Category Archives: Women

Language Discrimination in Pakistan Harms Women and Indigenous Culture

Sharing to Learn. Photograph by Flickr user Mustafa Mohsin and used under a Creative Commons license.

By Zubeida Mustafa

Asifa, 12, lives in Karachi, the port city in southern Pakistan. She is a child of the lesser gods. That means that she is malnourished and falls ill frequently. Her home is a modest two-room house with no running water in which her family of eight lives. She is fortunate to go to a better school than the public sector institutions many of her friends and neighbors attend – that is, if they go to school at all. Being the first generation school-goer in her family, Asifa’s is not the carefree existence a child deserves. Her parents have invested a lot in her to provide her education, and have pinned all their hopes in her future.

Will Asifa be able to lead her family out of poverty? Most unlikely. Continue reading

1 Comment | Posted in Children and Youth, Culture and the Arts, Education, Language, Women |

Revisiting the Women’s Movement

Photo courtesy newslinemagazine.com

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN is a dichotomous world. This is a country that has produced a woman prime minister – the first to be elected in a Muslim state. Its predominantly male parliament – the lower house – unanimously adopted a bill against domestic violence four years ago, but it failed to become law because the upper house refused to take it up. Its academia are now overflowing with female students – many of them in hijab. But this is also a country where women are murdered for marrying a man of their own choice, where little girls like Malala are shot in the head for going to school and where law makers defend their ‘right’ to bury women alive in the name of honour and refuse to condemn a colleague who has had his daughter killed for wanting a divorce. Continue reading

1 Comment | Posted in Children and Youth, Human Rights, Women |

The human touch

By Zubeida Mustafa

A SPARK has been lit in a 3,500-strong community living in the backwaters of Larkana district. Known as Khairo Dero, the place was the antithesis of what its name implies: it was one of the most depressed goths in the area. A turning point came in 2004. A young female journalist touring rural Sindh was deeply moved by the neglect and apathy she witnessed, especially in Khairo Dero, her ancestral village.

That was Naween Mangi, today the Pakistan bureau chief of Bloomberg, a premier American business and financial news channel. It took her four years to internalise the despondency of her people and think of a strategy to breathe new life into their existence. Thus she hoped to bring about the ‘silent revolution’ she had begun to dream of. Continue reading

3 Comments | Posted in Development and Poverty, Economy, Education, Housing, Labour, New, Social Issues, Women |

Celebrating women’s leadership

By Zubeida Mustafa

The time has come to celebrate women’s leadership in Pakistan because so many of them are in that role to justify a memorable celebration. When I look back to the days when I entered professional life more than five decades ago, I remember that there were so few of us around that it could be quite a lonely spot to be in. Besides, with a few notable exceptions, there were few who could claim to be playing a leadership role. We were the followers until we found our bearings and gained confidence.

It was, however, realized even then that once the barriers are down women who are enterprising will inevitably refuse to hold themselves back and would proceed to seize the opportunity. And they did, with many of them rising to the top on the basis of merit.

In the middle decade of the last century, Pakistan’s statistics stated that only two per cent of the women were in the workforce. Among them the majority was in menial jobs. The picture has changed considerably today. The World Bank estimates that 28 per cent of the women in Pakistan are engaged in what economists  call productive labour. In absolute numbers this is a big jump, but nothing compared to many other countries. If in this scenario there are women in leadership positions it is something to be proud of. Continue reading

1 Comment | Posted in Economy, Human Rights, Labour, Women |

One year ago…

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By Zubeida Mustafa

ON Thursday, March 13, it will be exactly a year to the day when a brutal killer snatched away from us a gentle, soft-spoken soul whose love for humanity was almost legendary.

Perween Rehman has been described as a caring, versatile development worker, a brilliant teacher, an architect who used her professional skills for the poor, an irreplaceable friend and an amazing woman who broke barriers from below. Above all, she was a woman of courage who defied her detractors.

