Tag Archives: Feminism

June 21

June 21, the sun brightens our skies longer

Democracy: is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

Feminism: The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.  The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Feminism at its core is about equality of men and women, not sameness. Feminism is not about hating men.

Although democracy and feminism are not as democratic and feminist as they should have been, but we still have something to celebrate because of the struggle of Benazir Bhutto. I often quote the fragments of her speech delivered at Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. In her speech she advocated Islam, women empowerment, and democracy. Let me quote some again to refresh our memories and celebrate her day of birth, because she still is alive for whatever she had contributed towards democracy ant women empowerment:

Empowerment is not only a right to have political freedom. Empowerment is the right to be independent; to be educated; to have choices in life. Empowerment is the right to have the opportunity to select a productive career; to own property; to participate in business; to flourish in the market place.

Muslim women have a special responsibility to help distinguish between Islamic teachings and social taboos spun by the traditions of a patriarchal society. This is a distinction that obscurantist would not like to see. For obscurantists believe in discrimination. Discrimination is the first step to dictatorship and the usurpation of power. In distinguishing between Islamic teachings and social taboos, we must remember that Islam forbids injustice; Injustice against people, against nations, against women.

It shuns race, colour, and gender as a basis of distinction amongst fellowmen. It enshrines piety as the sole criteria for judging humankind. It treats women as human beings in their own right, not as chattels. A woman can inherit, divorce, receive alimony and child custody. Women were intellectuals, poets, jurists and even took part in war. The Holy Book of the Muslims refers to the rule of a woman, the Queen of Sabah. The Holy Book alludes to her wisdom and to her country being a land of plenty. The Prophet Muhammad himself married a working woman Bibi Khadija.

Women are not only victims of physical abuse; women are victims of verbal abuse. Often men, in anger and frustration, indulge in the uncivilized behaviour of rude and vulgar language against women. Unfortunately, women at times also use vulgar language to denigrate another woman. The discrimination against women can only begin to erode when women are educated and women are employed.

When I was growing up, women were not educated. I was the first girl in my family to go to university and to go abroad for my studies. Now it has become the norm for girls to be educated at university and abroad when the families can afford it. I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime.

The end of the cold war should have ushered in peace and an era of progress of women. Regrettably, the proliferations of regional tensions and conflicts have belied our aspirations. As in the past, women and girls have again been the most direct victims of these conflicts—the most helpless, and thus the most abused. The use of rape as a weapon of war and an instrument of “ethnic cleansing” is as depraved as it is reprehensible. The unfolding of this saga in different parts of the world, including Jammu and Kashmir and Bosnia Herzegovina has shaken the conscience of the entire international community.

A woman proud of her cultural and religious heritage, a woman sensitive to the obstacles to justice and full participation that still stand before women in almost every society on earth. As the first woman ever elected to head an Islamic nation, I feel a special responsibility towards women’s issues and towards all women. And as a Muslim woman, I feel a special responsibility to counter the propaganda of a handful that Islam gives women a second class status.

There is a moral crisis in the world, a crisis of injustice and inaction, a crisis of silence and acquiescence. The crisis is caused by centuries and generations of oppression and repression. This conference, therefore, transcends politics and economics. We are dealing with a fundamental moral issue.We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women. A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life. Where there are no battered women. Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict. Where we have economic freedom and independence. Where we are equal partners in peace and development. A world equally committed to economic development and political development. A world as committed to free markets as to women’s emancipation.

We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women. A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life. Where there are no battered women. Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict. Where we have economic freedom and independence. Where we are equal partners in peace and development. A world equally committed to economic development and political development. 

And even as we catalogue, organize, and reach our goals, step by step by step, let us be ever vigilant. Repressive forces always will stand ready to exploit the moment and push us back into the past.

I have never claimed that Benazir Bhutto was perfect, no one is, but she still managed to offer the world an alternative model of feminism. And in her campaigns, she advocated new services for women and opposed sexual discrimination, though few measures were adopted under her government. If anyone personified the feminist and democratic struggle in Pakistan, it was Benazir Bhutto. She challenged tradition, patriarchal norms and defied cultural boundaries. She continues to reign on as the most influential Pakistani of our times, overshadowing sportspersons, politicians, generals and Islamist jihadists. She challenged terrorists publicly even when she knew that the price of that challenge could be her own life.

Benazir Bhutto was a zealous guardian of her father’s legacy, populist, appealing and glamorous face of Pakistan and a trailblazing feminist. She was a lighthouse for democracy in Pakistan: “Benazir Bhutto doesn’t cease to exist the moment she gets married. I am not giving myself away. I belong to myself and I always shall.”

In her famous speech Benazir Bhutto quoted the German writer, Goethe: Freedom has to be re-made and re-earned in every generation. We must do much more than decry the past. We must change the future.

Let me quote my own words again to conclude the article: the day lasts longer on June the 21st to celebrate the achievements of Benazir Bhutto for Democracy and Feminism.

The meesha shafi

Regardless of the legal position, employers should strive to eliminate workplace bullying and harassment as they both have a negative impact on employee morale and motivation.

