Canada’s Women Heroes : Harsha Walia

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Harsha Walia
author/activist/organizer

Community First, Movement Second:
A Short Bio of Harsha Walia

By Jessica Barratt

…the most important feature of powerful
social movements, is an affirmation of community
.’
– From ‘Young, Brown and Proud:
Personal purpose and political activism’ by Harsha Walia

Connection requires a crossing of boundaries. It requires seeing one thing in another without disturbance of difference: that old mean thing still snipping at the threads we THE PEOPLE weave when we breach the gap between ourselves and another, when we see ourselves as one. And it seems these days that those who are best at connecting were born to difference, too. With wide focus, they can see it for what it truly is and pass through as if there were no boundary at all—grasping at those other strands with ease and bringing the rest of us gratefully along.

Like Harsha Walia, who has taken up the threads of so many; who has brought us many times through the boundary of difference only to reveal that our causes (the things we want and strive for most) are more connected than we could have ever believed. That it doesn’t matter where we cross through, but rather, that we do it together.

Born in Bahrain and now living in Vancouver (unceded Coast Salish, Treaty 8 territories), British Columbia, Harsha bears a legacy of being both a part of a struggle, and an experiencer of it: both fighting for the rights of South Asian, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities, and against the vestiges of Canadian colonialism (and post-colonialism) through continued activism close to home. At the same time, she extends her critical views into controversial action, tackling the closely-related injustices still thriving all across Canada and even bravely addressing the United Nations—among other political bodies across the globe.

As she puts it in a 2013 interview: ‘…the drive for me around activism [is] really both of those things – wanting to be involved for struggles around freedom and liberation wherever they take place, and seeing that as part of a global system, and bearing witness to the impacts of borders and the ways in which they tear apart communities in real and violent ways.

Harsha has in fact been hailed as one of Canada’s most brilliant and effective organizers. In 2001, she co-founded one of Canada’s prolific anti-colonial, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist migrant justice movements, No One Is Illegal (NOII), and in 2003 began assisting with the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centre toward land protection aims, among other related Indigenous-focused causes. She has further accumulated the interests of minority and marginalized communities through her work supporting Ide No More, the Defenders of the Land Network, and the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, forever cultivating her unique knack for drawing people together under a joint banner: equality.

Dually involved with anti-poverty and feminist activism through her work as a project coordinator for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre – where she facilitates a Power of Women group – Harsha has also actively been involved with several other Downtown Eastside housing justice coalitions, and continues to evoke the passions of those similarly drawn in supporting the struggles of other vulnerable, poverty-stricken groups searching for change.

For over a decade, Harsha has therefore contributed her voice and self to these and other often-neglected causes brought up by NOII—like deportation, incarceration, land claims, violence, privacy and consent, and education. She has been a fundamental force shaping long-standing events like the February 14th Women’s Memorial March, and the Annual Community March Against Racism. In 2010 alone, she not only stood her ground during the No Olympics on Stolen Native land convergence – later that year risking arrest and facing detention herself on behalf of her support during the G8 and G20 protests in Toronto – but again committed to an act of protest that saw her arrested during a national day of action for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Harsha has of course received several accolades for her work – she is for instance a recipient of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives Power of Youth Award and Westender’s Best of the City awards in Activism and Change-Making – but this hasn’t stoppered her motivation for pursuing still-needed change. Today, she continues to be an active board member with Shit Harper Did, and is a youth mentor for Check Your Head, where she passes on incredible insights on how to be a change-maker, and how to make sure one’s voice is heard in harmony with the cries of others.

While her preference for opening up conversations surrounding migrant solidarity and gender violence do take precedent through much of her activist work, Harsha has become more comfortable exploring her own perspectives as both a woman of colour and a successful organizer of large movements through writing. Credited with over 30 publications ranging in subject, Harsha has time and again highlighted the collective anti-imperialist struggles of minority peoples all across Canada.

It is perhaps her first full-length publication though – Undoing Border Imperialism – which best captures Harsha’s uniquely precise outlook on connection and movement-building.

Connected to this piece around undoing border imperialism is, as movements, how do we undo the bordered logic within our own movements,’ says Harsha of the work. ‘That really ended up being the inspiration for writing this book – hoping that it was in the service of something more collective.

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Jessica Barratt is a literary enthusiast, feminist, and creative writer. The proud owner of JB Editing, and manager of online blog wordsofhers.com, Barratt continues to captivate readers with fearsome short stories as she works toward the completion of her inaugural novel, Domingo.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Canada’s Women Heroes : Deanna Reder

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Deanna Reder
scholar/author/historian

Deanna Reder: A Giving Voice
By Jessica Barratt

Canadians have been deprived of impressive, provocative, challenging, and visionary writing by Indigenous authors, some who have written before Canada began… My work is to bring these authors back into scholarly conversations and public access, while at the same time celebrating a new generation of upcoming writers.’

Here in Canada, many still shy away from the basic truth of our colonial history: that European settlers erased the voices of entire populations already living here, stifling the heart of What-We-Could-Have-Been.

Even today reconciliation with this truth sometimes seems little more than a distant hope on the horizon; and yet, there are those who refuse to let such a cause die. Who give even their voices to this truth above all else, and who aren’t afraid to stand up for the many voices which were lost then—voices of healing that we need now more than ever to understand.

A Giving Voice is Deanna Reder.

Continually in the face of ignorance, Deanna has lent her voice to revealing untold truths hidden behind years of equally untold history: speaking out against the strange forces that seek to keep those stories secret, unnamed, and obscured by a colonial lens. As a Cree-Métis woman, she has with that voice uncovered the aspects of colonization which still pervade our educational, social, and political systems, proving time and again her strength amid what must certainly feel like constant, daunting resistance.

Deanna has thus dedicated her life and career to passing on – and drawing attention to – the quieted stories of Indigenous peoples, truly becoming a woman ‘naming the unnamed’. From drawing out the lost mysteries still plaguing her own community, to uncovering the difficult-to-hear accounts of the trauma and genocide experienced by fellow Cree and Metis (among too many other Indigenous populations), Deanna has become above all else a force of truth-making to be reckoned with.

