LAHORE: Thought-provoking discussions on women’s role in various fields were part of the concluding day of Asma Jahangir conference on Sunday.

In the session ‘Politics Inspire Art and Art Inspires Politics’ that was moderated by former National College of Arts Principal Saleema Hashmi (panelists were visual artist Fatima Salman and writer and poet Neelam Ahmed Bashir), they discussed at length the contribution of women in art and how in oppressed times of Zia’s regime women fought for their rights.

Saleema Hashmi while opening the discussion remembered the days when during Zia’s regime the Women Action Forum (WAF) was launched as a reaction to oppression. At that time, she recalled, the voices of women artists emerged and Asma Jahanagir was on the forefront. And how one can forget Sheema Kirmani and Kishwar Naheed who raised strong voices against that oppression.

She then introduced Fatima Salman, an NCA graduate and a miniature artist. The artist shared with the audience the ever joyful experience of becoming a miniature artist. She also talked about the fact that art could be a strong medium to inspire society at large.

“I use gold work in my miniature paintings to highlight the power and prestige,” she said. She showed a painting of Asma she made as gold work. She said there should be a platform for women when it comes to art.

She also introduced Neelam Ahmed Bashir who had recently written a poem which got five million hits on social media both from India and Pakistan. Ms Bashir said she mostly wrote fiction but sometimes wrote poetry as well.

In the session ‘Women Building Brides for Peace in South Asia’, the panelists were Hina Rabbani Khar, former foreign minister, Fawzia Kufi, women’s rights activist and prominent politician from Afghanistan, Bhavani Fonseka, Senior Researcher Transitional Justice Issues at CPA and Human Rights lawyer from Sri Lanka, Ingrid Johansson, Ambassador of Sweden and Omar Zakhilwal, Afghan ambassador. The session was moderated by Munizae Jahangir.

Ambassador of Sweden Ingrid Johansson threw light on an essentially feminist government in Sweden and how its works. She said Sweden was considered an advanced country but it was still working on development.

Fawzia Kufi held Lahore in high esteem and said she was feeling great to be here in Lahore which is a historic city and a city where poetry, literature and art flourished. She showed her concern regarding women rights in Afghanistan.

Women rights was a big issue there, she said, adding that 150 or so people were daily killed. Women in Afghanistan were 55pc of the population but were a silent majority, she added.

Omar Zakhilwal talked about how with Taliban around, women were not allowed basic education let alone higher education and their social existence. He said the dialogue process was on and one should be optimistic.

Hina Rabbani Khar said: “We need to be forward looking in the entire region”. She said instead of glorifying the past that how was Afghanistan in 70s and Pakistan in 60s, there was a need to look forward. Rational tackling of issues in the region was needed the most.

Bhavani Fonseka talked about the history of women engagement in Sri Lanka. He said it was good that in Sri Lanka many talks had been held at various fora about women rights. She held Asma Jahangir in high esteem.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019