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Monthly Archives: March 2015
Beneath the tired eyes and the flimsy dehydrated skin that bruises much too easily and the thin veins that refuse to accept even a butterfly needle….
Beneath the pain and the medicines that are more than the food you eat….and behind the support you need even to walk a few steps forth….beneath the hospital bills and the numbers of doctors and nurses pasted by your bedside…
Beneath the silver white hair and the beautiful wrinkles…
Beneath the vulnerability and the helplessness…
Beneath the words that you have forgotten and the words that come out jumbled and the words that don’t make sense at times, where are you…
Are you behind the words you still remember? Words that you sometimes remember randomly from decades ago…words you sung to me when I was a little girl and my head would be in your lap…words that you said to every guest as the gracious host and words you said as the strong, beautiful, vibrant woman who managed a home and a family and relationships flawlessly…
…and words from the Quran that you still remember…
You are still here Maa…when you forget it all but not my name and you forget it all but don’t forget to pray for me and you tell me not to hurt too much and tell me to prepare myself….
You are beneath that smile that still shines through….
You are my heaven….today and forever.
I am a Karachiite to the core. I love my city’s hustle bustle. I adore the variety of culture Karachi offers, especially as it is not a unilingual city. I know its sights and sounds by heart.
Karachi, for me, is perfect despite its imperfections. Yet, Lahore is not lagging far behind Karachi when I think of my choicest places in Pakistan. In fact, in some ways, it even has an edge over Karachi.
Here are five reasons why:
The traffic at Kalma Chowk is sluggish and heavy. As we get off the Daewoo coach that got us there from Islamabad and head towards the city, Lahore is crowded as ever. I am looking around suspiciously at passers-by on motor bikes from the car’s windows as I take out my phone to text my friend that we have reached. At once Saleem, the driver, friendly in a Lahori way, sees my nervousness and says,
“O baji jee kuch naheen hota. Karo karo aap phone karo,” he reassures.
(Don’t worry, nothing will happen. You can make your call)
For someone who has suffered from attempted mugging twice in that last one month alone, this Karachiite felt relieved. I simultaneously felt a little envious seeing children riding bikes when I visited a friend in the newly populated Defence locality of Lahore. The friend, a diehard Karachiite, has recently moved to Lahore unexpectedly with his entire family. They seemed very at home in Lahore.
“You all have become total Lahoris, haan?” I said.
And they confessed that this was true. Karachiites are flocking towards Islamabad, and more towards Lahore, in search of safer pastures. It’s a better place to bring up your children who will have a less chance of growing up with safety-related phobias. Isolated incidences happen here too, but overall it is definitely a safer bet. Literally.
It’s a semi-chilly February afternoon. My friend Ayesha, who is one reason why I wish to frequent Lahore, honours my wish to take photographs, and takes me to Aitchison College.
The gurdwara, mandir (temples) and masjid, all are charming beyond words, due to both the red bricks and the feel of pluralism they lend. But perhaps the prettiest thing about Aitchison, and Lahore generally, is the trees.
Lawrence Garden (now Bagh-e-Jinah), alone, has some 150 varieties of trees. Islamabad has more trees and plantation, and the air is crisper and purer. But Lahore’s trees are mostly aged and huggable; they have a certain character. They have seen the world. They are wise. They are the backdrop of the historic buildings that make Lahore what it is.
The Lebanese food at the renovated Faletti’s Hotel at Lahore reaffirmed this: While Karachi offers everything a foodie can ask for, Lahore is in no way lesser in terms of being a food haven. From the authentic experiences of the Lahori masala fish of Daarul Maahi to themithai (dessert) of Laal Khooh, and from the fancy eateries at M M Alam road to the variousfood streets (the one near Badshahi Masjid is not the only one), it is a foodie’s paradise.
Organic and healthier food alternatives are also more readily available. But I struggled with my need for a good paan after dinner. Lahore needs to import someone from Karachi to make good paans and perfect its repute of being the ultimate food hub.
Lahoris are zinda dil (lively), truly, as are all Pakistanis. And a safer environment makes that easier. From theatre and grabbing just the right books from “readings” to musicals at Yusuf Salli’s Haveli, it has a lot to offer for those who want to live it up.
