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Intolerance or Awareness? Thousands of Pakistani women opting for Khula

Khula: A woman’s right to divorce with dignity

Published: April 1, 2016
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PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS

“There is more to life than just a man,” says Sajida*, explaining her decision to file for Khula. A working woman in her 30s, she is one of the thousands of women from Karachi who opt for it every year. “For my mother and women from earlier generations in my family, even thinking of Khula as an option was impossible.”

Khula is prerogative of husband, not courts, says CII

Where Khula – the right of a woman to seek divorce – is concerned, Pakistani women, today, are on the brink of a major social change. The numbers of women opting for it is growing at an unprecedented rate in Pakistan’s urban centres and data retrieved from family courts confirms this.  Within the first 10 days of 2016, 36 applications for Khula were filed in Karachi alone. On December 31, 2015, 12,733 cases of Khula were still pending in family courts of four districts in Karachi – South, East, West and Centre districts. In recent years, Malir seems to have the highest number of registered Khula cases among all localities of Karachi. On December 31, 2015, there were 700 filed cases in Malir. Within 45 days, another 200 were added bringing the average to about five new cases a day in this area alone. “If 10 cases are resolved or disposed, 50 new ones are added. The numbers keep growing,” says Urdu journalist Arshad Baig, who has spent years reporting court stories in Karachi.

The Council of Islamic Ideology’s recent declaration that it is un-Islamic for courts to use Khula without the consent of a husband to dissolve a marriage triggered heated debate on the subject. Yet, with Pakistan’s family law allowing it, women are now more ready to use this right when a marriage gets too much to bear.

According to Pakistan’s family law, in the law of Islamic jurisprudence, Khula remains a woman’s unequivocal right. “The court cannot deny the woman the right of Khula,” says lawyer Summaiya Zaidi, adding that Khula is when the wife applies to the court for dissolution of the marriage contract. While Islam encourages the family unit be kept intact, provisions of Khula and divorce have been given to both genders to be able to free themselves if a marriage fails despite trying on grounds of solid reasons.

The Pakistani women risking it all for their rights

In Zaidi’s experience, the most common grounds for women seeking Khula are domestic violence, physical and/or emotional abuse, inability of husband to provide for her financially and lack of love or affection given by the husband. “It can also be just general unhappiness or hatred for the husband. The provision for Khula is found in the premise that Islam concedes the right to a wife to free herself from the contract where life becomes a torture for both.” However, Zaidi explains this is not an absolute right but is controlled by the court. “A successful exercise of this right is dependent on the Judge reaching the conclusion that the spouses cannot live together within the limits of God,” she says. In most cases of Khula, as permitted by Islamic law, the woman agrees to let go of the Meher (dower) that the husband has to give to her and may also agree on further monetary negotiations to work her way out of a marriage.

Mufti Muhammad Zahid affirms it is a right Islam has granted to women. Like many mainstream muftis (Islamic jurists), he believes both spouses must agree on the act of Khula. “One sided Khula initiated by the wife with the husband not agreeing to it, is unreliable,” he says. But he also agrees that the Qazi, which today amounts to the Judge of a family court, can nullify the nikaah on solid grounds.

Fight for rights

Khula is different from Talaq-i-Tafweez, explains Zaidi. The latter is the power to grant a divorce; this right, though, belongs to the husband, yet it can be delegated to another such as his wife or a third person either absolutely or conditionally, limited by time or permanently. “The person to whom the right has been delegated can then pronounce Talaq accordingly. In essence, this means that the wife can divorce herself. Such a Talaq, once exercised, would be effective after expiry of 90 days unless revoked by husband or wife,” says Zaidi. The nikahnama carries this optional clause and with rising awareness an increasing number of women have begun to check the box of Talaq-i-Tafweez in the marital contract.

For women like Sajida, Khula is what she calls a lifesaving decision. While reasons for Khula vary from couple to couple, in Sajida’s experience it was her ex-husband’s lack of responsibility, taking her for granted and considering her useless. “He was very jealous and unkind. I cooked for him and looked after the house and even contributed financially but he never valued anything. If I were not an educated or working woman I would have committed suicide,” she shares with a shudder.

Khula was not the first option for her and she tried to make things work for almost a decade. “I just wanted him to respect me but he never did. He told me many times that I am fat and ugly,” she says. Sajida’s ex-husband, who suffered from bipolar disorder, let go of her very easily. “We didn’t have any kind of physical contact since years, so he felt guilty. I feel it was the main reason he easily let me go,” she says, and shares that she considers herself lucky to be out of a life of confinement.

‘Khula’ without husband’s consent is un-Islamic: CII

For some of Sajida’s contemporaries, however, the options are less relenting and women are forced to live in marriages where the reasons for opting for Khula would be more than valid, such as impotency, mental or physical disorders, and abuse or even infidelity.

Time to accept

While Khula is undeniably a right and the acceptance levels may have increased, it is never taken lightly. The first reaction of most people Sajida encountered was that this is the price urban Pakistani women are paying for economic empowerment. ‘Yeh human rights walay aur TV dramay aurton ke dimagh karab kartay hain (human rights activists and television dramas have corrupted our women)’ is a common reaction when the increased rates of Khula are brought up.

