[Image credit, Uks website]
March 8th was International Women’s Day, a day designated to celebrate the economic, social, and political achievements of women throughout the world. Although Pakistan still has a long way to progress in terms of women’s rights and development, there are many figures and organizations that are making a marked difference. Uks, [meaning "Reflection" in Urdu] is one of these organizations. Run by Tasneem Ahmar, the not-for-profit is dedicated to the cause of gender equality and women’s development in Pakistan by “empowering women in the media through the media.” According to the center’s official website,
At Uks, our team of professional media persons and research staff aims to promote the reflection of a neutral, balanced and unbiased approach to women and women’s issues within and through the media…Since its inception in 1997, Uks has monitored media, conducted research on emerging trends, particularly regarding gender and women development, and undertaken trainings and workshops to raise awareness about crucial issues amongst media.
I had the opportunity to meet and sit down with Ms. Ahmar not long ago and learn more about Uks and its groundbreaking Radio Project. In 2003, the NGO became the first civil society organization in Pakistan to set up an independent radio production house, staffed by an all-female team of broadcasters and journalists. Uks producers will often travel to remote areas of the country to cover their stories. Although the project began with the support of Internews, the center eventually began to independently produce their programs in 2005, delving into issues like violence against women, honor crimes, and HIV/AIDS. Given that HIV/AIDS is still a fairly taboo topic in Pakistan, Uks’ attempt to raise awareness on the issue through its radio programming is especially significant. The organization also produced a series on the 2005 earthquake, and features reports on poverty, women’s reproductive health, prostitution, human trafficking and internally displaced persons [IDPs]. However, noted Ms. Ahmar, the NGO didn’t want to just show the negative side of Pakistan. It also works to highlight women’s positive achievements in the country.
When asked what surprised her most in launching the Radio Project, Ms. Ahmar said it was “the willingness of people to share their stories,” particularly women living in these remote areas. She added, “Also, the kind of trust the people have in our organization,” noting that an Uks producer was once even invited to attend a jirga [tribal council] meeting.
The use of radio in raising awareness on these social issues is very significant given its reach to a wide audience in Pakistan. Uks has broadcast its segments on numerous FM stations throughout the country, including Power 99 Islamabad, FM 100 Lahore, FM 107 Karachi, as well as stations in Peshawar, Bhawalpur, Abbotabad, Muzzafarabad, and Sargodha. However, while this medium has been effective, Ms. Ahmar says she hopes Uks can soon also move into television, since “many of the stories and voices might be more powerful” on TV.
There are many serious issues impeding women’s development and empowerment in Pakistan. However, the work of groups like Uks proves that progress can still be made in the face of adversity. In a country of countless victims, Uks is one of many organizations working to empower the voiceless. For that, I commend them, and applaud the numerous efforts undertaken by others in Pakistan. Happy International Women’s Day everyone.