For the wanderers, an added advantage is that places like Islamabad and Nathia Gali are at drivable distance. Some of the best educational institutes, with the most beautiful campuses, are here, as are places of history and culture. And Lahore doesn’t go to sleep early, just like Karachi, which makes it easier for a Karachiite to settle in.
At what was supposed to be a nashta (breakfast), I am at the third floor of a thin house in inner Lahore, visiting a family I have not met in decades. Her children, in their teens, are taking selfies with me, while their father is frying stuff for us in the kitchen. From adjacent rooftops, people are waving. On another day, a random person, himself a photographer, agrees to pose for me as I find him an interesting subject for photography. There is a certain openness in Lahore that I love. Lahoris are not afraid of emoting openly.
They laugh, cry and share readily.
While there are cons to this behaviour, there are definitely many pros. Without stereotyping, I would have to say that I end up making connections in Lahore more readily than any other city. There is a lesser bureaucratic and also a less hurried, guarded and agitated feel toLahore’s people.
Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why I love Lahore.
Pakistan is in the grips of political turmoil, rampant corruption, fuel shortages and the threat of terrorism, yet the resilience and courage of its women are nothing short of remarkable and awe-inspiring.
On International Women’s Day, I felt it was appropriate to commemorate these inspirational women who, despite adversity and hardship, strive hard to shine a positive light on Pakistan’s splintered image. They make Pakistani men and women proud and, in turn, teach us all how to stand tall in the face of troubles and strife.
Starting from bottom to top, my 10 most inspirational Pakistan women from 2014-15 are:
14) Ainy Jaffri
The green-eyed beauty who graced our TV screens in 2010 with her stunning presence, is not only beautiful to look at but is also the voiceover for the Burka Avenger, a televised cartoon series that airs on Nickelodeon Pakistan. The show centres on a superhero, draped in a burka, who avenges those who commit criminal activities; a character who doesn’t take any nonsense despite being covered from head to toe.
In February 2015, the program was nominated for an International Emmy Kids Award, a huge accolade and one that no other Pakistan-based programme has been nominated before. Ainy looked stunning in a Sana Safinaz gown when she attended the ceremony and, despite missing out on the award, shone the light for Pakistan and its creative talent.
13) Shaheena Waqar
Born in Risalpur, Shaheena Waqar established an organisation known as the Women Aid Trust, along with two other friends, in 1997. Through this organisation, she has been able to help women in prisons by teaching them different skills and educating them so they may be able to sustain themselves once they return to the real world.
She believes that this exercise helps build a sense of community amongst these women, who have been convicted for some petty crime, thrown away in prison and now feel dejected and lost. By providing them computer classes, sewing centres and recreational institutes, Waqar is able to produce in them the motivation they need to rebuild their lives.
Her cause is not only noble, but effective as well and we all should be proud of having people like her in our midst.
12) Mahira Khan
Just as it seemed as if the dust had settled on the Humsafar craze in Pakistan, our neighbours also became fanatics for the drama serial and it skyrocketed Mahira’s fame beyond our borders. After a highly publicised PR event in India, news emerged that Mahira would be starring opposite the maestro of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan, in a movie titled Raees.
It seems that her popularity has seeped through into India and we will be seeing a lot more of the starlet in the future. She will shine the beacon of light for Pakistan within India’s bustling entertainment industry.
11) Naila Jamall Aladin
Naila Jamall Aladin is known for her tireless work to establish The Learning Tree School, which found its roots in 2000. What is unique about this school is that it incorporates diversity – it doesn’t just focus on education, it helps children groom themselves for what’s coming ahead. The school caters for all students, including those who have special needs, and helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses so they may fare better.
This school instills in its students the idea of giving back, helping the community and benefiting more than just oneself, and all these traits are much needed for every individual in Pakistan today. Though just a drop right now, Aladin and her school are working towards creating substantial waves and they should be supported and appreciated.
10) Farahnaz Zahidi
Becoming a shining emblem for Pakistani female journalists, Farahnaz Zahidi was nominated by Women Deliver, a global organisation that works for women’s rights, as one of the 15 most powerful female journalists around the world, for her features on women’s rights. She is the only Pakistani woman to have made it to this list
Farahnaz has been able to bring pressing issues regarding women’s emancipation and health in the limelight and was able to inspire her co-workers and readers alike to strive for a better tomorrow for everyone, especially women.