Women’s rights activists fiercely defend a woman’s right to be able to liberate herself from a crippling marriage. “But it’s never a good thing that a family gets broken. Unlike what people assume, human rights activists like myself, who support women’s rights, do not encourage women to seek divorce and make it their duty to listen to both sides of the story. We try to reconcile their differences,” says Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation.

But sometimes the differences are irreconcilable. Such was the case with Naila* who stayed in an abusive marriage for 26 years but never considered seeking Khula. Instead, her marriage ended with her husband divorcing her on his second wife’s pressure. “I am from the generation when mothers taught their daughters ‘Jis ghar mein shareef aurat ki doli jaati hai, wahan se uska janaza uth ta hai’ (a decent woman’s funeral is in the same home where she goes as a bride). This doli-to-janaza mentality was so firmly driven in a girl’s mind that she chose to suffer in silence,” says Naila. She could not take that leap of faith as she felt staying in the marriage was for her children’s better future. The onus of protecting the children from the effects of a broken home sat squarely on the mothers and women would also brush issues under the rug for this reason, confirms Naila. “But sometimes children are better off when they do not see their mothers tormented,” she adds.

Reasons cited in cases of Khula vary but experts agree that economic empowerment of women is translating into the fact that they are no longer willing to live in a perpetual abuse or neglect. “With economic independence comes a sense of self-worth.  A sense of rights and women wonder why they should tolerate unjust behaviour,” says Rahman.

“We are witnessing fairly rapid social change in cities across Pakistan with regards to gender norms and as Pakistan is one of the most rapidly urbanising countries in the world, these changes are significant for the country as a whole,” says Nida Kirmani, who teaches Sociology at Lahore University of Management Science and is a gender activist. In Kirmani’s opinion, migration to cities opens up possibilities for women to move away from the restrictions of extended kinship networks, which sometimes allows them more room to challenge social norms.

More and more girls in urban Pakistan are getting equal opportunities of education. They are topping the grades and getting good jobs. “See Karachi: Two generations of boys in this city have gotten pre-occupied with political activities, their education and careers took a back seat. The girls filled that gap, and excelled, and went ahead,” adds Rahman. But she agrees the levels of tolerance among women have receded. “The overall climate of intolerance in our society is effecting the institution of marriage too,” opines Rahman.

Wind of change

Khula may be a woman’s right but is not always a smooth ride. Based on the cases Zaidi has handled, she advises women to make sure they get all their valuable belongings out of the house before they leave. “Leave first for a safe secure home and then apply for Khula,” she says, explaining how a woman applying for Khula can make the man vindictive and even harmful. “In most cases the potential drama of divorce is unveiled when one reads the grounds for Khula as stated in the Plaint by the woman. Even if a man was willing to grant the Khula, once he reads the allegations against him he may become defensive; it affects his ego,” mentions Zaidi. She believes it works both ways: If a woman were to read such allegations against her, her ego would also be hurt. “It is never nice to read in official documentation that one was an awful spouse,” she adds.

“It was a shocker when I received that brown envelope from the court informing me that my wife had applied for Khula,” says Salman*, a resident of South Karachi, who confesses that the document was the wake-up call which made him amend some of his ways. “Our families got involved because our three children’s lives were at stake and convinced her to give me a second chance,” he shares. It was then he agreed to go for marriage counselling with his wife. “If this had not happened, I know I would have continued beating her. I am not a bad man. I love my family. But I never thought her threats of leaving me could ever be true. I never took her seriously,” he says. Eventually, the couple did not get separated. According to his wife, “No one changes completely but now he knows he can’t cross certain limits.”

While Khula may be a liberating option for women not all women are innocent or fair in how they file the cases. Revenge is a very real factor both in cases of Khula or divorce and both genders indulge in this very basic human emotion.

Zaidi has worked on cases where the man needs defending. She cites the example of a case where the man was not guilty of the reasons specified in the Suit against him, which were cruelty, mental torture and lack of financial security. “If we didn’t defend him he would have to pay her maintenance,” she says.

Undoubtedly, more Pakistani women today feel empowered enough to leave unhappy marriages. “Most people would argue that this is cause for concern,” says Kirmani. “But I think this is a welcome change as many women suffer too long in silence.” But for single mother Aisha*, who opted for Khula and remarried few years later, this trend is neither good nor bad. “If previous generations suffered, with more awareness of women’s rights hopefully future generations will progressively get better. It’s a part of progress, of life moving forward.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

FEMINISM – What the F word meant for Pakistan in 2015

Published: December 30, 2015
PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

She. She has worked for one of the world’s leading Formula 1 team. She is a fighter pilot. She is UN’s goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality. She’s changing the contours of this country. And she is not a man.

