‘You need to be strong to handle male egos’

December 11, 2019

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panellists share their experiences at the discussion on Tuesday.—White Star
panellists share their experiences at the discussion on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: A round-table discussion on ‘#16 DAYSOFA­CTIVISM: The Many Faces of Gender-Based Violence and the Fight for Change’, organised by Global Neighbourhood for Media Innovation (GNMI) at the Media Baithak, found panellists discuss the various kinds of discrimination they have experienced or witnessed, women running into hurdles in finding justice, depictions of women in the media and resistance movements by women, here on Tuesday.

The discussion was moderated by Sindhu Abbasi, who spoke about the rise in gender-based violence in recent years.

Journalist Najia Ashar, president of GNMI, said that many voices are raised against the violation of women’s rights on social media with hashtags but the news media is still full of stories about uncles killing their nieces, women being burned by their husbands, girls getting kidnapped, etc, giving rise to so many questions in the mind that are not really answered. “Then when we women raise our voices for justice, for our rights on social media we are trolled and insulted,” she said.

Women discuss fight for change in face of gender-based violence

“If we look at the print and electronic media, there is a mood for providing spicy news when publishing something such as domestic violence,” she said.

Shama Dossa, a women’s rights activist, said that the majority of women who experience domestic abuse stay silent about it. “They tell nobody.”

Shabina Faraz, a journalist who covers environment, said that women are also affected by climate change. “For example, temperatures can get so harsh in the mountainous areas that the men have to go to the city to find work, leaving behind their women. Then the women manage during the cold weather, they manage during the landslides as they gather their children and belongings to move to safer areas. In doing so they pack up their small businesses such as their little poultry farms and their milk-producing animals,” she said.

“Global warming also has an effect on their psyche as floods ruin roads and entire agriculture fields.”

Beenish Omair, a community leader, spoke about the problems faced by single women, especially single mothers in our society. “Government offices such as NADRA and the passport office give these women so much heartache when they don’t consider their documents complete without the husband’s name. Then a women who may have gone through mental trauma is expected to go back to her ex-husband to get her and her child’s papers in order,” she said.

Senior journalist Lubna Jerar Naqvi said that it is expected of women journalists to write about women. “And then neither those stories, nor their writer are taken seriously. They say ‘Oh, they only write on women’s issues.’ But men should also write about and highlight these issues.”

Quratul Ain Iqrar, a former television anchor, and now a magazine editor, said that women need to be mentally strong. “You need to be mentally strong in order to move in society with your head held high, whatever your struggles and hurdles. You need to be strong to handle male egos too,” she observed.

Buraq Shabbir, a newspaper reporter, said that there are so many plays on television channels that apparently address women’s issues. “But are they really doing any good for women? They seem more like agendas with ulterior motives,” she noted.

Anaum Janjua, an HR professional, said she has to be a fighter to remain at the top of her department at work being the only woman in some 50 men. “Still, the position I have reached is also actually because of certain men who allow inclusiveness of women in the working environment. So there is a need for inclusive mindsets. Men need to understand that she is not to be looked at as a woman, but as a human being.”

Freelance journalist Afia Salam said that out of the few women, around 11 per cent, in journalism, there were not many in the decision-making position. She said that women were suppressed in Gen Ziaul Haq’s time but then there were also activist women who went out on the roads to fight for women’s rights. “Some of the most powerful writing too came out during that time.”

Manal Faheem Khan, also a journalist, said that when women don’t have choices, they become objects. “Without choices your function is reduced.”

Sidra Dar, a journalist with the Voice of America, said that responsible media houses highlight important issues. “There may be certain policies to adhere by such as not showing a woman’s face or not mentioning her name, but it won’t take away the focus from the real issue.”

Kulsoom Bano, a blogger, said that women are often stalked on social media. “You say anything other than the narrative and you are attacked and insulted. This is also a form of harassment,” she said, adding that it helps if women were aware of their rights.

Aseela, an educationist and community leader, said when women stand up for themselves, it produces a ripple effect. “We don’t mind giving respect to our fathers and our husbands. But that shouldn’t mean that we are weak or inferior.”

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019