It’s International Women’s Day today and I know you, dear readers, have seen your fair share of I-am-woman-hear-me-roar posts on this blog and elsewhere.
Here’s another one.
When writing this piece, I thought hard about the spirit behind International Women’s Day. In 1911, when this day was first celebrated internationally, women in most countries could not yet vote. Today, one hundred years later, that has obviously changed, but we are still a far cry from “gender equality.” Every year, over 70 million girls are deprived of even a basic education. In the United States, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
In Pakistan, the statistics are dismal, with the Madadgar Helpline Report revealing that a total of 4,870 cases of violence against women were registered by police last year, while the total number of cases reported since 2000 was 79,909.
And those are just the registered cases.
While this is a day to recognize the facts, it is also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of both women and men who have campaigned tirelessly for gender empowerment and equality. In a TEDWomen talk in December, Feministing‘s Courtney Martin discussed the reinvention of feminism for our generation. Although the talk was based largely on her experiences – Martin was raised in a progressive family in the United States – she made several significant points, including, “We don’t want one hero, one icon, or one face.”
Just as gender “equality” can sometimes seem abstract, feminism is a very loaded term with different expressions within different cultures and societies. On her blog, Obama Says Do More, Rabayl noted, “Feminism is on a unique trajectory in Pakistan treading on many unchartered territories. Lots of exciting opinions are emerging in the public narratives that talk about the oft-neglected complexity surrounding the debate.” Martin, in her talk at TEDWomen, may have been speaking about feminism in the American context, but her point of us needing or celebrating multiple heroes rather than just one holds true in other societies as well, including our own.
Last December, I wrote a post entitled, “Snaps for the Sistas,” in which I detailed the Pakistani women who inspire me on a daily basis. In writing that piece, I realized not just how many incredible women there are in Pakistan, but how diverse they are. We have Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a senior TED fellow, filmmaker, and president of the Citizens’ Archive of Pakistan. We have Asma Jahangir, the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and a tireless campaigner for human rights in Pakistan. We have Roshaneh Zafar, the founder and head of the Kashf Foundation, Pakistan’s first microfinance institution supporting 305,938 families throughout the country.
There is no shortage of female heroes – from Naveen Naqvi and Sana Saleem, the co-founders of Gawaahi.com to MNA Asiya Nasir from Balochistan, the only minority legislator in the National Assembly who recently made a powerful speech after the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. Many women in Pakistan today are not afforded opportunity, starting with even the most basic access to education. But for those of us who were the lucky ones, we can pay it forward. We can give voice to the voiceless. We can empower the powerless. And we can do that through collaboration and listening. (I know, this is so Sesame Street.)
And this is not a task that pertains only to women. Maria Toor, a squash player from South Waziristan, cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy to play sports when she was younger. Her father was not only her biggest supporter, he moved the family to Peshawar so she could train and play more freely. On Think-Change Pakistan, Saba Gul, the founder of the social enterprise Business and Life Skills School (BLISS) shared how an Afghan girl, Azaada Khan, changed her name to Azaad (a boy’s name) to be able to attend school, how her father was murdered by the Taliban for his overt support for female education. In our flood relief campaign, Relief4Pakistan, we are working in southern Punjab with an incredible tribal leader, Wali Khan Mazari, who not only is an enormous proponent of girl’s education, his tribe banned the tradition of honor killing in his area. As women, we can and will campaign for the rights of women. But that campaign should also celebrate and include the men willing to aid in that fight, to help break down barriers. Remember, men. You can be feminists, too.
So, Happy International Women’s Day everyone, and snaps to the fabulous women that continue to make every Pakistani proud. Below, Daniel Craig (i.e., James Bond) & Judi Dench team up for the most awesome video related to IWD: