The Launching Ceremony of 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls

Source: UNWOMEN/DilSeJoKehtiHai

Source: UNWOMEN/DilSeJoKehtiHai

On November 28, 2012, the launching ceremony of 16 days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls was held in Islamabad by UNWOMEN and the Ministry of Human Rights. I happened to cover the event on social media with a team led by Tazeen Javed and including Shiraz Hassan and Usama Khilji, under the directions of Faisal Kapadia. The event was a part of the UNiTE campaign initiated by the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon in 2008 that is meant to spread awareness against gender-based violence. The campaign itself aims to raise awareness of the issue, particualarly among men.

Several government figures participated in the event, including Begum Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Human Rights, Shaigan Sharif Malik, the Secretary Ministry of Human Rights, Ghazala Gola, the Baluchistan Minister for Minorities and Women’s Development, Sitara Ayaz, the Khyber Pakhtunkwa Minster for Social Welfare, Farzana Yakub, the AJK Minister for Social Welfare and Women’s Development and Dr. Nafisa Shah, the Head of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. All of them reiterated the government’s commitment to bring the necessary social change to end violence against women and girls through legislation and its implementation.

The main focus of the event this time around was social media. The campaign has its social media face in “Dil Se Jo Kehti Hai“, which has its own facebook page and twitter account. In that relation, Natasha Kemal and Farieha Aziz presented how social media can be effectively used to report incidents of violence against women and girls and how it is an effective tool to reach the policymakers. They also emphasized its role and relevance to activism and how it can make a difference. The event also featured a brief exclusive screening of Samar Minallah’s documentary “We Are All Malalas!” about education of girls in Swat.

UNWomen OIC Lena Lindberg and the UN Resident Coordinator Timmo Pakkala also spoke at the event. They found it heartening to see all the Pakistani government officials participating in the event and showing their commitment to end violence against women and girls. In the end, a group discussion was held to brainstorm ideas for mobilizing social change. While everyone was pretty clear about the legislation, the experts were more or less at a loss on how to actually bring about the social change that they want to see. Sorry if that sounds like an oversimplification.

And then again, there was the usual obsession with correcting people’s and media’s morals as per their ideals which I find so widespread among activists and which really puts me off most of the time.

As I walked out of the hotel conference hall with a smoking Shiraz Hassan under the steel grey rainy skies of Islamabad, I simply hoped that the Senate would let all the reasonable legislation protecting the rights of women pass and that we could find a way to break down the walls of social conservatism, which is the real enemy of men and women of Pakistan more than any moral degradation or anything else.

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RIP Ardeshir Cowasjee

Ardeshir Cowasjee (1926-2012) – Source: Herald

One of the most illustrious, colorful, vibrant and daring freethinkers in the Pakistani history, Ardeshir Cowasjee has passed away. He was 86. He was a columnist, primarily for Dawn , a businessman and a philanthropist.

I can’t say I know a lot about him but he has always been a huge inspiration for as long as I have known about him. And I am sure I am not the only one. Everyone likes someone with great clarity of mind and zero tolerance for nonsense.

It was his outspokenness towards nonsense in a nonsensical country that earned him his reputation and made him an inspiration for so many others who want someone to take a stand.

I believe that despite the fact that he had extraordinary charisma, what further enhanced his status was that he lived in Pakistan. I think most people would easily say that he was probably out of place for the country, a misfit, but then again, it really was Karachi.

Of course I never met him and have no experiences to share but I find it fascinating to read how he touched other people’s lives. Nabiha Mehr Sheikh wrote a particularly impressive eulogy that actually celebrated him more than it really mourned his death, something inevitable for almost anyone, let alone a man of his age.

But what really is a concern is that probably there is no one around to fill his shoes. Simply no one who could carry forward his legacy.

That sounds a bit like an overstatement considering that he had remained inactive in the recent years, but then again being inactive is not the same as being dead.

Still I take acknowledging a man of his stature a religious duty and can only hope that his impact lasts for as long he is remembered.

I hope we never forget him.

Thoughts on November Gaza Strikes and the Middle East Conflict

Source: AP/Washington Post

You can’t expect people to act rationally or logically when they are being bombed, Israeli or Palestinian. If you think they do, then you know very little about humans. Though there are people out there who are paid to do so.

That’s why I think it’d take really smart people to handle the fragile Middle East situation. This is why I am worried that the Israeli policies could actually harm the Jewish people, even though they are designed to protect them, or offer the perception of protecting them.

Using force as a deterrent is probably a necessity there, especially in the early years when the memory of antisemitic fascist regimes was still fresh. It is relevant even today, but considering that Gaza does not enjoy that luxury would make you very concerned about their security too.

I believe the people living on the both sides have the same fears and desires. But thinking again from the Israeli perspective, I would be very concerned as an Israeli citiizen or diplomat about the image of the nation around the world. I know a lot of Israelis would prefer better security over a better world image. Who wouldn’t? I would too. Anyone would.

But this is something for the leaders to think about because it concerns the future. Unless we are hellbent to enact the Biblical or Hadith Apocalypse.

People often mention the wounded and the killed Israeli and Palestinian children and the propaganda about them. It’s not a question of whether a Jewish child dies or an Arab child dies. The question to ask is whether we would want a child to live in such a hostile environment.

