The launch of a book titled On Their Own Terms: Early Twenty-First Century Women’s Movements in Pakistan by Fouzia Saeed elicited an enlightening discussion on Saturday at the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF).

Artist Atiqa Odho spoke about marital rape arguing that it was something that’s not discussed in our society. “Sexual harassment in the workplace is not the only issue. A lot happens at homes too.”

She said that she wanted to make one thing clear: she is against divides in society. She feels bad when all men are looked at in the same light. In her life she has come across very good male colleagues and friends who have supported her all along. But when a few men do something wrong, they tend to bring bad reputation to all men. “Men have as much a challenge as women.”

Ms Odho told the young girls sitting in the hall that harassment did not stop in the workplace; it could happen in their homes too, therefore voices should be raised against it. Lauding the book, she added “we need a woman in the Supreme Court”, asking why there isn’t a lady judge in the Supreme Court. “Asma Jahangir gave her life to us. To give something back in her memory we need to raise this question.”

Fouzia Saeed shed light on the lessons she learned from the movements mentioned in the book about what can help social change or impede it. The author said she examined four movements and inferred what helped women was solidarity. Donors and development projects have different domains. The changes that have occurred in women’s lives or their achievements have come about because of volunteer movements (razakarana tehreekein); not even one per cent of that could be attributed to development projects. “The one who gets hurt, when she stands up to bring about change, she has tremendous power. Movements are like flowing water. Social change is not linear.”

On Their Own Terms: Early Twenty-First Century Women’s Movements in Pakistan by Fouzia Saeed launched

Ms Saeed also appreciated the role of family and the media in the success of the movements.

The session was moderated by Mehtab Akbar Rashdi.

Originally published in Dawn, March 1st, 2020

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