Where is the real Burqa Avenger?

Burka Avenger

Next month, Haroon’s award winning “Burqa Avenger” will be back in the international spotlight since it has been nominated for a prestigious International Emmy Kids Award. The cartoon series about a teacher turned super heroine is an important lesson in women’s rights, however sadly for many women in Pakistan such an idea remains a fantasy only.

On any given day, women in Pakistan are abused and killed with no thought to their rights or even their basic humanity. Such inhumane treatment has become so routine that reports of abuses are relegated to “briefs” in news reports if they are even reported at all. On Monday, one newspaper reported the following incidents on all one day:

Childless woman set on fire in Lahore

LAHORE: A woman received burn injuries when her mother-in-law threw kerosene oil at her and set her alight in Musti Gate area on Sunday. Victim Shama Bibi, wife of Akram, of Musti Gate was issueless for a long time. She was often taunted by her mother-in-law Nasreen Bibi in this regard. On the day of incident, Shama was cooking food when Nasreen threw kerosene on her and set her on fire. As a result she received critical burn injuries. She was shifted to hospital where her condition was said to be critical.

Girl killed over marriage issue

KASUR: A girl was killed while her brother and sister were injured over a marriage dispute at Tara Gurh village on Sunday. Muhammad Abbas and accused Fiaz Ahmed had a marriage dispute. On the day of the incident, accused Fiaz and his accomplices entered the house of Muhammad Abbas and allegedly opened fire at the family members. As a result, Umtal (17) was killed on the spot while Shafqat Bibi and her brother Akbar sustained injuries.

Man clubs sister to death for ‘honour’

PAKPATTAN: A man killed his sister for honour at Chak 39/EB on Sunday. Ibrar Ahmad doubted that his sister Sidra Zia, a BA student, had developed relations with a man. On the day of the incident, Ibrar allegedly clubbed his sister to death. Police have registered a case and started investigation.

Honour killing has been declared as an unpardonable offense, but just as declaring zero tolerance for terrorism has not ended terrorism, these declarations come as women continue being killed.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy‘s film “Saving Face” brought attention to the issue of women’s rights and acid attacks in Pakistan, but tragically these attacks continue till date. Haroon’s cartoon series may be receiving international acclaim also, but for too many girls and women in Pakistan, ‘Burqa Avenger’ remains only fantasy.

93 Million Women Who Matter

Kainat Soomro

Last year, Newsweek Pakistan published an impressive list of 100 women who shake Pakistan. This was an inspirational list of strong Pakistani women like Asma Jahangir, Mukhtar Mai, Sherry Rehman, and Aamna Taseer. The women who made Newsweek Pakistan’s list represented a cross section of religion, class, politics, and ideology, but they all shared one trait which is the strength and courage to try to make a difference in their country. This year, Newsweek Pakistan has updated their list which they have renamed 100 women who matter. It is another list of inspirational women who represent almost every aspect of society, but this year I could not help but take some slight offense. You see, there were important names missing from the list: mine and yours. The fact is, every women in Pakistan matters.

Pakistan has long presented a paradox for women. This country has given birth to historic leaders like Prime Minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and young women like Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Shehrbano Taseer are carrying this tradition into the future.

But this is also the same country where Mukhtar Mai was sentenced to be gang raped. Where women like Fakhra Younus suffer horrific acid attacks. It is a country where 41 per cent of our daughters do not complete their primary schooling.

These tragedies are continue because a mindset persists in our society that says women do not matter. This dark mindset is so powerful that being born a girl can itself be a death sentence.

Daughters are not a burden. They are parliamentarians and cabinet members. They are fighter pilots. They are police officers. They are top athletes. They are brilliant students. They are mothers.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy dedicated her historic Oscar award to “all the women in Pakistan who are working for change”. This dedication was appreciated by every Pakistani woman, because in our own ways we are all working for change. And we will continue, each of us in our own way, to do so. Because last year nearly 1,000 Pakistani women were murdered in the name of ‘honour’. And while we might now know all of their names, every single one of them matters.