Presently an Associate Professor in the Departments of First Nations Studies and English at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Deanna exemplifies her proud cultural heritage through a curriculum of Indigenous popular fiction and Canadian Indigenous literature, focusing her own research in that area on the previously unpublished works of other Indigenous writers including Vera Manuel, James Brady, Maria Campbell, and Alootook Ipellie.

Deanna has equally contributed to this growing field of Indigenous literary study, committed as a writer, editor, and anthologizer to building a better – and much less British-centric – framework for how we as a country approach and analyze Indigenous texts and literature. As she puts it:

‘Canadians have been deprived of impressive, provocative, challenging, and visionary writing by Indigenous authors, some who have written before Canada began…My work is to bring these authors back into scholarly conversations and public access, while at the same time celebrating a new generation of upcoming writers.’

Deanna’s work has therefore continued focus on a gravely neglected Indigenous autobiographical record, challenging a widespread cultural disregard of Indigenous literary perspectives, and using her voice as a platform on which others’ histories may be heard. From one of her earliest co-edited publications in 2010, Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations to her most recent from this year – a collection of the works of Vera Manuel called Honouring the Strength of Indian Women, edited with Michelle Coupal, Joanne Arnott, and Emalene Manuel – and everything in between (Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (2016), Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island), Deanna has helped both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians better understand where we come from, and who we are.

In 2015 as well, around the same time that she became the second president of the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA), (that she founded, and where she served on the board until 2018), Deanna also became Principal Investigator for a five-year SSHRC project titled, The People and the Text: Indigenous Writing in Northern North America up to 1992, in partnership with co-applicants Dr. Margery Fee and Cherokee scholar Dr. Daniel Heath Justice of the University of British Columbia (See thepeopleandthetext.ca). Over the course of the last four or so years, then, Deanna has found yet another way to contribute to Canada’s Indigenous artists, working collaboratively with Canadian scholars like herself who hope to produce a major database on Indigenous writings— one of the first databases of its kind.

Deanna’s remarkable achievements continue to reflect her dedication to ‘re-visioning’ the ways in which many Canadians have misguidedly contextualized the stories of Indigenous, Metis, and First Nations peoples, even beyond the almost 152 years since Canada sought independence. Not only was she recently named to the Royal Society’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, but she has also been appointed as Acting Dean of Libraries for SFU’s Fall 2019 Semester.

Today, Deanna Reder is all this and so much more: both co-chair of the Indigenous Voices Awards and Series Editor for the Indigenous Studies Series at Wilfrid Laurier University Press, she supports emerging Indigenous writers as they find their own voices— even helping to re-open an unsolved cold case relating to the disappearances of two Metis men in the late 60s. In fact, it is through her autobiographical focus on storytelling that Deanna continues to be the very mentor she wants to see in today’s literary climate, herself acting as a bastion for Indigenous access to publishing and increased recognition.

Deanna has thus, in her own way, become a priceless resource for Canadian Indigenous knowledge-sharing, giving her voice to the next generation of Indigenous artists who will continue to guide the trajectory she has set them on, dispelling the so-often negative perceptions of Indigenous cultures for generations to come. Thanks to her diligent work – and thanks to those who have contributed to anthologizing these narratives – no longer can settler-writers get away with telling Indigenous stories from a non-native perspective alone, forced instead to finally join the multiplicity they sought to destroy— but couldn’t.
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(A Giving Voice (n):
A person who hands themselves over in the service of revealing truth; who gives¬ even their voice in making sure the untold is spoken.)
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Jessica Barratt is a literary enthusiast, feminist, and creative writer. The proud owner of JB Editing, and manager of online blog wordsofhers.com, Barratt continues to captivate readers with fearsome short stories as she works toward the completion of her inaugural novel, Domingo.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Canada’s Women Heroes : Darshan Mann

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Darshan Mann
theatre actor/activist/organizer

Darshan Mann : From Struggles to Success
By Parabjot Kaur Singh

British Columbia’s Punjabi community saw a surge of cultural production led by Punjabi writers, artists and activists in the 1970s and the 80s when, among other things, about half a dozen full length Punjabi plays were staged addressing various issues impacting the community. Darshan Mann became the face of that socially aware theatre as she enacted different aspects of the lives of Punjabi women in Canada.

In the play, ‘Sharbati’ (woman’s name), Darshan plays the role of a woman who gets married without her consent. When she fails to conceive a baby, she is forced to seduce her brother-in-law to have a child. The role of this female character depicts a victim and a survivor. ‘Sharbati’ was a two-and-a-half-hour play written by Rana Jung Bahadar, directed by Mohan Bagan and produced by Sumat Kendar. In her next play, ‘Ik Kuri Ik Supna (a girl a dream), Darshan projects a woman who suffers emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband. She takes the steps to heal by seeking professional help. ‘Ik Kuri Ik Supna’ was a forty-five-minute play written by Ajmer Rode, directed by Ajmer Rode and Bhupinder Dhaliwal, and produced by Sumat Kendar. Darshan played a young, married woman with two daughters in the play, ‘Nirlujj’ (without shame), where she becomes pregnant again, and has to face expectations to have a male child from her extended family. Her husband is advised to marry his wife’s sister. ‘Nirlujj’ was written by Ajmer Rode, directed by Bhupinder Dhaliwal and produced by Sumat Kendar.