In recent years, Pakistan has seen a lot of “firsts” owing to women. At the tail end of 2015, Rahila Hameed Durrani was elected as the first-ever female speaker of the Balochistan Assembly. Muniba Mazari was named Pakistan’s first female goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by UN Women. Iron-fisted Ayesha Mumtaz gave owners of sub-standard eateries in Punjab sleepless nights as Director of Operations at Punjab Food Authority, and rose to fame thanks to her unrelenting firmness during raids. And fighter pilot Mariam Mukhtar added the name of a woman in the list of Pakistan Air Force fighter pilots to die in the line of duty. The year has been particularly significant in bridging some of the gender disparity that the country battles day in, day out.

Female co-pilot dies as training jet crashes in Mianwali

Mariam Mukhtar. PHOTO: FILE

“Women and girls in Pakistan are taking many strides to reclaim public spaces and challenging the concept of women belonging inside ‘safe spaces’, spaces largely identified by a male dominated society,” says lawyer and gender activist Maliha Zia Lari, adding that an increasing number of girls and women are taking up jobs and activities previously considered to be male domains. “This is extremely positive.”

Public places, public office

What initially started as a hashtag, #GirlsAtDhabas ended up becoming a jump start to fresh conversation about how women can – and must – frequent all public spaces, including dhabas, police stations, courts and even mosques.

#GirlsAtDhabas aims to make dhabas run by women a reality

PHOTO: FILE

“The year 2015 ends on a high note as women’s leadership role is getting increased recognition. In traditional milieus such as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan, women are leading the provincial legislatures,” says columnist and activist Raza Rumi, and particularly mentions how Rahila Durrani also happens to be a well-known civil society activist. “She brings with her years of experience as a women rights defender.”

The social ripples are many, but there is little simultaneous effort at the state level, and there is too low a number of senior female politicians, female politicians in important decision-making positions, female CEOs and judges. In a recent write-up, former vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) Adil Najam suggested that after 137 male justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the time is ripe to appoint a woman. But top positions in all spheres, for the most part, continue to be ruled by men.

Lari mentions how the recent local government elections once again evidenced agreements whereby women were disenfranchised from voting. “It is a paradoxical situation where social change is happening, but it has not yet been translated into an institutional actual policy at the state level.”

She says there is little discourse in what feminism actually is, even within the women’s movement and women’s NGOs. “Few, if any, would recognise the iconic names of the feminist movement such as Judith Butler or Simone de Beauvoir, or even Pakistani feminist icons such as Tahira Mazhar Ali, Nighat Saeed Khan, Nigar Ahmed, Shahla Zia or Farida Shaheed,” says Lari. She adds that it is a pity that we do not institutionally focus enough on the ideology and choose to focus more on finishing projects.

On a more upbeat note, Rumi observes that within the dynastic framework, another woman leader – Maryam Nawaz – is emerging within the PML-N, which has been known for its conservatism.

Maryam Nawaz. PHOTO: FILE

With a narrative building around feminism being taken seriously, Pakistan has a rising number of men who identify as male feminists, like Anthony Permal, a marketer by profession. “Male feminism, to me, is about standing alongside women in their daily existence, not ahead or behind and certainly not ‘for’. Women, like men, are their own masters.”

Yet, Permal recognises that leave alone male feminists, even women in Pakistan sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to the term, seeing it as a borrowed Western concept. “Our deeply patriarchal society has so pressed misogyny into the bare bones of the populace that even many women are anti-feminist, allowing their religio-cultural dogmas to supersede the support of their own gender,” says Permal.

HerStory

Fortunately, women like Suniya Sadullah are blazing the trail for others. In Suniya’s family, the only professions considered respectable were becoming doctors or teachers. But she had other ideas when, at the age of 12, she watched her first ever motor race on TV. Her aim in life there onwards became to be a part of a Formula 1 team. She has succeeded in pushing the boundaries of the norms of a traditional Pathan family and realised her dream: this motorsport engineer is the first female Pakistani to have worked for the Williams Formula 1 team. “I’ve had an unconventional career route for a girl from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” she tells The Express Tribune.

Suniya Sadullah. PHOTO: twitter/ Suniya Sadullah Khan

Suniya shares how her support has been the men in her life but her role models have been women. Her mother wanted to put her in a co-education school, a decision her father supported. “I was one of the first girls in my family to study in such a school,” says Suniya. After working with Williams for some three years, she is presently pursuing a PhD in Aerospace in Pakistan. “My husband has been extremely supportive. We actually had a long distance marriage for about eight months while I decided whether to continue working in Formula 1 or pursue my next goal, which was a PhD.”

According to Rumi, the real change taking place in Pakistan is within the higher education sector. “Nearly half of public sector universities comprise women [in the] student body. Their entrance into such places happens due to increased mobility as well as superior performance in academics.”

Globally, too, the importance of bringing men on board for empowerment of women has gained momentum, and though feminism started out as a movement by women for women, men are now seen as part of the synergy. “HeForShe”, a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women, popularised the thought further.

End violence against women: ‘We all stand to gain from empowering women’

PHOTO: FILE

HeForShe started a campaign with the goal of engaging one million men and boys by July 2015. They may have failed to meet the goal, but supportive men are not as rare as they once were.