In every employment contract there is an implicit obligation of mutual trust between the employer and the employee. Failure to address intimidation and harassment likely leads to a breach of trust, which amounts to a breach of contract.

Many people refer to bullying and harassment interchangeably. However, because in recent years the law on sex, race and other types of discrimination has explicitly recognised harassment as a category of unlawful discrimination, there is now a tendency to use “harassment” specifically in this context. 

In United Kingdom under the Equality Act 2010, harassment is described as unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating another person’s dignity or creating an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for another person. It may be of a sexual nature or related to the gender of the victim, transgender status, disability, race, age, religion or belief or sexual orientation.

In April 2018, Meesha turned to her social media account and publicly alleged that she had “been subjected, on more than one occasion, to sexual harassment of a physical nature” at the hands of Ali Zafar. Meesha wrote that by speaking out, she hoped to “break the culture of silence that pervades our society.”

Ali Zafar denied the allegations and filed a civil libel suit against Shafi for one billion rupees in damages. The court agreed to the trial and imposed closure on Shafi, which still prevents her from discussing the allegations in public.Zafar has accused Shafi of organising a social media campaign against him. According to newspaper reports, he said he could not believe that “anyone can come forward and accuse someone who is innocent and decent, has worked hard for over two decades – solely on social media. 

In the following two and a half years, Ali Zafar took part in quite a few television programs to defend his name, sometimes accompanied by his wife. He claimed the charges were a smear campaign, coordinated by a group of women who created false accounts and were financed by foreign money.

When Ali Zafar accused Meesha Shafi and Nighat Dad of leading an overseas-funded campaign against him, it reminded me of a speech by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. She appeared to be well aware of such situations and said:

“Civil society is a concept intrinsically linked to strong democratic traditions, giving real meaning to the concept of pluralism in society. Nongovernmental groups, community organisations, women’s organisations, student unions, trade unions, environmental organisations, professional associations, and religious groups each represent the interests of particular constituents. Collectively, they form the foundation of democracy in theory and practice. The groups making up civil society are often at the vanguard of political reform and demands for governmental transparency. They are the internal election monitors. They stand up against violations of human rights. They work with international groups that promote democracy to guarantee a fair political process but not a guaranteed political outcome. Such civil society groups can be both powerful and credible. Although civil society cannot replace political parties in the democratic process, it complements political parties by ensuring a level playing field in politics. By working with their counterparts around the world, NGOs in the Muslim world can integrate societies and break down walls of ignorance. Civil society is therefore invaluable to building democratic systems that isolate extremists. There can be no democracy without a civil society, just as there can be no democracy without the rule of law. Laws should be enacted to protect civil society from political attack. Financial and tax incentives can further strengthen civil society institutions. Here again, women’s organisations have played the most crucial role in civil society in promoting political reform in the democratically developing world. 

We need a powerful, heavily networked international group aggregating activist women’s groups throughout the Muslim world. Women’s groups can serve as the linchpin of civil societies around the world.”

In July 2018, Shafi also initiated court proceedings, attempting to bring Zafar to trial for sexual harassment in the workplace. Her case was rejected because of the technicality that freelancers were not subject to the legislation. An appeal before the Lahore High Court was dismissed and although her lawyers challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, the case has still not been heard.

Until September 2020, when news of the charges broke, nine people, five women including Meesha Shafi, and four men, had been booked for defamation by the FIA’s cybercrime wing over the alleged social media “character assassination” of Ali Zafar.

Meesha Shafi’s lawyer Nighat Dad, says she knows dozens of women who have complained to the FIA about online abuse, hate-speech, rape threats and vindictive sharing of intimate videos, but had received no response. When girls at the Lahore Grammar School recently alleged harassment by teachers and fellow students, several were threatened with criminal defamation, after which the accusations went quiet.

 “The cyber laws that were enacted in the name of protecting women in Pakistan now are being misused and weaponised to silence them.”

For the women, most galling of all was the law they had been charged under. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act was passed in 2016 partly to protect women from online harassment, but the wing of the FIA tasked with prosecuting these cases is accused of being ineffective.

According to Nighat Dad she herself has been subjected to a vicious smear campaign, with newspapers making allegations that she is a foreign operative running an “illegal NGO”, unsubstantiated claims retweeted by Zafar. 

In a recent development, on January 11th, 2021, the Supreme Court approved Meesha Shafi’s plea for workplace harassment against Ali Zafar. She was granted leave by the court in her appeal against Zafar, meaning the court will be deliberating if Meesha Shafi’s accusations of sexual harassment should come under the workplace harassment law. 

The Punjab government as well as Zafar received advice from the court, as the judges decided that there should be a proper hearing of the points raised in the case.In my opinion, it is no longer a matter of winning or losing. The case will establish new precedents and guidelines regarding harassment at work in Pakistan. Regardless of the outcome, Meesha will forever be remembered for seeking justice for victims of harassment in the workplace.

That is why I refer to Meesha as “the Meesha Shafi”. 