9) Aamina Jahangir
While beginning with just her A-levels security-deposit money as initial capital, Aamina Jahangir was able to establish the fact that Pakistani women can be great entrepreneurs too, if only they use their skills and resources smartly. Running her deliciously sweet business venture, aptly named The Cakery (since she specialises in baked items and cakes), Jahangir has been able to introduce herself as a force to be reckoned with.
The entrepreneur has a diploma in law and she manages her venture by assistance from different companies who sponsor her delicacies – Proctor & Gamble being one of them.
The Cakery is making new waves for culinary minds to persevere and realise their own dreams, which is motivational as well as exceptional.
8) Salma Habib
Working with children who belong to the more destitute, slum areas of Karachi, Salma Habibhas been a positive force in helping children and harnessing their artistic skills. She works with them by providing the resources, stationary and place for these children to draw and showcase their talent.
By helping these children express through art, Habib is able to create a sense of individuality and self-esteem in them, which is often lacking in street children. Every week, she focuses on a band of children and assists them in addressing their qualities, which is inspirational to say the least. More people like Habib need to be present in our society, so that these children may be able to find some colour in their perpetually grey lives.
7) Shabina Mustafa
Shabina Mustafa is one of those people who aim towards a goal and do everything in their power to achieve it. While chasing her dream to disseminate education, Mustafa started a school in her own garage, which was later dubbed as The Garage School, where she helped underprivileged children receiving education. This school was formed in 1999 and she has been persevering with it ever since.
Today, even after so many years, the school still operates from a rented building in Neelum Colony, Karachi, and has helped hundreds of students over the years.
6) Ayesha Farooq
Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot is not a woman to be messed around with. Like a scene out of Top Gun, Ayesha dons her military attire and olive green hijab with aplomb and ease, even though she works in such a testosterone-fuelled profession.
Ayesha has been involved in purging Waziristan off Taliban strongholds and is thus a hero in her own right for risking her life for the security and safety of Pakistan. She still maintains close links with her faith and culture yet is breaking taboos and cultural norms by pursuing this profession.
5) Reham Khan
This was a difficult choice for me because Reham Khan has been shrouded in controversy since her advent into the public eye. Imran Khan’s choice of marriage partner was bound to be just as questionable as his political choices, especially since Reham was a divorcee with three children and a BBC news presenter who wore controversial attire when she lived in Britain.
To add to this drama, it seemed that Imran Khan’s family were wholly against the nuptial and Reham’s former-husband even denied the domestic violence allegations made against him wholeheartedly.
I chose Reham because she remained poised and graceful despite all the ridiculously cruel comments made about her character. She continued to smile and remained very polite in her dealings with the media.
In a society which regards divorced women as tainted, it was very refreshing to see a single mother remarrying in a conservative society like Pakistan. It gave divorced women hope and Reham also set a high benchmark of how to behave when people make all kinds of libellous allegations against a divorcee.
A truly graceful lady!
4) Muniba Mazari
I first came across Muniba on Instagram and was blown away by her encapsulating smile and positive energy which would often pale her wheelchair into insignificance. In a society which regards disability as some kind of curse, Muniba has risen as a phoenix amongst the ashes to become the face of dignity and refined determination. Not only is she an accomplished artist but she is often seen shedding light on the greyer areas of Pakistani society with elegance and grace.
She became a paraplegic following a tragic road traffic accident but instead of wallowing in perpetual grief, she showcases her paintings on her blog, Muniba’s Canvas and stands tall. She also visited the survivors of the APS tragedy in various hospitals and is a strong advocate of children’s rights and education.
I am expecting greater accolades from Muniba in the years to come and wish her success in her endeavours.
3) Baroness Syeda Warsi
Although Baroness Warsi was born and resides in the UK, she still shines the light for Pakistanis based overseas. Her name is mentioned here not because of her political or lawyerly prowess but the stance she took on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014.
Warsi sent a strongly-worded letter to David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, about how she could no longer partake in mainstream British politics because of the UK’s “morally indefensible” stance on Gaza. This was a slap in the face of quiet servitude within politics and proved that Pakistani women remain strong-willed.