The sin of being a widow in this world

Hamida (R), widow of Pakistani fisherman Nawaz who died in an Indian jail, sitting at her house in Rerhy in the outskirts of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

We live in a country where, when a journalist calls the Chief Minister House and asks if they have any special events for International Widows’ Day, the reply you get from the concerned person is,

“Widows’ Day? Is there one?”

But then, considering two things, Pakistan might not be the only country.

Firstly, it was just four years ago that the United Nations General Assembly declared June 23, 2011, as the first-ever International Widows’ Day, so it is a relatively new event. Secondly, the women being celebrated are on the lowest tier of the social pyramid, and their problems are not given the importance they should get.

There are some 258 million widows across the world. Of these, at least 115 million live in dire poverty and 86 million have been physically abused. If a widow has an average of three children and six other family members, this is an issue that affects nearly one billion people – a seventh of the world’s population.

But how does one even calculate the figures for Pakistan, where a big chunk of the population is not even registered? Registering widows is an even more neglected priority.

So when a woman’s husband dies, what is life like for her? Hellish, in the experience of most widows. There are two major issues that widows face – the falling from grace in terms of social status and inclusion, and economic vulnerability and poverty.

Widows are often considered bad omens and are excluded from all auspicious events. A classic example is only the saat suhaganain (seven married women) being allowed to put henna on the bride’s hands. While things may have started changing in more educated or aware social setups, women still confess that they would not like their sons or brothers to marry widows. Even if the superstition is ignored, another major issue is that widows are flung out by in-laws and they land back in the homes of their fathers or brothers.

If it is married brothers, they are not given the respect and support they deserve. If the widowed woman is not economically empowered or educated, she is in for trouble. Poverty and economic struggles await her. And if she decides to step out to earn for herself and her children as she must, a big bad world awaits her. She remains an easier target of sexual harassment without the proverbial roof over her head, and is often considered easy prey for the predator.

It is not just the widow but also her children and dependents who are affected. The fact that1.5 million children whose mothers are widowed are expected to die before reaching the age of five says enough. Whatever the husband left behind for her, whether he officially transferred the property in her possession or left behind in the form of inheritance, is often not given to her and the orphan children. Children of widows often have to forgo their education to earn for their families. They are more vulnerable to child labour and human trafficking.

The UN publication Women 2000: Widowhood: Invisible Women, Secluded or Excludedstates that,

“In Pakistan, destitute widows are reported to be supported by a small pension or zakat. But, as in India, the allocation system is often corrupt, and the many needy widows are frequently neglected.”

The publication rightly points out that Pakistani widows are often deprived of their rightful inheritance by a male relative.

A major chunk of widows remain elderly. A visit to the Edhi home or any centre for homeless women shows how these elder women are ostracised from society. However, increasing incidence of armed conflict and acts of terrorism in Pakistan have resulted in many young women also being widowed and displaced. Many security personnel lose their lives owing to the violence and strife. While they are promised compensation, it is not enough.

On one hand, rights of widows need to be brought to the fore on all forums. Awareness needs to be raised regarding their plight. But most importantly, the young women of this nation need to be self-empowered enough to be able to support themselves and command the respect they deserve if they find themselves in such a situation.

WOMEN DELIVER 2015 Nomination – VOTE or Pakistan

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2015

15 Journalists, 15 Voices for Girls & Women

http://www.womendeliver.org/vote-for-your-favorite-journalists-delivering-for-girls-and-women

Each year, Women Deliver celebrates International Women’s Day by honoring people, organizations and innovations that are delivering for girls and women. This year, we are excited to celebrate 15 journalists from around the world who are advocating for and advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Our honorees were selected by an internal review board from a competitive pool of more than 100 journalists who were nominated by dozens of Women Deliver’s partners and supporters.

Starting today, we will open an online voting contest to select the top three journalists from our remarkable list. The three winners will receive scholarships to attend Women Deliver’s 2016 conference, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Voting will close on March 20, so be sure to vote today for the journalist who inspires you the most today.

VOTE HERE!


FLORENCIA GOLDSMAN, ARGENTINA
Pikara, Pagina 12

Florencia sheds new light on how ordinary, but often overlooked, aspects of everyday life affect girls and women in her community. A self-proclaimed  “cyberfeminist,” Florencia is passionate about using digital technology and photography to raise awareness about issues affecting women’s rights across Latin  America and the Caribbean, from the rural jungles of Guatemala to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Her reporting explores how current events and societal  problems impact girls’ and women’s health and rights. Some of her most compelling pieces have covered the impact of police corruption on sex trafficking, as well as sexual abuse and exploitation around the World Cup.

In her own words: “Women voices itself are misunderstood or misrepresented in media. There is always a key discussion missing in usual coverage of women´s health and rights issues. Why can´t we talk and debate seriously about that? Why are women’s voices just rarely heard?”