Paramount of Feminism; Zainab bint Ali

The battle of Karbala is largely considered a male event, revolving around the sacrifice of Hussain Ibn e Ali and the lack of visibility of women. The women of Karbala are known through the suffering of the male kin and the hardship they endured in the absence of men. The Karbala narratives that are derivative from this historic event, the martyrdom of Hussain being seen as the key moment in the history. In the earlier narratives, women were largely seen as passive victims of the tragedy and know largely through the trials and tribulations they faced. In some accounts the central female character Zainab bint Ali in Karbala is described as being weak with grief, choked with tears, in the aftermath of Karbala. This trend of representations, portraying the Karbala women as weak and passive actors changes adequately when you read the post Karbala events, the journey of the family of Holy Prophet from Karbala to Damascus as prisoners of war. 

Zainab bint Ali’s character has been an integral part of the Karbala narrative, in her augmentative role Zainab is the epitome of command, who had her father’s fiery tongue and her mother’s forbearance. It was the night of the tenth of Muharram that Zainab took charge of her desolated household. The focus shifts to Zainab at the dusk of Ashura. From this point onward, she spoke with paramount authority and unrivalled courage. Zainab confronted Yazid at his court in Damascus, to redeem her family’s suffering and tell the world the reasons for which Hussain Ibn e Ali and his companions suffered. From this moment onward, Zainab evoked the far-flung conquest of Hussain, metaphorically turning Damascus into a variant of Karbala. Hussain’s martyrdom and his physical combat are reinforced through Zainab’s subsequent confrontation with Yazid; her battle with words and deeds. Zainab became the feminine face of Hussain and Abbas Ibn e Ali.

A rigid disunion between the emotional and the rationalised versions of Karbala narrative, where the traditional narrative only make people cry and the authenticated one teaches lessons is problematic because, it separate the political from the spiritual and tends to overlook the intrinsic spiritual message of Karbala. The characters of the Karbala women are no less important than the men and their intellectual skills and oratory powers are equal to the defiant powers of their male kin. The following excerpt of the sermon of Zainab bint Ali at Yazid’s court is a prime example of such courage:

Whatever you consider today, as a bounty would turn into reparation for tomorrow; whatever you have sent in advance would be received by you. Allah does not like oppression toward his servants. I complained to Him and put my trust upon Him; thus whatever deceit you want to practice, go ahead and do it; whatever endeavours and efforts you can make, try them. 

By Allah you would never be able to remove our remembrance from the hearts, nor would you ever be able to destroy our revelations; you would never reach our splendourand majesty; you would never be able to wash this ugly spot of tyranny from your dress; your opinion and suggestions are invalid and unstable. The duration of your rein is very short, and your assembly would soon be scattered; on that day when the heavenly crier would announce: Praise be upon the Lord of the Worlds, and are beginning- with prosperity and salvation-and our end-with martyrdom and blessing. O You, Who is just and righteous toward us and who is the most compassionate among all the compassionate ones, we put our trust only upon you.

The late Fahmida Riaz who was a progressive Urdu writer, poet, human rights activist and feminist, depicted the address of Zainab bint Ali in a poem, titled Hazrat Zainab ka KhutbaSham key Darbar Mein. The poem ends with a declaration of defiance from Zainab bint Ali, and the defiance is immediately followed in the final couplet by a call to feminism.

You perpetrated a horrible crime, O murderer Yazid

Do not think it is glad tidings of victory decreed

But the very end of the low which you think to be a high

The men and women you over-ran with your army were a handful

The Gracious Lord from the sky watched the unjust slaughter

You have caused yourself a huge loss

The wrath you visited, your oppression upon our brood

You cut your own jugular, drank your own blood

The Prophet’s family have embraced martyrdom

Their heads held high, departing successfully from this kingdom

They shine on the firmament, will be remembered by the earth

The darkness of your face is now indelible, you accursed

There is great noise in every quarter over your tyranny

You deserve curses, and are worthy of a penalty

Humanity presents her a golden tribute

She elevated the world of femininity with a crowning attribute

Translated by Raza Naeem

Zainab was the third child of Ali ibn Abi Talib and his wife Fatimah bint Muhammad. Like her two elder brothers, Hassan and Hussain ibn Ali, Zainab was named by Prophet Muhammad pbuh. The name “Zainab” means, “adornment of her father”. 

She is a constant reminder that the human spirit will fight against and triumph over oppression and is seen as a protagonist, not as a victim. And finally, women were given the right, or even the responsibility, to challenge male authority when a man acted in an impious manner, even if he was the ruling caliph. Hussain’s Jihad was marked partly by sword and arrows; Zainab’s Jihad was waged through words of eloquence. Hussain made Karbala immortal; Zainabassured the immortality of Karbala through her sermons in Damascus. The manifestation of her acts is seen in the words of her grandfather Muhammad pbuh: 

The best form of jihad is to utter just words in the presence of a tyrant ruler.

The struggle of Zainab the conqueror of Damascus reminds us again and again that the minority must not be intimidated by the Majority.