Apart from playing various leading roles depicting Punjabi women, Darshan also played an authoritarian male figure in a play that explored how the wife’s health is neglected and ignored by her husband and in-laws. This forty-five-minute play was produced by Jyoti Sanghera and Darshan. In ‘Dhalde PerchhaaweiN’ (fading shadows), Darshan was an elderly married women who is deprived of her son’s love. Since her son settled abroad, both she and her husband wait for his return. ‘Dhalde PerchhaaweiN’ explores isolation and loneliness faced by elderly parents. In another play, ‘Navi PeeRhi’ (new generation), Darshan was a young college girl who falls in love with a classmate. After their families give their consent for marriage, the mother-in-law provides a long list of dowry items to the bride’s family. The bride-to-be objects to this tradition and tries to persuade her fiancé to reason with his mother. ‘Navi PeeRhi’ was collectively written by the team members. As well, Darshan actively participated in the play, ‘TooRi Vala Kotha’ (storage room for hay). This play portrayed the different stages of women’s empowerment. Each character represented progressive and proactive women who were strong enough to challenge and withhold tradition. Her performances, plays and skits include the acclaimed stage play, ‘MahileeN VasdeeyaN DheeaN’ (daughters living in castles). Without fail, her performances liberated women and imparted a sense of agency.

Working on the stage in the Punjabi-Canadian community carved a pathway for Darshan to connect with her cultural roots, especially Punjabi literature. Darshan mentions how she was admitted in the hospital while pregnant with her daughter, Pamela, when her sister-in-law introduced her to the great Punjabi writer, Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari. She gifted her with his book, ‘Ishq Jina De Hadhi Racheya’. After reading ‘Preetlari’ (love string) magazines, Darshan regained her strength and resilience. As a matter of fact, Darshan learned how to read the Punjabi language while reading Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari’s literary works. Darshan gained internal strength and a voice that she continues to use today. Interestingly, Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari paid Darshan a visit while he was on a tour in Vancouver. Darshan remembers how this meeting was one of the most memorable and life-changing moments of her life. She immersed herself in Punjabi literature for the next ten years, with some detours in other languages including writings by Russian author Maxim Gorky that further strengthened her inner self.

Darshan found an opportunity to work with the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP), and as the Campaign Manager for Penny Priddy, she managed and organized campaign roles and duties for the upcoming elections. After Penny Priddy won the election, Darshan assisted Priddy’s MLA office as the CA. At that point, Darshan was one the few South Asian women to work as a CA for the NDP’s Ministry of Gender Equality. Subsequently, her work in politics and ability to organize people for a cause led to her being sought out to help with many political campaigns.

As Darshan’s involvement increased with BC’s NDP, she was already making a positive difference, not only in the office, but in the wider Punjabi-Canadian community. In the 1990s, the NDP agreed to provide funding for the new Senior Centre on Scott Road and 72nd Avenue in Surrey while the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple provided the land. Darshan was supportive of the project but she noticed that there was no place for women to socialize, organize and meet one another. So, she approached the organizers and created a large gathering room on the top floor that began the long-standing tradition of a ‘Social Thursday’ that is still being practiced today.

Now, sitting in her artful yet humble living room, Darshan Mann reminisced about her life journey from Nainital, India to Vancouver, Canada. Darshan was born in Bhairomunna, a small village near Sahnewal, Punjab. At six months of age, she migrated with her parents to Nainital in Uttarakhand where she obtained her basic, formal education. As soon as she completed her secondary education in 1964, Darshan got married and immigrated to Vancouver in 1964. There, Darshan gave birth to her son, Tishi. She was blessed with two more children, Rajeev and Pamela.

Darshan continued her education in Canada taking specialized courses in bookkeeping, accounting and typing. Darshan began to work as a Community Support Worker with the Indo-Canadian Society, and later with Canada Revenue Agency. But it was while working as a receptionist for a medical clinic that Darshan came across patients where sixty percent were from the Punjabi-Canadian community. Reviewing and analyzing patients’ files, Darshan noticed that a number of South Asian women were being sexually and physically abused by their husbands and/or by the prominent members of the larger Punjabi-Canadian community. These shocking facts prompted Darshan to take a stand against the injustices toward South Asian women.

While working in theatre, Darshan was heartbroken after her oldest son, Tishi, passed away from an asthma attack. She regained her strength through acting and the immense support provided to her by the members of India Mahila Association (IMA) a Punjabi women’s organization that Darshan is a part of, and her close friends from literary and theatre groups.

Darshan acknowledges India Mahila Association (IMA) as the pillar that gave her the strength to rise from the emotional pain she battled with. Darshan believes that the India Mahila Association provided her with the opportunities to gain internal strength and a strong voice. Darshan actively participated in the education committee, culture committee and the victim support groups. Darshan remained an active member and participant with the India Mahila Association for most of her life. Darshan worked closely with women such as poetess/author Surjeet Kalsey by organizing workshops through Battered Women’s Support Services, and with social justice activist, Raminder Dosanjh, Darshan produced talk shows about sensitive issues on Sushma Dutt’s radio programs. Another way Darshan assisted and supported women was through the Rape Relief Services: Women Against Violence Against Women as the executive of the committee.

While serving many different roles and positions in the IMA, Darshan developed strong relationships with survivors, authors, poets, social and political activists from the Punjabi-Canadian community. These relationships gave rise to the the strong, independent, and strong-willed stage actress, Darshan Mann.

At this time, Darshan focuses on her housekeeping business, and through her business, she continues to fight for women’s rights by assisting immigrant women with English language training, life skills, and employment opportunities.

Darshan lives an independent, and simple life. She enjoys spending quality time with her son, Rajeev Mangat, daughter-in-law, Tej, granddaughters, Reyana and Maya, daughter, Pamela Gill, son-in-law, Ranjit Gill, three grandsons, Avani, Ishan, Yashin and granddaughter, Ashni. Darshan spreads positive vibes with her friends and continues to support causes that she cares deeply about: social justice, human rights, literature, theatre, and political activism.
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Parabjot Kaur Singh is a writer, radio host and activist. Her poems have been published in the PULP, a literary arts magazine of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), and in RAINBOW: Anthology of South Asian Writers by South Asian Literary Society of Canada. She has presented her work at Surrey Muse, Surrey Muse Writers, and at KPU’s poetry gatherings and year end readings.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Sarah Suhail

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Sarah Suhail
queer feminist activist

Building Spaces of Love, Acceptance
and Compassion for Pakistani Queers

By Kyla Pasha

She reminds you that she’s walking next to you
when you think you’re behind her, or in front of her
.’