TAREQ SALAHUDDIN, BANGLADESH
The Daily Star

A physician-turned-journalist, Tareq now harnesses the power of media to improve the health and well-being of girls and women in his community. To this day, Tareq is still motivated by the underserved girls and women he treated as a young doctor many years ago. In his position as health editor of The Daily Star – the leading English-language newspaper in Bangladesh – Tareq often covers maternal and reproductive health global policies and programs, such as the Millennium Development Goals  and the Global Financing Facility. Additionally, Tareq frequently features youth advocates – many of which are men – who are determined to end child marriage and dowry violence in Bangladesh.

In his own words: “If I could only tell one more story, I would convince policy makers to invest in simple, cost-effective interventions that help save women’s lives, like access to oxytocin to prevent postpartum hemorrhage and death. We need to remind our governments, time and time again, that the health and safety of our women is a top priority.”


COMFORT MUSSA, CAMEROON
Global Press Journal, Radio France International

Comfort uses her voice to make others’ voices even louder. She is a radio host, blogger and multi-award winning journalist with a keen eye for stories that expose social injustice. She hosts a weekly radio broadcast, 100% Jeune Live, where she leads young people in open and vibrant conversations about sexual and reproductive health. As a reporter for the Global Press Journal, Comfort writes about many sensitive topics including the risk of sexual harassment for mentally disabled women in Cameroonand the ripple effect of anti-child labor laws on middle class women. Comfort also foundedSisterSpeak237, a blog where girls and women can openly discuss taboo topics, such as sexual harassment on public transportation.

In her own words: “There is an immense lack of stories about women’s health and rights in Cameroon’s mainstream media. I am inspired to tell these stories because it highlights relevant issues otherwise ignored. I believe that through my reporting, people ask themselves, ‘How can we solve the problems that we are currently sweeping under the rug?’ ” 


CHI YVONNE LEINA, CAMEROON
Equinoxe Televsion, World Pulse

Leina breaks the silence around harmful cultural practices and sexual violence. In 2011, Leina uncovered the truth about breast ironing in Cameroon. Her reporting generated local and international attention and helped encourage the Cameroonian government to partner with her Gender Dangercampaign to end the harmful practice. Leina’s award-winning and courageous coverage of women’s health and rights has earned her many titles – humanitarian, leader and activist – and she is now known as one of Cameroon’s leading advocates on violence against women.

In her own words: “More female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in newsrooms is crucial to ensuring girls’ and women’s health issues are on newspapers’ front pages. The more female news entrepreneurs and editors we have, the more likely women’s issues are to gain their rightful positions in the news.”


STELLA PAUL, INDIA
InterPress Service, Thomson Reuters Foundation, World Pulse

In addition to her reporting, Stella equips women with the tools they need to take action and seek justice. Stella is an award-winning Indian journalist who believes that fair, solution-oriented journalism can lead to social change. Stella often covers women’s rights abuses, such as the temple slave crisis in India, and publishes stories that lead to tangible impact. Stella also goes the extra mile to give back to the communities she covers: after conducting interviews, she often trains girls how to alert authorities about injustices and hold them accountable for enforcing their human rights.

In her own words: “I am a survivor of attempted infanticide. When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother –and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.”


LUCY MARONCHA, KENYA
Freelancer, frequently reports for Key Correspondents

Lucy amplifies survivors’ stories to change the way people think. Lucy has dedicated her career in print media to ending gender-based violence, particularly against women and young people living with HIV/AIDS. As a journalist living with HIV, Lucy draws on her personal experiences to write authentic and compassionate stories that challenge readers’ perceptions of and attitudes toward groups most susceptible to HIV/AIDS, including women, sex workers, drug users and other marginalized populations. Lucy is an original member of the Network of Journalists Living with HIV, and she actively mentors other journalists, encouraging them to use their powerful stories and voices to bring about change in their communities.

In her own words: “In my career as a journalist, I have seen women abused in the most dehumanizing manner. It’s my job to use my platform as a reporter to expose and end gender-based violence and other atrocities facing women.”


MAE AZANGO, LIBERIA
FrontPage Africa, New Narratives 

Mae has risked her life to expose injustices facing girls and women. Mae’s passion for reporting on sexual and reproductive health and rights stems from her traumatic experiences as a pregnant teenager during Liberia’s civil war. Mae is best known for going undercover to write a tell-all piece about female genital mutilation (FGM) for FrontPage Africa. She received death threats, and both she and her daughter were forced into hiding for over a month. Her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of Sande schools, where FGM is performed. Mae serves on the board of the Media Women Center for Development and Democracy and was awarded the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2012.

In her own words: “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”


FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI MOAZZAM, PAKISTAN
Express Tribune

Farahnaz confronts and challenges cultural and religious norms that threaten girls’ and women’s health and rights in Pakistan. She is not afraid to draw attention to issues rarely discussed publically in Pakistan: culturally sanctioned female genital mutilation, women suffering from fistula, sexual violence and religious extremism, among others. Through her reporting, Farahnaz raises awareness about girls’ and women’s health and education and pressures local authorities and policymakers to enforce laws that protect women. In fact, she has even helped put some perpetrators of sexual assault behind bars. Farahnaz often features stories about female religious leaders and peace-builders in an effort to engage men, especially clergy, in women’s rights advocacy.