PTI Confusion on Women’s Empowerment

At some point I can’t help but feel sorry for PTI supporters. Many of them are well intentioned, but hopelessly confused. Take as an example statements by President PTI Punjab Women chapter Saloni Bokhari and others calling for implementation of legislation regarding women’s protection. Certainly this is an important issue, but they seem confused about the facts.

Don’t they know that their leader Imran Khan rejected legislation regarding women’s protection? Don’t they know that he has glorified the tribal jirga system – the same type of ‘insaf’ that includes gang rape?

Imran Khan may say that he supports women’s empowerment, but the devil is in the details. What exactly does Imran Khan believe women should be empowered to do? What does Imran Khan believe is women’s role in society?

Along with his growing faith, Imran rethought a lot of his views on social issues, such as the place of women in society. He tries to tread a line in his political life between an appeal to the faithful and an attempt not to undermine his charismatic credibility in the West. He puts his argument for a woman’s place being in the home in cultural terms.

‘I always think that one of the biggest mistakes made by the feminist movement is that they have devalued motherhood,’ he says. ‘My father was in business and away a lot when I was a child; my mother was all-powerful. The unconditional love, the security it gives you in life is irreplaceable. In England I saw that the side-effect of this feminism was that children lost out on this incredible education and security, which no one else can provide.’

Women’s empowerment does not stop at honouring motherhood. Real empowerment means giving women the support to balance her family and a career if she chooses. My mother also gave unconditional love, and she also mad a job that she was proud of. I never lost any education or security because my mother worked. Her strength of character and unwillingness to be bullied by men who believed they knew better than her what was good for her family is what gave me the self-confidence to go to university to improve my own education. It was her showing that a woman does not have to choose between family and career that taught me that my own future was my own to choose.

PTI may have never had success at the ballot box, but Imran Khan did manage to get elected once. And it was in his role as an elected politician that he opposed legislation regarding women’s protection. He may be willing to tell people whatever they want to hear as part of his ‘tsunami’ strategy, but look at his statements when he didn’t think elections were on the line and you get a better picture of his true beliefs. Imran Khan has very strong beliefs about certain issues. Women’s empowerment is not one of them.

Pakistan’s First Oscar Nomination

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

It came as a surprise to me when I read this Dawn article yesterday talking about Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, journalist and documentarian, becoming the first ever Pakistani film maker to earn an Oscar nomination with her film ‘Saving Face’. Having gotten used to the clichéd and extremely average movies coming out of our very own beloved ‘Lollywood’, it got me curious.

Since I had heard of her name before but not followed her work closely, this news got me interested and I started to do my research. According to the Oscars’ website the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has nominated ‘Saving Face’, a documentary directed by Pakistani investigative filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge, for an Oscar in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category.

An in-depth interview with Sharmeen Obiad Chinoy shows that she is a conscientious member of the society who works with refugees, women’s and rights groups. Most of her work features on children and their struggles, especially in places of conflict. She received an Emmy Award for her film ‘Pakistan’s Taliban Generation’. It was the first of its kind movie that focused on how children were being recruited by Taliban back in 2008. She also addressed the issue of how those children had no idea what was going on in the world and had no access to radio, television, or newspapers. With an extensive background in journalism, Sharmeen Chinoy also studied on countering extremist ideologies and explained the link between religious parties and extremist groups in her movie.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has not limited her movie-making portfolio to just Pakistan but has made movies in the continents of Europe Africa and North America also. She has roughly 16 movies under her belt and has received numerous awards from all over the world for her work. She is renowned for producing deeply moving character focused content, and always addresses cultural and political inequality in the system. Paul Haggart in his article in The Guardian says:

“Five of Obaid-Chinoy’s films concern her native Pakistan, but she has also made documentaries about women in Saudi Arabia, Native American women in Canada, illegal abortions in the Philippines, Muslims in Sweden and the ill-treatment of Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa. Her portfolio is a global tour of gender oppression and social injustice”.

Shirmeen Chinoy also refuses to let the taboo image of Muslim women in a society stop her. She is very vocal about religious freedom and education for women in Islam. She says:

“Where in the Qur’an does it say a woman must cover her face? I’ve read it front to back and I can’t find it”.