2) Tahira Qazi
Most principals throughout schools are known for their emphasis on discipline and decorum but Ms Tahira Qazi will always go down in the history of school leaders as being the bravest principal ever.
Her strong motherly instincts came into play on that heinous day when APS Peshawar was attacked and innocent lives were lost. Instead of absconding, Ms Qazi remained with her students whom she saw as her “children” and she made sure they reached safety and then she faced the sheer evil of the terrorists.
They prodded her for information about where the children were hidden but she remained stoic and said that she was the mother of those children. She lost her life protecting countless students and will always be revered for her heroic stance on that disastrous day.
Ms Qazi was a beautiful soul who once again showed how selfless and unselfish a mother’s love is.
1) The mothers of APS’ murdered children
When I think about that horrific day the epitome of innocence was shattered, it still raises a huge lump in my throat and tears well up in my eyes. The day that no Pakistani must ever forget: December 16, 2014. The day 145 innocent souls departed this world. It is unfathomable for any mother throughout the world to send her child to school only to find they have been brutally murdered in such a chilling and cold-blooded manner.
Those mothers who lost their sons on that tragic day are the true definition of resilience and bravery as they face the prospect of waking each day without being able to hug their children. Their children were taken from them by a war which had absolutely nothing to do with them and these mothers are now making the ultimate sacrifice; trying to move on.
While the rest of the country now tries to return to some form of normalcy, these mothers will always carry the gravest of burdens and heaviest of hearts. While they should be running their fingers through their sons’ hair to reassure them, they will be left wanting and wondering “what if” my son was alive today. The pain will never dissipate but remain like a dull ache forever.
These women are to be revered and respected for the tremendous loss they bear each and every day and they truly encapsulate everything about Women’s Day.
A woman is not just a mother, wife, sister or daughter but she is a bountiful entity who can bear enormous pressure and still remain poised and graceful. The women listed above are a testimony of that.
Happy Women’s Day!
KARACHI: Encouraging movement has been seen in women-friendly legislation across the country in 2014. Provincial legislators in Balochistan passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2014, while their counterparts in Sindh adopted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which outlawed marriage below the age of 18.
Just two days before the International Women’s Day, amendments were made to the Punjab Muslim Family Laws Act 2015. The penalty for underage marriage has been increased, with offenders facing a prison term of up to six months and a Rs50,000 fine. The failure to pay alimony to a woman or a child will lead to enhancement of payment.
Why, then, are the women of Pakistan continuing to suffer? “There is too much emphasis on enactment of legislation but not enough stress on implementation of the laws,” said Fauzia Waqar, chairperson of Punjab’s Commission on Women.
Mahnaz Rehman, resident director of Aurat Foundation Karachi, agreed that implementation of laws is not satisfactory. “I suggest that the government and/or judiciary should make it mandatory that after the enactment of any law, rules of business and other necessary measures will be taken within three months. If concerned departments don’t do it, they should be summoned in the court,” she said. Rehman pointed out that though the Sindh Assembly enacted a law against domestic violence in 2013 it has not drawn up the rules of business or constituted protection committees yet.
Lawyer and human rights crusader Maliha Zia Lari believes that enforcement is sometimes held back by budget problems.
“There are only three to five medico-legal departments in all of Karachi, and none in Peshawar,” she said, sharing that medico-legal officers do not have basic facilities like a space to examine women. “We have heard cases where they had no electricity and had to examine rape victims in the light of cell phones. How can we have implementation, then?”
Women’s issues – a federal issue?
“Women are 50 per cent of the population. How can issues related to them be just provincial?” asks Lari. In her opinion, the 18th Amendment may have had a positive impact in other areas of development, but not when it comes to issues related to women. “We are happy about legislation regarding Child Marriage, but that is in Sindh and Punjab. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will not even look at it,” she said.
Lari also pointed out that it was unfortunate that the country no longer has a separate ministry for either women’s affairs or human rights.
The Punjab government, according to Waqar, has set up a helpline for women exclusively. “Call 080093372 and you get help of every kind if you are a woman in distress.” She expressed satisfaction over the improvement in data collection.
