New project sheds light on Pakistan’s lesser known feminist history

The New York Times/Women in the World: July 14, 2015

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It had been there for decades  — a red, blue and white flag unfurling in the wind, an unwanted blot in the sky for many who walked under it. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone, removed by a woman who heard the calls for the flag’s removal and decided to do it herself.

This is not the story of Bree Newsome, but instead, of Fatima Sughra. In 1947, Fatima, then a 14-year-old girl living in Lahore (in undivided India) pulled down the Union Jack from the Punjab Civil Secretariat Building and replaced it with the emblem of the Muslim League, the political party fighting for the creation of Pakistan and freedom from British rulers in the Indian subcontinent at the time.

But while Bree Newsome’s name may be familiar to many young women in Pakistan, Fatima Sughra’s is known to a handful, relegated to a time when hashtags did not commemorate heroes. Sana Saleem and Ghausia Rashid Salam, two Karachi-based women, are hoping to change that. HERstory, an online record of Pakistan’s feminist legacy, is a collection of oral histories the two women have been collecting for eight months, since an intern they worked with elsewhere mentioned she had no clue about Pakistan’s feminist movement.

Full story here

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Many in Pakistan not surprised men convicted in Malala case were secretly released

The New York Times/ Women in the World: June 9, 2015

The school uniform of Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2014. Malala was wearing the uniform on the day she was shot in the head by the Taliban while on the school bus in Swat, Pakistan, on 9 October 2012.   Photo: Lynsey Addario / Reportage by Getty for the Nobel Peace Center Honouring Malala Yousafzai’s own wish, the school uniform she wore when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in October 2012, becomes part of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate exhibition 2014 – Malala and Kailash at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.

It had the makings of the perfect firestorm: on Friday, a British newspaper,The Daily Mirror, broke the news that of the 10 men reportedly found guilty by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court of the brutal attack on Malala Yousafzai in 2012, eight had been secretly set free.

The news emerged as the court order from the trial was made public a month after the hearing had concluded, and the Mirror alleged that the men were released as part of a deal, with the greatest efforts made to avoid local or international media picking up on the story.

On April 30, international and Pakistani media extensively covered the news of life sentences handed down to the 10 men, who were swept up in September 2014 by the Pakistani army during the ongoing military offensive Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Pakistan’s restive northern region. On Friday, the world learned that it was only two, not 10, of the alleged attackers who were convicted and imprisoned.

“The eight prisoners were released from jail because officials would have received a message from the courts regarding their acquittal,” DIG Malakand Azad Khan confirmed on Friday. Pakistani authorities have since stated that the eight men remain in custody, only fueling skepticism regarding the veracity of facts emerging in this case. “The eight who were acquitted are still being held in various jails and an internment center,” a police official told the AFP. Per the draconian Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011, applicable in Swat, these men can be held indefinitely by the armed forces.

Even as this story brings together some of Pakistan’s best-loved trigger points – Malala (whom many still believe to be a ‘Western agent’), the illegitimacy of secret military courts, alleged covert deals and a doddering justice system – the response to the Mirror’s story was rather muted. Only one English-language newspaper, Dawn, carried the story on its front page. Dawn subsequently ran a blistering editorial against the legitimacy of the trial, while talk shows and news bulletins were dedicated to the imminent announcement of the federal budget and political leaders remained tightlipped. For many, the news did not merit an appearance on their social media feeds. And since the triumphant announcement of the attackers’ arrests last year, the army’s press information wing has remained silent about the case.

Full story here

Photo of Malala’s school uniform, worn on the day she was attacked: Lynsey Addario/Getty

Does the all-female police force in Pakistan work?

The New York Times/ Women in the World: April 29, 2015

Peshawar

While growing up, Ayesha*, now a 28-year-old police official in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, loved stories of cops and robbers. Not just any cops—the stars of a state-sponsored television show, Pas-e-Aaina (Behind the Mirror), about an all-female police station, which aired in Pakistan in the late 1990s. In the show, men—thieves, rapists, murderers—would be brought before the station head quavering and pleading, and she would mete out justice for the women these men had wronged.

“Inspector Shehla!” Ayesha crowed out the name of her role model. “When I was just 10 years old, I would watch her on the show and I’d think about the kind of job I wanted as an adult. I imagined a place where only men worked, a male profession,” she explained. “I saw myself as the brave, strong girl in their midst—a girl brave enough to work side-by-side with these men.” And, she added smiling, “That’s exactly what happened.”

Ayesha is one of 300 women who are part of the 67,000-strong police force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province that made international headlines last December after a brutal attack on a school in Peshawar by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban left reportedly left 150—including at least 134 children—dead. Ayesha heads one of seven “women’s complaint desks” set up in the summer of 2013 at police stations in Peshawar, just after former cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party swept the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the May 2013 general elections in Pakistan.

Women, it was believed at the time, would feel more comfortable coming to a female police official to register a complaint, and the establishment of the desks was widely praised as a much-needed reformation of the police system in the province. In 2014 alone, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found that 232 women in Pakistan suffered acid attacks or were burned, the majority by someone they knew; 859 committed suicide, often due to domestic abuse, and 461 were killed by their husbands. There are currently 65 such desks across the province hoping to cut down these grave statistics. But has the experiment worked?

Full story here

More photos from Peshawar on my Instagram

Photo: Entrance to the all-female police station in Police Lines, Peshawar

13 Men: Inconvenient truths

The Express Tribune: April 5, 20151… The Nirbhaya case struck a raw nerve due to the brutality of the attack and the story of a girl, Jyoti, who was working tirelessly as a medical student to pull herself and her family out of the squalor they lived in. As Sonia Faleiro notes in 13 Men, “It was easy for middle- and upper-class women to see themselves in [Jyoti].” But this story from a remote, forested corner of Birbhum district in West Bengal had another angle: “It played into Indian stereotypes about ignorant tribals and their brutal systems of justice.” It didn’t help that the Santhal tribe is traditionally insular and considers all non-tribals, even fellow Bengalis, to be ‘diku’ (outsiders) and insists on speaking Santhali, a language understood by practically no one outside their tribe. This just made the tribesmen seem even more untrustworthy — backward — as far as the media was concerned.

Full review here

Photo credit: Sonia Faleiro