In her own words: “As a story-teller, I know that there is no story in the world where both a male and a female character are not involved. I tilt towards the female side of the story, not just because I am a woman, but because I understand the Pakistani woman’s indigenous sensibilities as I am one. Hence, my stories are not just sob stories. I am a positive person. So my stories are stories of triumphant women.”


RINA JIMENEZ-DAVID, PHILIPPINES
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rina’s reporting has changed the game for reproductive rights in the Philippines. Since 1989, she has published four columns weekly for the country’s most widely read newspaper – many of which have been dedicated to girls’ and women’s health and rights. Rina is a seasoned journalist who also participates in televised debates and roundtables on maternal and reproductive health issues. Rina’s reporting help maintain momentum around the 14-year long debate of the groundbreaking Philippines’ reproductive health bill, which guarantees universal access to contraception, sexual education and maternal care.

In her own words: “Girls’ and women’s health issues aren’t front-page news because they are considered ‘continuing’ crises rather than alarming developments, such as the threat of Ebola or the MERS-COV virus. My own attitude through the years has evolved from bemoaning the absence of such stories from the front pages to working to find spaces for them in other sections, such as columns like mine.”


MAIMOUNA GUEYE, SENEGAL
Le Soleil

Maimouna persuades policymakers to do more – and better – for girls and women. As Editor-in- Chief and coordinator of Le Soleil’s health supplement, Maimouna uses her platform to raise awareness about critical maternal and reproductive health issues. Her work is widely credited with encouraging the Senegalese government to enhance its family planning program. In fact, Ministry of Health officials frequently use the poignant, first-hand testimonies featured in Maimouna’s articles to highlight how policies directly affect women.

In her words: “We need intense advocacy directed toward media owners so they become more sensitive to all issues affecting women. Training journalists to have an interest in women’s issues is another dimension that needs work. If in a newsroom there are no women journalists, who will speak for them?”


ROSE MWALONGO, TANZANIA
The Guardian

Rose’s lifelong dedication to exposing injustices has made her as much an advocate as a writer. For 15 years, Rose has been using her gift for language to expose human rights injustices in Tanzania, particularly threats to maternal and reproductive health and rights, such as FGM and child marriage. As an “activist journalist,” Rose highlights advocates’ efforts to hold the Tanzanian government accountable for enforcing the country’s human rights laws, particularly as they relate to girls and women. In addition to reporting, Rose is an Information Officer for the Legal and Human Rights Centre and a board member for the Community Media Network of Tanzania (COMNETA).

In her own words: “If I could only tell one more story, I would remind everyone that all kings, emperors, presidents, and tycoons emanate from women. They are the mothers of all societies in the world…. The role of women and girls should never be underestimated as their wellbeing means everything to the whole word. Educate a woman and you have done so to the whole society.”


BRIAN MUTEBI, UGANDA
Daily Monitor

Brian travels to remote and dangerous places to expose major threats to girls’ and women’s health and rights. He amplifies girls’ and women’s voices to bring national attention to female genital mutilation, poor maternal healthcare infrastructure, teenage pregnancy and sexual violence. On International Day of the Girl Child in 2013, Brian published a groundbreaking story about a 13-year old refugee girl who wrote a letter to the UN Secretary-General describing the impact of war on life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His story uncovered the plight girls and women face in conflict zones and generated unprecedented attention from local policymakers.

In his own words: “I grew up in a community where domestic violence against women was rampant and acceptable. Circumstances forced girls to carry babies instead of books. I believe every girl has dreams and every woman the ability to impact this world tremendously. Using a pen, I take up their case.”


CATHERINE MWESIGWA, UGANDA
New Vision

Catherine paves the way for women to lead in her newsroom, community and beyond. As New Vision’s Deputy Editor, Catherine is a role model for young female writers who aspire to be leaders in a field traditionally dominated by men. Her coverage pushes the public and policymakers to prioritize girls’ and women’s needs. In fact, Catherine contributed a piece to her media house’s campaign against FGM, which supported community mobilization and sensitization efforts to end the practice and ultimately influenced Ugandan officials to pass a law banning the practice. She also isn’t afraid to rely on her own experiences as a mother to write powerful and persuasive articles that call for greater access to reproductive and maternal health services.

In her own words: “When political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and welfare to socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes, and nations’ political stability, women’s health issues will make it to the front pages.”


ALLYN GAESTEL, USA
Freelancer

Allyn immerses herself in communities around the world to bring local women’s voices to a global stage. She is best known for covering many overlooked topics, including Nigeria’s silent abortion crisis and violence against pregnant women in India. She recently reported an award-winning short forThe New York Times, shot by frequent collaborator Allison Shelley, highlighting how menstruating women in Nepal are often forced to sleep outside the home and become vulnerable to sexual assault. Allyn often spends months at a time digging deep into communities around the world so that she can immerse herself in the issues and accurately report on the challenges girls and women face.