Those who know Sarah Suhail know two things about her from the off: she smiles a lot, and she can probably help you out. Sarah, born in a family of doctors in Lahore in 1982, is a lawyer, teacher, and avid learner who is known among her friends and comrades as generous with her time, spirit, and resources. She has been an integral part of feminist, queer, and working peoples’ organizing coming out of Lahore in the last 15 years as she has lent her great diversity of energies to a number of movements and formations in that time. In 2008, she co-founded Chay Magazine with me, Pakistan’s first known effort to have a consistent conversation around sex and sexuality. Around that time she became involved with organizing mutual learning and support with queer people and, over a decade on, she continues to prove herself instrumental to building autonomy, self-sufficiency, and strength among Pakistani queers.

Beyond these words, it is hard to encapsulate Sarah’s life thus far in a chronology that makes sense. That is to say, with the wealth of her life still before her, Sarah has managed to hoover up a tremendous amount of knowledge across a wide breadth of arenas. She is a lawyer of the high court and a member of the Punjab Bar council, yet is known mostly for her work in (first private and then) public sector universities as a teacher and mentor. Her own undergraduate degrees are in Economics and Law, and her masters and PhD are in women’s studies; across all of which she has followed a passion for justice.

With feminist comrades, Sarah organized a public conversation between women on ‘Sexism in leftist and progressive spaces‘, an event that sparked the formation of The Feminist Collective (TFC). TFC is an autonomous feminist collective that searches for and creates opportunities to intervene constructively to highlight important feminist intersections. Simultaneously, she has worked with and learned from the struggles of fisherfolk, landless peasants, prisoners, and escaped bonded labourers.

I asked her comrades, our mutual comrades, what they would say about her if they were given this job. One said, ‘For me, it is her moral clarity in the pursuit of justice, even in the most befuddling and harsh circumstances, — the kind that gives you the strength to speak truth to power yet always remain open to growth and learning — that have truly made me see her as a mentor and moral guide in many respects.’ Another, supposedly just riffing with me so I could get started on this piece, said, ‘She reminds you that she’s walking next to you when you think you’re behind her, or in front of her.’ And a little while later, ‘She’s everyone’s unknown heart.’

That this resonates with me is no surprise to anyone who knows that Sarah Suhail has been my first and last advisor, confidante, co-learner, and friend every minute that I have known her. She stands among the women in this celebration fidgeting restlessly and smiling shyly: Sarah understands herself as one in a web of many working towards building something better, and more just, than what we currently endure. In that struggle, wherever she can be of service, Sarah shows up.

Below is a Q&A with Sarah.

When did you realize that you were different?
I had a sense of my difference from an early age but it manifested itself as unease with the expectations to conform with conventional femininity. I realized I was properly queer when I was 17 and I fell in love with my first girlfriend.

When did you own it in public?
I’ve been doing queer organizing since 2007-2008 and we started working underground very slowly trying to create a sense of community. But over time, most people in the movements that I work with know that I’m queer. I spoke about it at a conference in Lahore, but largely I try not to talk about it too openly since security is always a concern in our context.

How was it for you to grow up queer in Lahore?
Growing up queer in Lahore was both isolating and wondrous. Isolating since I didn’t know anyone else like me so I thought that I was alone and wondrous because since I felt intrinsically different I felt I had my own world where I had to fight at every step to be different but still felt loved by mother and the rest of my family. It was strange I guess, so they never really made a big deal about how I was gender non-conforming and gave me space to be who I wanted even when outside everyone sort of taunted and bullied me for not fitting in. Over time though as I grew, I enjoyed the freedom of not having to conform to the requirements of convectional femininity. I didn’t fully recognize the difference in upbringing since my grandmother was the head of our household and I was essentially being brought up in a matriarchy. It was a beautiful and magical thing that made me believe that I could achieve anything I put my mind to irrespective of gender.

How about queer communities?
For the queer community in Lahore we are slowly but surely building spaces of love, acceptance and compassion even when we face the violence of compulsory heterosexuality and natal rejection. This is violence faced from people closest to us. So, to heal and recover from it and build community that doesn’t replicate those toxic patterns is a slow and painstaking process. We are loving and courageously engaged in this process.

Do queer women feel supported by the feminist movement/s in Punjab and Pakistan?
The interface of the feminist movement and the queer movement is so important because we can’t do it alone. Feminist ethics, solidarity, poetry and openness that the women’s movement creates in society is foundational for queer acceptance. That is why some of our work focuses on how our queerness helped develop our feminist consciousness and how our feminism impacts our queerness.
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Kyla Pasha is poet and feminist activist based in Lahore. Her first volume of poetry, High Noon and the Body, was released in 2010. She is also the co-editor of Two Loves: Faiz’s Letters from Jail. Kyla researches religious life and national structures interfacing with sexuality; and is pursuing a PhD in Religious Studies at Arizona State University, focusing on ritual spaces and utopic longings in marginal Muslim communities. She is currently working on her second book of poems.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Canada’s Women Heroes : Surjeet Kalsey

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Surjeet Kalsey
poet/author/translator

Surjeet Kalsey: The Woman Who Continues to Speak Up
against Patriarchy

By Mandeep Wirk

Often the subject dictates the form. Still poetry’s spontaneous burst of lyrical thought is closest to my heart.’

Surjeet Kalsey has the unique honor of being the only writer in Canada’s Punjabi Sikh community who has produced over the years a sizeable body of woman/migrant-woman focused Punjabi literature such as poems, short stories and stage plays, and she has also been active in building Punjabi writers community in Vancouver while challenging the community’s male dominated environment by speaking up and taking a stand for women’s participation, representation and empowerment.

