ISLAMABAD: An exhibition of digital illustrations depicting the harassment of women at public places and imagining a world free from fear and violence opened at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) on Monday.

The exhibition, which was the outcome of Oxfam Pakistan’s Free from Fear Digital Illustration Competition during last year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, was opened by the Australian and Canadian high commissioners as well as Oxfam Country Director Mohammad Qazilbash.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is held every year from Nov 25 to Dec 10.

As part of the competition, visual arts students were asked to create a world where women move and operate free from fear in public spaces, by encouraging young people to think about harassment and violence and how it limits mobility and access to health, education, employment and political participation.

The shortlisted artworks were evaluated and judged by a panel that included internationally acclaimed digital artist Shezil Malik, Pakistan’s first female cartoonist Nigar Nazar and filmmaker and human rights activist Samar Minallah.

They shortlisted pieces from 100 entries from art institutions including the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture Karachi, National College of Arts (NCA) Rawalpindi, Beaconhouse National University (BNU) Lahore, Karachi University, Comsats University Islamabad, Centre of Excellence and Design Jamshoro and Iqra University.

Eshal Javed Malik from the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture won first prize for her piece ‘Rebellion’.

She told Dawn that she has portrayed the theme of gender inequality in Pakistani society where women are often discouraged and criticized if they do the same thing men do. Her work depicting a girl skateboarding, wearing jeans and defying all kinds of patriarchal remarks emblazoned on a wall in the background.

She said ‘Rebellion’ was “a depiction of how women are considered a rebellion if they carry out activities that would otherwise be considered normal if men were to carry them out.”

Second prize went to Aasma Qureshi from the Centre of Excellency of Art and Design for her illustration ‘Nadar’, which means fearless.

She explained: “I have tried to depict layers of concepts in starting from the one where a young girl is seen doing what appears to be graffiti. We are seeing women painting walls for a change without any fear of any kind of harassment.”

“The biggest barrier for a woman going out, doing what she wants, is the fear of getting harassed,” she stated.

Samar Minallah and Nigar Nazar, who were on the panel, told Dawn that it was difficult to judge the illustrations as each piece was very inspirational, and innovative

“The idea behind the campaign was to highlight the harassment of women on public transport and in public places through digital posters and art,” Fareeha Ali, from Oxfam’s media team, said.

Speaking on the occasion, Australian High Commissioner Margaret Adamson praised the use of digital artwork to send a strong message across Pakistan on gender issues and the harassment of women in public spaces.

She said promoting equality and the rights of women and girls is the core of the Australian government’s policy. She reaffirmed her government’s commitment to working with Pakistan to advance the rights of women and girls.

She proposed to make the exhibition a traveling show to other cities of Pakistan. The idea was also echoed by the Canadian envoy and Mr Qazilbash, who promised to take the exhibit to at least provincial capitals.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2019