his Croatian origin wife. To add insult to injury, the father of the murderer, also a surgeon, went on to lose his academic post at the University of Ottawa after making an inappropriate joke about violence against women. This only months after his son was charged with killing his wife! ?Clearly, a misogynistic attitude against women needs to be combatted in the most severe terms with awareness and education.
This year?s march in Pakistan directly addresses discrimination and violence against women in our deeply patriarchal society. Some will continue to conflate International Women?s Day with an attempt to promote Western style feminism leading to erosion of family values. Nothing can be further than the truth since most Pakistani women see the struggle against gender bias in simpler terms: Namely, to live a dignified life and give our children the very best. Chitrali society prides itself on being more tolerant and inclusive with large numbers of educated women, but there remains the unfinished business of gender equality in so many spheres; not least of which is ensuring the safety of women in public spaces. .. Shahzadi Sofia Baig, 05 Mar 2020