Film festival explores importance of women’s representation
ISLAMABAD: Speakers at the Women International Film Festival 2018 explored the importance of representation and visibility during a panel discussion on ‘Creating safer spaces for women in politics through film’.
The discussion featured filmmaker Tazeen Bari and Sehar Tariq, and was moderated by women’s rights activist Rukshanda Naz.
The discussion began with a screening of Ms Bari’s documentary on Veeru Kohli, a bonded labour activist who contested the PS-50 constituency during the 2013 general election. The documentary followed Ms Kohli’s campaign and highlighted the importance of her candidacy as a catalyst for women voters from underrepresented religious and socio-economic groups.
Ms Tariq spoke about the importance of representation and the sense of pride she felt watching former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on the television as a child.
“When I look back at it now, it was the fact that she was Pakistani like me, a woman; she was always referred to as the daughter of the east, and daughter was a label that I associated with myself. I think one of the most important things that film can do for women is to represent them.”
Ms Tariq said women do not get the same level of representation as men, giving the example of primetime television talk shows, where the majority of participants and featured analysts and experts tend to be men.
“Why is it that men have a monopoly on all kinds of expertise,” she asked.
She said part of the problem was that women were not represented in the mainstream media, and were not positioned as “strong voices.” She said films, however, were an alternative space where there could be this kind of representation which could in turn inspire others.
While discussing how the political process could be strengthened for women, and how women politicians could be portrayed positively, Ms Tariq said of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, 70 are occupied by women – nine of whom were elected directly.
“Parliament is the epitome of the public arena, right? So remember this, always. Of the people chosen to represent Pakistan in its National Assembly, only 70 are women. That’s a gross injustice.”
Ms Tariq said one of the reasons for the disparity was that young girls were not told that it was possible for them to be in the political arena. She said roles in politics, the bureaucracy and the army were now open to women, and the film and media were an important way to encourage women to take those roles.
Ms Bari added that representation also created solidarity. “I feel like it’s powerful for a woman in another part of the country who wants to do this to see Veeru’s story, and I think the solidarity it creates is really important,” she said.
Earlier in the session, Ms Bari explained that when she made the documentary following Ms Kohli’s campaign, she did it with very little funding and experience.
But despite the technical problems with the film, she said it was an important story to tell, and encouraged aspiring filmmakers who may want to pursue such work during the upcoming election cycle to do so.
Ms Bari also discussed the role visibility could play in keeping women in politics safe, saying filmmakers could play an important role in support of female candidates by providing visibility and therefore, a measure of safety.
“I don’t think that having someone documenting necessarily leads to a safer situation, but it can help. Like when [Veeru and her campaigners] were harassed by the opposition, we weren’t there, and they might have thought twice if it was being documented. So this is a small way in which I feel that filmmakers can make a contribution to making spaces safer,” she said.
In addition to the aforementioned discussion, the day-long festival, which was held at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, featured a parallel discussion on ‘Self empowerment through film’, as well as screenings from WIFF’s official selection of entries, a musical performance and a standup comedy set. The films focused on a range of topics and entries came from various regions, including India, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
Grey, a film by Raheela Zulfiqar in Lahore, focused on the consequences of unsafe abortions and featured interviews with women, doctors, midwives and various other individuals.
Another Pakistani entry, Seema Farooq’s Gumaan-i-Ziyaan, explored the impact of gender stereotyping on children and adults by posing a series of questions to both groups.
In Search of a Home, an entry from Bengal, India, followed victims of human trafficking who had returned home. Featuring the stories of three women as well as interviews with researchers and counsellors, the film explored how trafficking victims were ostracised by society and grappled with their trauma without adequate counselling.
An entry from Tajikistan, Screaming Silence by Fatima Hussaini, was a shorter and more optimistic watch.
The film focused on a pair of shoes that were cleaned every day by a woman and worn by a man, who brought them home dirtier than the day before and left them at the doorstep.
On the third morning, the woman, presumably frustrated by the now filthy shoes, simply picked up her cleaning supplies and walked out the door. The same night, the shoes were brought back clean.