Surjeet’s writings and social activism have been instrumental in both guiding and facilitating the ‘institutional completeness’ of the Punjabi-Canadian community. The Punjabi Cultural Association was founded in 1972 and the Punjabi Literary Association of Vancouver in 1973, just before Surjeet landed in Canada. She has been an active founding member of the Punjabi Literary Association of Vancouver since the early seventies, and she is also a founder of Samaanta (1982), Women’s Sahara Group Abbotsford (1996), and Punjabi Literature Society Abbotsford (2008). In 2014, Surjeet was the first woman writer to win the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Writers Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the development of Punjabi literature, Punjabi culture, promotion of Punjabi language as mother tongue in Canada, and for introducing mainstream Canada to Punjabi literature through her translations. Surjeet edited Contemporary Literature in Translation in 1977, presenting the work of 24 Punjabi writers, bilingual readings were held and attended by English speakers of various ethnicities, allowing Punjabi poetry into the larger society. In 1992, Surjeet published the anthology Glimpses of Twentieth Century Punjabi Poetry in English Translation, presenting 55 poets from Punjab and its diaspora.

In 1982, her play ‘Mehlin Wasdiyan Dhiyan: Daughters Behind Palace Doors’ addressing wife assault was performed in New Westminster, it was the start of Punjabi women’s theatre here in BC. This was the first South Asian Canadian play on the unspoken issue of violence against women on a public stage, and interestingly, some of the actors included women survivors from support groups using drama therapy. Later, her collection of seven three-act plays of the same name came out in 2002 that examines wife abuse, sex selection, parent-child conflict, visa getting process, quality of life of South Asian immigrant women in Canada, relationship of immigrant women to their sponsors, and the hopes and dreams of immigrants for a better life in Canada. All the plays in the collection have been successfully performed on stage in New Westminster, Surrey, and Abbotsford.

Surjeet was born in Amritsar and grew up there. Having lost her mother when she was very young, Surjeet, her sister, and brother were raised by their father. Then her father passed away when she was just ten years old, and her older sister assumed the responsibility of raising and educating her siblings. It is devastating to lose beloved parents at any age, but even more so when one is so young. From her early teens, Surjeet started to channel her grief into writing poems. She went onto attend Punjab University in Chandigarh where she completed her Masters in English, and another in Punjabi. Upon graduation, she secured a government job as a News Anchor of ‘Pradeshik Samachar : Regional News’ for All India Radio Chandigarh. She had been working as a news broadcast journalist for five years when her sister felt that it was time for Surjeet to get married. She met Ajmer Rode, an Indo-Canadian writer and engineer, and the couple married in 1973. In 1974, Surjeet immigrated to Canada. She later commented that she had already built a complete life for herself in India, but now in Canada she had to start all over again, retraining and finding a job.

Settling in Vancouver, Surjeet joined the MFA Program in Creative Writing at UBC, receiving her third master’s degree in 1978. She also took training at Battered Women’s Support Services, did volunteer work in transition homes and women’s shelters, and held support groups for battered women. This led her to study further and in 1997 she graduated from UBC with her M.Ed. in counselling psychology. Since then Surjeet has worked as a counselor and family therapist.

Her writings don’t just explore lives of women and migrant women. In her poem ‘Siddhartha Does Penance Again’, Surjeet presents the reality of majority of migrants whose anguish of displacement from everything familiar is likened to the pain experienced by Prince Siddhartha who abandoned his family and the comforts of palace life to search for the end of human suffering in the real world. However, the immigrants instead of finding themselves enjoying a better life in Canada, are left with the bitter feeling of disillusionment when all their hopes and dreams are smashed. Here is an excerpt from ‘Siddhartha Does Penance Again’:

Every day they pack us into closed wagons
to dump us into the raspberry strawberry or blueberry fields
When the sun dives into the other side of the mountain
we are brought home shaken and tired
I throw myself into the fourth corner of the common room
Swallowing several bitter droughts of somrus
Every day I try to write to you with my aching fingers
So that I may tell you
I’ll come home very soon
or I’ll apply for your immigration very soon
Contemporary Literature in Translation 1977, 33-34

At considerable personal cost, Surjeet continues to speak out about how women are silenced in myriad situations. In literary circles, how male writers undermine women by interrupting women writers as they try to express their viewpoints or they will not be allowed as much time as the men, and, how women’s input is not ‘valued’ as much as men’s. For Surjeet, her writings are her ‘voice’ in a society that renders women ‘voiceless’. She calls her personal blog ‘Voiceless’ to showcase her writings that challenge and critique patriarchal social structures for both their inhumanity and lack of vision.

As we have seen, she is a writer whose creative spirit embraces numerous genres: poetry, short stories, plays, reviews, editing, and translation. She says, ‘…often the subject dictates the form. Still poetry’s spontaneous burst of lyrical thought is closest to my heart.’ Poets who have inspired Surjeet are Punjabi poets Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam, and Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Also, she feels, no one writes a short story better than Ajeet Cour (Kaur) whose stories of women’s lives are rooted in social realism. Rejecting romanticism herself, Surjeet’s writings are also based in the reality of women’s lives with the intention of empowering women to develop agency over our own lives.

Visit Surjeet’s personal blog for a complete listing of all her poems, short stories, dramas, translations, edited works, and plays.
surjeetkalsey.wordpress.com

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Mandeep Wirk Mandeep Wirk is a writer and social activist who also works as a visual artist, photographer and educator. Her writings have appeared in various publications in Lowermainland. Mandeep is working on a book of non-fiction that is ‘a memoir of sorts’, and she is working on a set of new paintings.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Canada’s Women Heroes : Sunera Thobani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Sunera Thobani
scholar/activist/author

Challenging the Colonial Overtones of Classic Saviour Rhetoric
By Rahat Kurd

Today, the United States is one of the most dangerous and the most powerful global forces that is unleashing prolific levels of violence all over the world. From Chile to El Salvador, to Nicaragua to Iraq, the path of U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood.

Speaking at a feminist conference in Ottawa in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Sunera Thobani in her speech ‘War Frenzy’, expressed clear alarm about the drums of war which were sounding from elected officials and opinion-makers in Canada and the US. She reminded her listeners how the 1991 US war against Iraq was followed by sanctions which had led to untold numbers of civilian deaths, and how exiled Palestinians had been living in refugee camps for (then) 50 years. Harkening back to the words of Angela Davis who had spoken a warning about the impact of the Vietnam war on women’s lives in the 1970s, she called upon Canadian feminists to stand against war and military occupation. ‘There is nothing new about this ‘war on terrorism’,’ she insisted. ‘This is more of the same that we have been fighting against for so many decades.’