Seriously, I would do whatever I can to prevent a child from living in a warzone (ideally anyone but why add more misery by forcing new people to suffer by shoving them into this world, though true in any other situation too). But can I, or can we? No.

If the Hamas regime is irresponsible, which I am convinced that they are, to the point that their policies don’t really reflect any sympathy for the security of their own people (if you ignore the fact that they are badly repressed by the Israelis), then what could be better ways to deal with them?

To a cynic, maybe build global consensus before bombing Gaza City. To a more rational person, maybe Israel and the US should stop blocking full Palestinian membership in the UN like civilized nations and lift the Gaza blockade and grant their states completely autonomous status like soveirgn countries and maybe give them a chance to prove their civilty once again.

But still if Palestinians are sensible, they would know that the intifadas are largely a lost cause today because the rest of the Arab world would rather really support Israel over them any time. Then again, is it a coincidence that the Palestinian resistance looks towards Iran? The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

I do think the Palestinian leaders could have done a lot more to ensure peace and are largely responsible for a lot of deaths over the years (Not because they should have as per their principles but because they lack political resources to fight Israel). But that’s politics. If only they were not obsessed with Jerusalem. Not that the Israelis are not.

The growing West Bank settlements and the policy of gradual Palestinian deprivation may have worked well for the Israeli occupation, but make a very poor case for Israeli peace efforts. In any case you would really want the violence to stop regardless of the political consequences. But in politics, land and power are more precious than life. Then again, there is liberty.

But the recent November strikes on Gaza have made an impact in some other way. The international community and media noticing the cruelty of the Israeli attack on Gaza this time for a change is significant. The image of the BBC photojournalist as posted above has shaken the West. Accussations of biased media coverage from both sides do not change the facts and the misery that both the affected people go through.

Therefore, both Israelis and Palestinians need to learn their lessons fast. Good luck to both of them for peace.

I know it almost sounds superficial, especially after these words echoing the conference halls on the conclusion of countless meaningless accords, but just in the memory of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, let us agree to stop the madness and say:

Shalom. Salaam. Peace.

Then again, it’s not important. Is it?

To Our Generals…

General Kazi and General Zafar (Source: youtube)

The recent days have seen some unusual events. Generals in the dock. That is unusual in a country where generals call all the shots, and who along with the civil bureaucracy are a part of an establishment that makes sure that everything remains in “safe hands”.

I would not really go into a lot of details as far as the background is concerned, but in a nutshell the Supreme Court is trying General Baig and Maj. Gen. Durrani for the Asghar Khan-ISI-IJI case, but even more importantly or maybe not, three retired generals Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Kazi, Lt. Gen. Saeed-uz-Zafar and Maj. Gen. Hassan Butt are being questioned by the NAB for the Royal Palm Railways Real Estate Lease scam. Earlier three retired generals were being interrogated by the military in the NLC scam.

Now there is nothing wrong and unusual with committing a mistake, knowingly or unknowingly, and being tried for it. It’s actually business as usual, isn’t it? But there is something special about these gentlemen. Of all these generals, the ones interrogated by NAB in the Railways Real Estate case stole the limelight recently. What is even more inflammatory is that this is a case initiated by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of the bloody civilians.

Of course conidering how vigilant our media is, the correspondents from all sorts of news channels ganged around the generals and started asking all sorts of inconvenient questions that are asked of people under scrutiny. Well the most noteworthy part was the way the generals responded to the media. Gen. Kazi told the reporter to “shut up“, while Lt Gen Saeed-uz-Zafar sarcastically and derogatively bestowed his advice to the nation to vote for the transgender leader Almas Bobby for the next elections, even though I would actually like to see them in the legislature. It is hard to say what is the relevance of that recommendation to his case.

Well of course you would not expect them to be used to be questioned like that but nevertheless their response is pretty significant. I don’t really have much to say about it as the rest of the nation and the media are covering it pretty comprehensively anyway. However, I have just one point to add.  I at least want the educated members of the society reading these lines to memorize this event and never forget it.

Now I don’t have any youtube video links at hand right now because the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has blocked youtube over the presence of the trailer of a blasphemous film and for many other obscurantist reasons. How convenient. So you can’t expect media groups to upload these videos on the youtube, though they should anyway. I will surely upload this blog later and share it again to include those video links whenever available, but I have found one from Sama TV News. However, I am sure all those Pakistanis who closely follow the news would have witnesssed these significant comments by our able generals.

What these generals fail to realize is that they are actually telling the entire nation to shut up. Furthermore, while I personally don’t mind seeing transgender MPs in Pakistan, let it be clear that the statement from the honorable General was an insult not only to the civilian leadership of the country but to the nation as well. I wish I could actually recruit transgenders as generals given the kind of people running the Pakistani military.

Given the almost apartheid-like discrimination in the area of civil and military services and facilities, it is no surprise how our generals view the general public that they so proudly claim to defend. Oh wait, it’s the country. And then statements are issued by the military that certain people are conspiring to destroy their morale. Perhaps, but how about some tolerance for reasonable criticism?

I would be be prepared for much more criticism than this if I were undertaking that much responsibility. And there is no need to remind the world of the events in history that demand them to take responsibility.

But thanks for shutting us up, again.

Never forget…