LAHORE, Nov 4: The two-day national convention of Women’s Action Forum will draw to a close here later today. All three chapters of the WAF, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, have gathered to celebrate 25 years of the founding of the forum, the women’s rights organisation working in collaboration with other civil society and democratic forces to defend the rights of women and all oppressed.
Longtime activists including Tahira Mazhar Ali, Lala Rukh, Rehana Taufiq, Anis Haroon, Samina Rahman, Salima Hashmi, Maisoon Hussein (late), Nasrine Shah, Fariha Zafar, Nighat Saeed Khan, Nasreen Azhar, Khawar Mumtaz, Naazish Ata-Ullah, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani reminisced on the occasion, and were joined by young upcoming activists.
These and hundreds of other, anonymous, women pioneers representing the struggle by civil society against the forces of obscurantism broke the ice at a time when chilly winds blew across the country, freezing even the few men who dared to speak up in their tracks, as efforts were being made by Gen Zia’s dictatorial regime to further gag the women, the minorities and the democratic voices.
The defunct student and trade unions and the harassed political activists later joined the struggle led by the show of courage that these brave women put up against what they saw as distortion of the social order and dreams of an emancipated society that Pakistanis from all religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds had long cherished.
The WAF emerged as a vanguard of a movement that defied Gen Zia’s martial law and its torturous tactics. On Feb 12, 1983, the WAF along with the Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association took out a rally against the Law of Evidence on The Mall, Lahore, which came under brutal police attack. The late poet Habib Jalib was prevailed upon to rally the demonstrators with his rebel-rousing poetry before being beaten by the police.
This was a turning point in the gathering of democratic forces against military dictatorship. The WAF has since consistently lobbied against discriminatory laws, including the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, Qisas and Diyat laws, the blasphemy law, violence against women.