Having interacted with and studied various religious organizations, she is also very vocal about radical Islamization that is slowly up in our society:

“I find the political manipulation of Islam to be very troubling. We can’t have a them-and-us attitude. We are part of this planet and we share it with the rest of humanity”.

According to Daily Times her movie ‘Saving Face’ is a story about women struggling for justice and the movie shows their ‘resilience and unwavering strength‘. Daily Times also reports that this observational documentary was filmed entirely in Pakistan, primarily in the Saraiki belt in addition to Rawalpindi, Karachi and Islamabad. The movie is set to air on America’s premier television cable network HBO, on March 8, 2012.

No Country For Women

Mukhtaran MaiWhen Prophet Muhammad (SAW) delivered the gift of Islam, he brought a revolution in women’s rights. Women were to be respected in Islam. Women were to have rights. This was not only to be found in the teachings of Qur’an, but in the lessons of the Sunnah also. Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) first wife Khadija was a successful and influential business woman of her own making. She was also a close confidant of the Prophet who did not keep her locked away. The first Muslims included women who engaged in community affairs. They spoke out. They had a voice. In one famous incident, Hazrat Umar (RA) was announcing a change to the rule of mahr when a woman in the crowd loudly quoted an Ayat that contradicted his proposal. Hazrat Umar (RA) is said to have smiled and said, “The women of Medina know Qur’an better than Umar!” As Khalifa he even appointed a woman to oversee the market of Medina. History is filled with such incidents, supporting the words of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), “Allah enjoins you to treat women well” and “the rights of women are sacred”. Are we living up to the example of the Prophet today?

In the 2010 film, ‘Bhutto’, we were reminded that when Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister in 1997, the Army resented having to salute a woman. Fourteen years later, Hina Rabbani Khar was appointed Foreign Minister, she was dismissed as less than serious as pundits preferred to focus on her wardrobe instead of her portfolio. The latest target of the ‘old boys club’ is the new Defence Secretary, Nargis Sethi. Is it just coincidence, or are men so scared of powerful women that they have to try to discredit them from the start?

But while powerful women might be dismissed and disrespected, it is the powerless who suffer the most. A new report of Aurat Foundation released yesterday found violence against women on the rise.

As many as 3,153 incidents of violence against women were reported in the Punjab during July 2011 and December 2011.

It states that incidents of kidnappings were the most reported crime (860), with Sargodha on the top of the list with 90 reported abductions. As many as 19 women were subjected to various forms of violence on daily basis with five being kidnapped everyday.

The statistics represent a two per cent rise in violent crime against women compared to the first six months of 2011. It also indicated that the incidence of violence in the rural areas was greater than in the urban areas.

More than 170 women were killed in the name of ‘honour’ from July to December, most of them under 25 years old.

In most of the almost 500 rape and attempted-rape cases that alleged offenders were related to the victims in one way or the other. The rape cases were reported from Lahore, Kasur, Sialkot, Pakpattan and Multan districts.

The highest number of incidents of violence was reported from Lahore (248), followed by Rawalpindi (239).

And let us not forget the case of Mukhtar Mai, the woman who was brutally gang raped on the order of a panchayat – the same system of ‘justice’ that Imran Khan promises to expand in Pakistan. She not only suffered the pain of the attack only to suffer the further injustice of seeing her attackers set free by the court, and then the added humiliation of a disgusting media attack.

Sadly, Mukhtar Mai’s case was not an isolated incident. Just this week, Peshawar High Court directed PC KP to take departmental action against a group of 29 officers involved in the kidnapping and rape of Uzma Ayub.

This is not to say that there is no hope. Last month Omar Derawal termed 2011 as ‘Year of the Woman’ due to the number of important laws that the government passed guaranteeing the rights and security of women. But laws are only as strong as the society that possesses them. Laws are important, but not as important as our own attitudes and behaviours. It is here that we are failing. Simply put, we are failing to live up to the commandments of Allah and the example of the Prophet (SAW).