‘Country’s future bleak if women aren’t treated as equals’
Speakers at Karachi Women’s Peace Table stress need for ridding country of repressive gender-oriented values
Our future is dark if we do not treat women as equals, internationally renowned scientist, social activist, and academic Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy said on Saturday.
He was speaking at the Karachi Women’s Peace Table at the Arts Council.
Talking about the social peculiarity of our society, he said, “The moment a girls is born, it is drilled into her head that being a girl, her only role in life will be to produce children, look after the husband, and just perform domestic chores; nothing but that.”
He added that that value may have been justifiable centuries ago but not today because this age was not that of muscular pursuits where muscle power was called for.
“Today is the age of push button existence and activity,” he added.
Dr Hoodbhoy said while half-a-century ago, fighter planes went all the way to their targets to bomb them, today we had drones, where a man sitting behind a computer desk thousands of miles away just has to adjust his joystick to bomb the target with absolute precision.
“In all fields of life there is total automation. Therefore, there should be not even an iota of discrimination.”
Decrying the trends affecting our society, Dr Hoodbhoy recalled the days in Karachi when he was growing up and said that girls used to go about freely on bicycles and no male could even think of ogling, or harassing females.
He added that the trend we were witnessing now was the outcome of the repressive gender-oriented values that were being foisted on society by orthodox elements.
He said that he did not remember having seen even a single veiled woman in Karachi.
He recalled a very famous personality, a leader of a right-wing party, who had visited Washington DC while he was there.
The leader, he added, declared at a dinner gathering that she felt really free there as she could wear and say whatever she wanted.
“Why then,” Dr Hoodbhoy queried, “should such people oppose personal freedom in their own country?” He said paradoxically enough, such obscurantist elements would strain the last nerve to get into the West.
Noted author and commentator on military affairs, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, said women were the first casualties of a war. “Women and children suffer most in a war,” she noted.
She quoted the examples of Syria and Iraq where women were losing their children. “Today there is so much of clamour about young men ‘sacrificing’ their lives for the sake of the country but not a word about women who lose their children in a war”, she remarked.
“War snatches humanity from a society” she added. “Social militancy results from militarism.”
Expressing her outspoken views, she said, “We view war from the lens of stupidity.”
Referring to the increasing number of women coming into fields which till very recently had been considered the exclusive domain of men, she said the numbers really did not matter. “What we have to do is to ‘de-masculinise’ society,” she added.
Dr Siddiqa said the two wars in which we had become “mercenaries” had instilled militancy into our collective psyche.
Another noted social activist, Dr Azra Talat Syed, said the western nations, under the umbrella of the globalisation, and the WTO, in addition to purchasing of weapons from the West, had bred this tendency where women were victims of war and economic policies.
She added that the US had told the Pakistani government that there would be no legal framework order for the workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where American companies intended to invest, something that would hit women the hardest given the whims of the capitalists as regards the workers.
“It would spell harsh economic realities for women,” she remarked.
“We have to reverse this trend. We have to rid ourselves of the private sector.”
Umar Aftab of the White Ribbon Campaign said it was surprising that today, even in a cosmopolitan centre like Lahore, in a research with which he had been associated, 71 percent of the males surveyed said that women must “kept in their proper place”.
He added that our governments had a feudal stance and the situation called for a thorough revision of our curriculum to eliminate gender stereotypes.
Rumana Husain said the curse of weapons must be eliminated. Weapons, she aded, promoted savagery. “We have to earnestly discuss the issue of provision of social justice”, she said. “We are paying for Zia-ul-Haq’s deeds.”
She said her group had written letters to 1,200 parliamentarians telling them that 20 million people in Pakistan were armed to the teeth and that gun licences were being doled out generously. However, there was no reply.
Tehreek-e-Niswan president and noted classical dancer Sheema Kermani decried the way women were being discriminated against and said that this had to stop and women had to be treated at par with their male colleagues.
Noted poetess Dr Fatima Hassan said women’s intellect was a massive force and must be harnessed to eliminate gender inequality.
In a panel discussion, Hani Baloch, whose father Wahid Baloch was whisked away on July 26 and whose whereabouts are still unknown, said, “Peace implies that we all belong to each other. Violence is a shameful act but remaining silent over it is even more so”. She narrated the manner in which her father was picked up.
In the same discussion, Kaleem Durrani said institutions were overstepping their mandate and justice was not being dispensed.
The programme opened with a dance performance by Sheema Kermani’s dance group. Later there was a humorous skit originally by the Greek writer Aristophanes.
It is the story of the women of two warring groups who decide that this squabbling must come to an end. For that they feel that they would have to grab control of their respective treasuries. It was a really comical situation where the women of the group overpower three men to seize the treasuries. It featured dances and songs by Sheema Kermani.
There was also a video depicting violence against women showing a band of happy women going to fetch water, or working in the fields and how all of a sudden they are molested by men.
The programme ended with certain recommendations being approved by the participants. They were: (1) Missing persons: People should not be whisked away so that they are never heard of again. They should be tried in courts under the due process of the law. (2) We must condemn sexual harassment, especially on the campus. (3) All censorship in publishing pertaining to Balochistan must come to an end. (4) We are part of Women Against Weapons.