Activist and researcher Nazish Brohi said that this is “a time of huge possibilities, we have more space”. She said that it was encouraging that more Swara cases were being reported and more people were being arrested for crimes against women, showing a slow but stable improvement.
A changing Pakistan
As the dynamics of Pakistani society change, the lines between urban and rural culture continue to blur. “The massive scale of urbanisation has altered the demographic culture,” said Brohi.
Talking of provincial comparisons, Brohi said there is huge provincial variation. “What is true for Balochistan doesn’t resonate with the culture in Sindh.”
The situation is not bleak in Waqar’s opinion. However, proliferation of small arms in Pakistani society has affected the dynamics of violence against women (VAW) too. “In Punjab, from 161 cases in 2012 to 205 cases in 2014, there is a definite increase in the use of small arms,” she said.
“Religious extremism has increased the incidences of violence against women,” said Rehman. She added that justice and peace are prerequisites of women empowerment. For this, we have to “deweaponise society,” suggested Rehman.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2015.
They lose their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers in acts of terrorism and violence. They themselves are injured and killed. Yet, the women of Pakistan do not have a voice in the peace processes in the country. They are stakeholders and direct effectees of terrorism but have no say in how it should be handled. If there is one thing that glared out at the (in)famous All-Parties Conference (APC) post the Army Public School attack, it was this: there were no women present. With the exception of perhaps, Sherry Rehman, women have hardly ever been included in the most important discussions in the country. As we gear to celebrate the International Women’s Day tomorrow, it remains a bitter truth that Pakistan’s women are considered good enough for things that we call ‘fluff’. They have a voice in health, education and other developmental issues. But there is a deafening and forced silence when it comes to their perspective on peace-building and conflict resolution strategies at all tiers, whether it is the aman jirgas or the National Action Plan (NAP).
In the year 2000, the UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women, peace and security was adopted. This resolution recognises the need to increase women’s role in peace-building in conflict-ridden countries. However, the scope of 1325 is much wider. It not only calls for women to be included in peace talks, it also presses for a more gender-sensitive perspective to consider the special needs of women and girls during conflict, repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction. The UNSCR 1325 focuses on issues of gender-based violence and refugee camps covered in Articles 10 and 12. Thus, the impact gets wider. Post the October 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods, to name two natural disasters in Pakistan that caused massive damage and human displacement, women trafficking increased.
Since 2000, 48 countries have adopted NAPs on Resolution 1325 to make policies to fulfill the resolution’s objectives. Developing and conflict-affected countries use NAPs to support women’s participation in politics and peace processes, as well as commitments on protection from sexual and gender-based violence. Yet a less than one-fourth of UN member states have implemented these NAPs.
Pakistan has not implemented 1325. Neither has India. It is rather curious that a resolution is unanimously hailed as a step in the right direction, yet is not implemented by the government. While many activists and proponents of women’s rights in Pakistan agree in spirit with 1325, it is not without reservations. The human rights’ camp remains discretely divided over the issue. And the reason is simple. Accepting a UN Security Council resolution comes with its share of possible consequences — consequences in the form of the proverbial ‘boots’ and sanctions. Many feel that such resolutions have other ‘agenda’, which is why Pakistan, among many other countries, remains sceptical of it. Other peace and gender activists strongly assert that Pakistan has no national action plan on 1325 not just because it is afraid of sanctions but because the much-needed political will is missing. These activists regularly urge the government to implement 1325.
The reasons can be debated. But the fact remains that across the globe, from 1992 to 2011, only four per cent of signatories to peace agreements and nine per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women. In Pakistan, the numbers would be even lower. The pandemic of violence against women and girls affects one in three women worldwide, and conflict zones are the worst hit. This correlation is often missed out.
Perhaps, a less controversial and more effective way would be to go via the CEDAW Committee’s landmark General Recommendation (GR 30) on Women in Conflict Prevention, Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations. This was adopted on October 18, 2013. Pacifist and more realistic voices from the civil society feel that implementing GR 30 could also have the desired results. But even if these resolutions and recommendations are implemented, will the Pakistani woman at the grassroots level have a say, alongside the men, regarding how peace should be achieved? It is time this conversation starts, and a narrative around this is built.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2015.
March 06, 2015