In her own words: “Women’s health is often seen as a “soft” topic, but I have found it to be anything but. My reporting on women’s health has offered an important lens for me to explore not just women’s lives but the roots of crises that affect society more broadly.”


JINA MOORE, USA / KENYA
BuzzFeed

Jina uses innovative digital platforms to bring groundbreaking stories to broad global audiences. Based in Nairobi, Jina is BuzzFeed’s Global Women’s Rights Correspondent, and has reported from more than 20 countries on a wide range of topics – from US funding for Afghan women tosexual trauma treatment for kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Last year, Jina traveled to Monrovia, Liberia, to cover the Ebola epidemic and was among the first journalists to expose Ebola’s disproportionate toll on women. Jina also draws attention to activism that advances girls’ and women’s health and rights.

In her own words: “The most game-changing journalism on women’s issues comes from work that I would best describe as patient, trusting collaboration among women and girls who are willing to talk about the challenges they face, determined reporters, supportive editors, and NGOs and grassroots organizations.”

Hits and misses: Developments indicate better days for women’s rights

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 23, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/675083/hits-and-misses-developments-indicate-better-days-for-womens-rights/

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Discussing Sindh, experts shared that enrolment of girls in schools is going up and there is an increased focus on funding female literacy projects. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI:
Somewhere in Pakistan, a woman is struggling to get a CNIC, but NADRA only accepts a biometric system of identification whereby her thumb must be scanned. Her thumbs are too chafed due to constant work in agricultural fields with sickles.
Another woman in Pakistan is sucked into an armed conflict situation. Her son is taken away at a tender age by people she knows will misuse him, but when it comes to the peace process, her opinion is not taken into account. At another location in Pakistan, a jirga of men sits and decides a woman’s fate, while other women who are members of the community cannot share their perspective
The questions and issues are multiple. The achievements, challenges and opportunities in this regard were discussed recently at the one-day Provincial Consultation of Sindh for the State Report on Beijing+20. Held on February 21, it was organised by the National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW), Shirkatgah and Rozan. It aimed at involving all stakeholders including NGOs, parliamentarians and activists.
NCSW is leading the process of compiling the State Report on Beijing Plan for Action, which is an agenda for women’s empowerment. In this, NCSW is being co-facilitated by Shirkatgah and Rozan.
Beneath a whole lot of jargon that development sector professionals typically use, the underlying idea was resounding: what will it take for humanity to realise that salvation, progress and development are all clutched tight in the fist of one single solution – empowering the mother, the daughter, the wife, the sister. It is a little difficult for a journalist to understand what it exactly means by “best practice” and how can a 100 plus people know all the UN resolutions and Pakistan’s legislations regarding women by heart. Yet, the sincerity is obvious in such meets. And a lot of good is coming out of them.
Just talking of Sindh, experts shared that girl-child enrolment in schools is going up. There is an increased focus on funding for female literacy projects, including women with minor disabilities. The Domestic Violence Act and laws pertaining to acid burning, as well as the anti-women practices acts are promising. There is increasing talk of involving women in peace processes as equal stakeholders, even if they are unaware that UN Resolution 1325 requires us to do it. Land allotment schemes are tilting towards including female peasants as small land-holders.
Yet, as discussed in presentations given by the many groups that had been given different topics pertaining to women’s empowerment, there are many ifs and buts. For example, when talking of the encouraging presence of women in the field of media, it was pointed out that the growth of women in this field should not be only horizontal but also vertical, whereby more women in media should be in decision-making key positions. It was discussed that the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women stated 20 years ago that “violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace”. Much remains to be achieved but it appears that Pakistan is at least on the journey towards a better future for its women.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.

Success story: How a news story won a gang-rape victim justice

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: January 2, 2014

KARACHI:
“We are poor people. We never expected to get justice. We are all so happy that at least the culprits have been punished. Thank you, adi (sister). The story your newspaper published had a strong impact, as did the pressure from rights activists. We got justice,” says a grateful and emotional *T, husband of a gang-rape victim in Tharparkar some three months after the horrific incident.
From the time when *M was raped till the verdict came, T and his family went through hell. The motive behind the crime turned out to be some men of their own community in Tharparkar getting back at each other. It ended in *M getting gang raped in front of her husband and children some three months ago. “We are grateful, though even 14 years is not enough punishment for what they did. No punishment is enough,” says T, satisfied with the justice but not yet healed of the trauma.
“This is such a success story. It is cause to celebrate. The credit goes a 100 per cent to the joint efforts of the media, civil society and rights activists,” says a delighted Amar Sindhu who was very much involved in the activism behind the case. Sindhu represents the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and is a member of the Sindh Human Rights Commission. She added that the popular perception of locals is that if the media highlights an issue, justice follows. Sindhu and others like her played an important role by guiding the victim and her family to get justice through legal procedures.