It was after she was no more and the outpouring of grief wouldn’t cease that the world realised what it had lost and how many lives she had touched in the three decades of her professional association with the Orangi Pilot Project. She is still grievously missed. And there has been no closure for us — her family, friends and colleagues. Continue reading

4 Comments | Posted in Human Rights, Law & Order, New, Notable Personalities, Perween Rahman, Social Issues, Terrorism and Violence, War and Peace, Women |

A basic truth

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By Zubeida Mustafa

IF there is a basic truth we still have to learn with regard to improving the lives of people it is that development can take place only when a holistic and integrated approach is adopted. It is not possible to concentrate on only one aspect of people’s socio-economic lives and expect poverty to be eliminated and growth to take place uniformly.

It would be pertinent to study the approach of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a think tank working on strategies to address poverty issues.

The OPHDI emphasises that poverty is more than a lack of income. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Even if a person is earning a reasonable amount, he may not be able to improve his life if health and education facilities are skewed in favour of the very wealthy. Violence is another factor which affects people unequally and its impact on the poor is greater. The OPHDI cites a UNDP study to point out that “successful countries have addressed different deprivations together”. Continue reading

6 Comments | Posted in Development and Poverty, Population, Women |

The trauma of rape

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By Zubeida Mustafa

DO we have increasing incidents of rape in Pakistan? Recently a large number of cases were reported of young women — even little girls — being assaulted by men. Some were brutally murdered. There has been an outcry from some women’s groups but the government has remained silent.

The Women’s Action Forum (WAF), which was born in 1981 as a reaction to the punishment announced against a young couple under the Hudood Ordinances, has generally been quick to take note of rape cases. In fact War Against Rape (WAR) was created in 1989 as an offshoot to address this devastating crime.

As a first measure in quest of solutions, WAF organised earlier this month a roundtable at Szabist, the educational institute, with the idea of creating awareness among the youth so that they also get involved in a movement to confront rape. Continue reading

3 Comments | Posted in Children and Youth, Human Rights, Social Issues, Women |

Theatre: the way out

Photo courtesy: Sheema Kirmani

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE is despondency in the air in Karachi. The violence in the city that has resulted in almost 3,000 deaths so far this year has left the youth brutalised.

Many are desensitised and the unnatural degree of violence and terrorism has become something normal for them. Too many will imbibe the criminality they witness around them — unless, of course, something happens to pre-empt this possibility. Others are so terrorised that it is doubtful whether they will ever be able to lead a normal and well-adjusted life. Continue reading

12 Comments | Posted in Children and Youth, Culture and the Arts, Social Issues, Terrorism and Violence, Women |

Remembering Sister Zinia

Sister Zinia Pinto (Picture Courtesy SJC)

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Saturday was World Teachers’ Day. It is now universally recognised that teachers — their ability, integrity, competence and compassion — are the key determinants of the quality of education a country offers to its children.

A good teacher is an asset and to a great extent atones for the flaws in a system that produces shoddy textbooks, schools lacking decent infrastructure and missing library and laboratory facilities. Above all a teacher — who cares, inspires, and is innovative— can transform a child’s life.

So the idea of a Teachers’ Day is a brilliant one. Teachers also deserve appreciation and what better way can there be to boost their morale than recognition from their students? Continue reading

11 Comments | Posted in Children and Youth, Education, Human Rights, Minorities, Notable Personalities, Social Issues, Women |

That is how they lived

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE has been much talk of late about the distortion of history in Pakistan. Another feature of our historiography that our eminent historian Dr Mubarak Ali has lamented is the excessive focus on rulers and not enough being written about the ruled. We need more of ‘popular history’.

In that context I have found the Citizens Archive of Pakistan an innovative and commendable enterprise that should fill this void that has been growing as the primary sources of history — the people who lived through an era — are drying up. Founded by the Oscar-winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, CAP, to use its acronym, describes itself as the “first ever youth-led private initiative to collect, archive, study, disseminate and exhibit all aspects of Pakistan’s history both before and after partition”. Continue reading

12 Comments | Posted in Culture and the Arts, Education, History, Social Issues, Women |