The censure Sunera faced following this speech was immediate, infamously punitive (the RCMP investigated her for an anonymous hate crime allegation), and overwhelmingly ugly (she endured hate mail and threatening messages for several weeks, although the police matter was dropped). She credits the supportive letters written by members of immigrant communities with saving her job, against an aggressive corporate media drive to have her fired. But eighteen years after they were written, the words of her speech, War Frenzy, remain an eye-wateringly lucid indictment of militaristic abuses of power that continue to cause destruction and disruption in the lives of women from the US-Mexico border to Yemen to Palestine.

Resisting erasures of complexity within various strands of feminist thought, Sunera’s work pays careful attention to the anti-racist and anti-colonial scholarship and activism of Black and Indigenous women, and women in the global south, that have preceded and animated her own. Her practice of naming and acknowledging the influence of antecedents and peers rather than making claims of unprecedented innovation demonstrates her commitment to building solidarity. When pro-war voices called for the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, in the name of Afghan women’s liberation and equality, Sunera was quick to point out the colonial overtones of classic saviour rhetoric.

Critical race feminists have a very different story to tell and it doesn’t fall quite so neatly into liberal socialist or radical feminism, or first-wave, second-wave, third wave. The story to be told there is of anti-colonial feminists, black feminists for whom the struggles against slavery and its ongoing legacy and impact in the lives of black communities continues to remain central, and anti-imperialist feminists for whom the, north-south divide and imperialism continues to remain central to their politics…there is a much stronger, a much longer continuity around the alliances that we’ve tried to build.’

Sunera’s rigorous analysis of the construction of race and nationalism, EXALTED SUBJECTS (2007) is considered required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the making of Canada as a colonial nation state. The pathbreaking study also provides a durable foundation for readers who wish to understand the current rise of violent xenophobia, authoritarian governments, and the politics of exclusion which not only continue to target racialized and historically vulnerable populations around the world in 2019 but to normalize white supremacy in ways that have even begun to threaten the conventional public narrative, firmly entrenched since World War II, of Western liberal democratic triumphalism.

Race is one of the founding blocs of capitalism, of modernity, of the global order as we are experiencing it today, of questions of sovereignty, power, subjectivity and nation-state formation. Race is foundational to all of these phenomena and entities and structures and systems with which we live. If race doesn’t emerge as central in a transformative vision, if race is not addressed, it poses very serious limits to transformative politics. And when I say race, I think that Islamophobia is an articulation of race politics, it is a racialization of Muslims. So that when we talk about Muslims today we know that in practice the category doesn’t only apply to practicing Muslims. Instead, ‘Muslim’ is used to apply to black and brown bodies. The young man who was shot by British security services in London was Brazilian but he was described as ‘Pakistani-looking’. So we know that the ways Islamophobia gets articulated the ways it actually targets black and brown bodies, for surveillance, for the harsh measures of the security state, means that Islamophobia is a discourse of racialization of our times.’

Sunera was born in Tanzania in 1957. After studying in England and the United States, she earned her Ph.D. in Sociology at Simon Fraser University in Canada in 1998. In recent years her research has included such topics as the War on Terror, the mass killings of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, and the representation of Muslim women in Bollywood films. She has been teaching at the University of British Columbia since 2000, and is currently an associate professor at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, and a co-founder of Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equality/Equity or R.A.C.E., a ‘non-profit committed to anti-racist, anti-colonial, and feminist scholarship and praxis’.

Sunera’s distinguished record as an activist in solidarity with global justice struggles, however, deserves particular recognition, for evincing the spirited agility of a compassionate intellect. Beginning from a young age (while she was a Master’s student in England, she spent a year living and working as a volunteer in occupied Palestine) and sustained through her academic career, Sunera aligned herself with the South African anti-apartheid struggle, Third World solidarity, and South Asian feminist movements, and against nuclear proliferation as a student in the US. But it was not until after she moved to Canada and became involved with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, eventually being elected its president in 1993, that her qualifications and experience drew the reactionary notice of certain Canadians, including an MP who went so far as to question her citizenship status.

The decision for me to run as the president of NAC was not a personal decision; it was a collective decision that was made by the Women of Colour caucus within NAC. So the existence of that really strong caucus also gets erased in the story of ‘me arriving [in Canada in 1989] and four years later I’m president’, because, of course, the history of women of colour organizing within NAC is much, much older. The Women of Colour caucus made the decision that it was time…

An interdisciplinary scholar, Sunera Thobani is one of the foremost critical feminist thinkers currently working in Canada and around the world, creating new pathways for understanding the production of social, political and economic injustice through her work as a critical race feminist.
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Researched & written by Rahat Kurd, with thanks to Seemi Ghazi for support. Quotations from ‘A Very Public Intellectual’, an interview conducted by William K. Carroll in Vancouver and published in Socialist Studies volume 8 (2), 2012.

Rahat Kurd is a Vancouver-based writer, editor and poet. She is currently at work on a critical memoir about the transformation of Muslim identity, once a matter of private conscience, into a politicized public spectacle. She recently guest edited the Puritan Magazine’s Summer 2019 issue on the theme, “What Does It Mean to be a Muslim Writer?” Her first collection of poetry, COSMOPHILIA, was published by Talonbooks in 2015.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

A Surrey Woman of Courage : Katheren Szabo

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Katheren Szabo
poet/activist/survivor

Katheren Szabo: The Heart of Newton
By Zoë J. Dagneault

Katheren Szabo is a social innovator, grassroots organizer and advocate for those who have survived systemic social, physical and sexual abuse. She is the founder of Cedar Bark Poets and co-facilitator of Friends of the Grove. Katheren is a graduate of SFU’s Envision Financial Community Leaders Igniting Change program.