“The prominent coverage given by The Express Tribune to the issue really helped, along with human rights activists who brought spotlight to the issue. Authorities had no option but to take this case seriously after the pressure was applied. Media, in general, played a good role in this case,” says Ali Akbar, Executive Director, Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in Tharparkar. According to Akbar, he heard from the local authorities and regional language media confirmed that the Chief Justice took notice of the case, and that helped expedite the police’s prompt action in arresting the perpetrators.
In an encouraging turn of events and an unusual case of culprits actually getting punished, the eight men who committed the heinous crime have each been awarded 14 years prison term by the anti-terrorism court in Mirpurkhas. “Because the perpetrators used weapons, we were advised by a lawyer that the case should go to the anti-terrorism court from the district and sessions judge,” said Akbar. The fact that the case was taken up in the anti-terrorism court helped expedite the verdict.
This encouraging verdict came a few days ahead of the Chief Justice taking suo motu notice of the recent Karachi rape case of a 12 year old girl, and took notice of the non-arrest of those who raped the five-year-old girl in Lahore on September 13.
“This was the first prominent incident of gang rape in Tharparkar. It was the first time punishment had to be meted out in this area under Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 376 (2). We, the police, are glad that our investigation and hard work have paid off,” says Ghulam Mustafa Kachelo, Station House Officer (SHO), Taluka Chachro. He was on duty on the case.
Akbar feels that this has set a good precedent that the wronged have gotten justice, and this will in the future be a deterrent for others who think of committing such a crime.
“Undoubtedly, very few rape cases have had convictions. This is a welcome move that courts are beginning to take such cases seriously and are recognising the crime and the prevailing conditions. This should be highlighted that now courts have begun convictions in such cases,” says Justice Majida Rizvi, Chairperson Sindh Human Rights Commission.
“We are thankful to all those who echoed the voice of the Thari people and supported the process of getting justice. With this success, we have realised that the media can play a pivotal role in helping vulnerable people,” says Akbar.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2014.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/653741/success-story-how-a-news-story-won-a-gang-rape-victim-justice/

Women heralding the winds of change in Pakistan

Women heralding the winds of change in Pakistan
by Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

10 April 2012


http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=31249&lan=en&sp=0

Karachi, Pakistan – From a country where terrorism, extremism, inner strife and polarisation continue to eat at its roots, good news is reaching out globally from a perhaps unexpected source – its women. Pakistani women are fighting for more than just the empowerment of women. They are taking centre-stage in Pakistan’s fight against oppression, social tyranny and extremism. They are the emblems of change, and Shad Begum is one such woman.
Photographs of Shad Begum standing alongside United States’ first lady Michelle Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her face resplendent with satisfaction, are a piece of much needed good news coming out of Pakistan. She is a recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage Award, which is presented annually by the US Department of State to women around the world who demonstrate leadership, courage and sacrifice for others.

Shad Begum belongs to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the social system is strongly patriarchal and tribal sensibilities reign; unlike other provinces, Pakistan women there are not even allowed to work in the fields.

At the occasion of the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards, the US Department of State described Shad as “a courageous human rights activist and leader who has changed the political context for women in the extremely conservative district of Dir.”
The Association for Women’s Welfare (which later changed its name to Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation, or ABKT), set up by Shad in 1994, took up pioneering welfare work for women in the Dir district. Initially, ABKT focused on welfare, but increasing support from civil society and donors helped it focus on development and empowering individuals rather than only providing charity. Now, Shad mobilises and sensitises local women by helping them acquire primary education, political training and micro-credits to work towards empowerment and build their capacity. Providing health facilities, constructing bridges, installing hand pumps, creating wells and paving streets are all examples of ABKT’s development work.

Shad Begum decided to enter politics in 2001, only to face a head-on collision with local conservative leaders who strongly opposed the participation of women in leadership and the mixing of sexes. In an area with a population of one million, but only 150,000 women registered as voters, this was not easy. Shad stood as an independent candidate because no political party would support her.

She was the victim of character assassination and was called a “funded foreign agent”, in addition to receiving threats from the Taliban. Yet she carried on with her mission and people believed in her: she received the most votes of any female candidate. Four years later, as a result of her efforts, including an effective campaign that got the attention of authorities, 127 women were elected at the local level in the same area. “Men voted for women in the election. This is a big change”, said Begum.

Shad moved the organisation’s office to Peshawar when the Taliban became prominent, and she has been threatened by unidentified militants.

With women like Shad stepping up at the grassroots level, there have been major leaps in the present government’s tenure when it comes to legislation promoting women’s interests. Pressure from civil society and advocacy from women’s groups have forced policymakers to address women’s concerns. Legislation has been passed criminalising sexual harassment at the workplace, as well combatting gender discrimination. In addition, legislation regarding women’s rights to inherit and forced marriage have been promulgated.

In January 2012, the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously passed a bill to create a powerful and influential National Commission on the Status of Women, a huge step in the right direction and one that is being lauded by human rights activists as a salient pro-women move. This bill came after years of struggle by women’s committees, consultations, relentless advocacy and 22 consensus amendments.

The impact of women like Shad Begum cannot be over-emphasised in this progress – these women are heralding the winds of change in Pakistan.

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* Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer, journalist and blogger with a focus on human rights, gender and Islam. She blogs at chaaidaani.wordpress.com. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 10 April 2012, http://www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.