REGRESSIVE forces, once again, nearly had their way — this time in Gilgit-Baltistan. A three-day sporting gala for women in GB was almost cancelled after local religious leaders, brimming with self-righteous indignation, accused the government and the administration of ‘spreading vulgarity’ by organising the event — even though no men, not even male officials, were allowed to enter the venue. The commendable effort to promote healthy activities among the women of the area by the government with the support of opposition parties nearly came to naught when conservative elements belonging to different sects united on the issue and began staging protests. Local administration officials held negotiations with the religious leaders to try and convince them to let the gala go ahead as planned. In the end, the name of the event was changed to the more innocuous ‘GB Women’s Fair 2022’ and opened on Wednesday according to schedule. While the officials evidently held their ground and did not cancel the programme, reportedly it was the enthusiasm of the women themselves who descended in droves at the venue that proved decisive. That the event has gotten off to such a resounding start is evidence of the dearth of wholesome competitive activities for women in GB.
One wonders why women playing sports even in segregated venues is such a trigger for regressive elements in society. Is it yet another manifestation of their conviction that the public space is an exclusively male domain from which women must be kept out on the pretext of preserving culture and morality? That hackneyed phrase is habitually resorted to whenever the religious lobby seeks to assert its relevance and exert control over society. The same specious pretext is used to disenfranchise women in some parts of the country, to foil legislation against domestic abuse, even to justify child marriage. It is not too difficult to discern that claims about cultural values being in peril are almost always animated by political motives or by a misogynistic desire to keep women disempowered.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2022