Katheren was born into a family of incest. Her harrowing young life included moving fifty times before the age of ten, and being sex trafficked by her mother. Amid this emotional abuse and torture, Katheren found solace in books. To cope with her overflowing emotions, Katheren read a book a day for her entire young life. She also took to writing poetry. Katheren learned that encoding her deepest secrets was the safest way to document her experiences and feelings, while evading the teasing and ridicule of her family. She has ‘six feet of poetry journals’ stacked in her apartment. Katheren recounts memories as a little girl, being sent to men’s houses where she was raped and molested, given money to bring to her mother, then walking home. Her family made fun of her and chastised her for her uncontrollable crying.

A little extra kindness from a couple of teachers, and a strong kinship with an arts teacher, drew Katheren into the creative realm just enough to help her survive. She left school in Grade Seven, never to return. Katheren suffered continuous sexual and emotional abuse in her youth, finally leaving home at the age of sixteen. The road did not become any easier; predatory men sought her out and she fell prey to several violent and heartbreaking relationships. Katheren had four children before she could get her bearings. She had no familial or government support when she received the medical diagnosis of three misshapen vertebrae which made it impossible to lift and carry her children. She had adapted by leaning and dragging her children when they were babies, along the sides of walls to move them from place to place. In 1991, disabled at thirty years of age, with four children under the age of six, she asked the Ministry of Child and Family Development for help and applied for a disability designation.

On advice from a counselor she was encouraged to document her physical disability and abuse history. Katheren filed a police report disclosing the years of molestation and abuse at the hands of her father and men in their community. Her father promptly had a heart attack and died. Katheren tried to bring charges against eight men who had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was between the ages of three and ten, one of whom was an RCMP Officer in Ladysmith, B.C. Katheren accurately named, gave descriptions of, and provided addresses of the pedophiles, yet was told that there was not enough evidence to press charges. Years later, she requested to have the files sent to her; the envelope arrived open in the mail. The RCMP had sent the file, unsealed.

Katheren’s disability and abuse records were used against her, and her four children were taken away. She was given one hour a month with two of her children at a time. Her children’s foster home was in Mission, and Katheren was living in Duncan at that time. Their family visits were scheduled for 9am. Having no additional resources, she would arrive the night before and sleep in parks and under trees to see her children in the morning. She suffered repeated attacks during this period. Katheren fought tirelessly to regain custody of her children.

With the loss of custody of her children and her aggressive physical pain, Katheren turned to drugs to cope. Katheren lived in the addictive cycle of self-medicating heavily for seven years. She still attended monthly meetings with her children. She never stopped loving and missing them deeply through this time. This period of her life remains a painful and sorrowful time for her to recount. She has been free from hard drugs for eighteen years.

Katheren’s move from East Vancouver to Surrey’s low-income housing left her isolated and immobile in her complex for ten years. The years of trauma and violence had caught up with her. Isolating felt like the only safe way to exist. A woman in her neighbourhood, who reminded Katheren of herself, was murdered. Something in Katheren recognized that she wanted to do something about it, to engage with the outside world again. She found out that she qualified for a mobility scooter and decided to hold a vigil for the murdered woman. She committed herself to hold vigil for sixty days. Katheren continued this sixty day Community Safety Vigil for the next five years.

In this time she met friends and neighbours and began to forge community connections and creative networks. She met two other like-minded citizens whose goals were to raise hope and create a safe and healthy sense of community. Over the next several years she organized annual Christmas parties, Nat’l Poetry Parties, numerous block parties and an Open Doors for Peace Party. Katheren also organized a Sierra Leone-style forgiveness party, Fambul Tok in 2017. Katheren and her cooperators have grown the Friends of the Grove based on The Better Block Model; transforming the community space from one of disconnection and danger, into a place of connection, art, music, food, friendship and families. Christmas, 2019, will mark their sixth annual community holiday event.

Katheren creates whimsical creatures, such as lady bugs and beetles, that magically appear around the community. Many families with children thank her and admit to having small families of her enchanting critters in their homes and gardens. Katheren uses public grants to fund her community engagements and creative projects. When there is no funding available, she finds a way to make ends meet. Regardless of the challenges, she brings people together and is a lifeline for many who have little positive community connection or hope.

Katheren is regularly asked to speak at community engagements across North America. She received a standing ovation at the Tamarack Institute’s- Neighbourhoods: The Heart of Community event in Montreal, Quebec, 2016. She spoke at the 38th Annual Research and Treatment Conference sponsored by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers in Atlanta, Georgia, 2018. She was keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Sierra Leone Community of B.C. Celebration. Recently Katheren spoke at Surrey’s Social Innovation Summit, speaking on leadership and sharing her change maker’s journey thus far. This year she received an Award for Recognition for her exemplary service in supporting community development by The Sierra Leone Community of B.C. Today Katheren is endearingly known as The Heart of Newton.

Katheren Zsabo has triumphed where the most resilient human might understandably collapse.
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Zoë Dagneault is a settler-citizen-poet residing on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Zoë is curating a collection of poems, prose and creative non-fiction that explores motherhood, childhood, and feminism within our social-spiritual structure. She lives with her family at the base of a large mountain.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Huma Safdar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Huma Safdar
theatre director/producer/actor

The Revolutionary Act of Staging Punjabi Literature
By Faiza Rna

Painter, actor, director, poet, and founder of Sangat Theatre, Huma Safdar combines her many talents to create a people-centric awareness-raising theatre that is steeped in Punjabi literature and culture. She has staged classic Punjabi texts such as Heer Damodar, Heer Waris Shah, Mirza Saheban; countless modern Punjabi texts including ‘Alfo Pairni di Vaar’, a six-hour stage play; and, classic and modern poetry presentations. She chooses diverse venues in the City, from girls’ schools and colleges to the shrines of Sufi saints; from big cities to small towns.

When Huma joined Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) in 1981, three things had happened: because of the colonial practices of the British and then the local power holders, Punjabi language in the Punjab had been relegated to a subservient role in favor of the two ‘national’ languages, Urdu and English; Pakistan’s Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) had instituted discriminatory laws against women and minorities; and, the living conditions of the under-privileged and less-privileged population groups had become worse. Huma decided that the cumulative impact of these conditions was unacceptable to her. Politicised by the authoritarian nature of the time, she emerged from her shell of society-imposed restrictions to showcase her art and her commitment to freedom and resistance.

That year, she acted in her first play, Hawa aur Zindgi: Air and Life, that was performed for the women’s movement with arts activists Madeeha Gauhar, Faryal Gauhar, Rubina Saigol, Rabia Nadir, and Sabah. ‘I was a first year student of National college of arts at that point’, Huma said in an interview. ‘We performed at Lahore Museum’s library hall on International Women’s Day.’

Later, Huma joined Lok Rahs, an alternative theatre group that had emerged to amplify the voices of the oppressed. Huma worked as an actor and director. Here, she imparted her knowledge to new and emerging artists, and she organised theatre workshops for young people. She saw theatre as a powerful cultural medium to bring about change in Punjabi societal mentality, and she found ways to integrate it with Punjab’s many local cultural and performing art traditions. Evolving and constantly learning, she formed her own group, Sangat Theatre. Progressivism, cultural activism and social justice are the core values of her work. Her plays depict the struggles of the common people, mostly written by Punjabi poet and playwright Najm Hosain Syed, they portray the truth of the lives of the majority of people by reviving our faith in ourselves, one another and in our mother-tongue.

Huma believes that Punjabi is the language of resistance, love, art and the people. Her actors sing Punjabi classical revolutionary poetry, dancing and performing plays to a variety of audiences including rural and urban workers. Her team of versatile performers can act in a variety of arenas and sets, as well as in open air. Sangat Theatre has presented hundreds of Punjabi plays, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Huma draws inspiration from, and is keeping alive, centuries of unbroken yet ever-evolving traditions of Punjabi poetry and prose through the traditional and modern techniques of Punjab’s performing arts. In doing so, she has changed the nature of popular Punjabi theatre from slapstick-sexist-racist-ableist ‘comedies’ to a profound contemplation of a shared and evolving experience.
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Faiza Rna Faiza Rna is a writer, teacher and a poltical/social activist. She edits the Punjabi monthly magazine ‘Pancham’. She is the vice president of Punjab professors and lecturers association.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Mukhtar Mai

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Mukhtar Mai
leader/survivor/organizer

Reclaiming the Narrative
By Aamna Rashid

Today, we must remember and remind ourselves to be like her ~ fearless.’

There is power in speaking up against injustice, there is courage that comes through in standing up against an oppressive system. There is an indomitable resilience and the will to fight that carries forward such a struggle. It is all this and more that we see within the figure of Mukhtar Mai. In the backdrop of a country where honour is rooted in the woman’s body, where women are bartered as objects to settle disputes, where allegations of rape are swept away to protect the perpetrator and where vendetta rapes and honour killings are rampant, her story becomes an exceptionally powerful force.

She was born in the village of Meerwala, Muzaffargarh district, in the South Western region of the Punjab. Her family is from the Gujjar tribe, a ‘lower’ caste in the tribal system of her village, a place, which like most rural areas in Pakistan, follows a strictly demarcated hierarchal caste system. The politics of this system determines the everyday reality and customs of people upholding structural biases as it attempts to hold its power in place, the same politics that uses gendered violence against those who threaten it. It was under this that her story came to light when news of her attack ordered by this system, and her decision to fight it, were brought to public attention.

Mukhtar Mai was gang raped on 22 June, 2002, on the orders of the Panchayat or Jirga- the local village council. The decision was made to allow the members of the Mastoi tribe to ‘avenge’ the damage to their ‘honour’ caused by a supposed offence enacted by Mukhtar’s brother – an offence that proved to be false. They claimed he had an affair with a woman from their tribe who was of a higher caste, something which was not allowed by the stringent caste system as it would threaten its foundations, and so they took the case to the local village council. Keeping in mind both the position of the village tribunal as being outside the country’s judicial laws, and the prevalent customs where the female body was seen as a site to be conquered and violated to enact revenge, the verdict given to Mukhtar Mai protected both as she was ordered to go to the Mastois for punishment.

According to the dictates of the ‘tradition’, she had only two options – to live life in shame and never speak of it, or to commit suicide – but she refused to be silenced, instead she held back and forged a third one. She and her family reported the case to the police and went to pick up their son from jail only to find that he had committed no crime. The story reached national news when a sermon of the Imam of the local mosque critiquing the public gang rape was picked up by a journalist. Encouraged by the support she was receiving on a national level, she petitioned to have a case filed against her perpetrators, levying an attack against the same tradition that had resulted in the violence against her.

The cult of shame and silences that is forced upon a woman in Pakistan if they are raped or assaulted, was thrust off by Mukhtar Mai’s actions as she stood facing the village elders on one level and the entire hegemonic patriarchal force on another, fighting simultaneously on the social, legal and political battlegrounds. Each level tried to silence her. The court attempted to brush away her case by acquitting her attackers in 2005 and granting them complete exoneration in 2011. In addition to the troubles at court, she and her family received countless threats for following through with the case and she was even put on the Exit Control list by General Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorial regime to prevent her story from spreading to international level ‘tarnishing’ Pakistan’s image. But despite these attempts, she continued to press forward with unwavering determination, continuing her fight and remaining outspoken about the injustices in a system built to hinder retribution for women.

She became the first woman in Pakistan to put a tribunal justice system on trial and to advocate to have her rapists sentenced to death. This brought the news to the international media and garnered her support across the board, ensuring the government took notice of the case. The intricacies of power, caste and sexual politics all came to a head with her story, where through prosecuting her rapists, she levied a blow to all three when finally in 2019, 17 years after the event, the case was finally ruled in her favour.

Following the aftermath of the rape and the legal proceedings, she became an advocate for women’s rights and sought to improve conditions within the village. She used the money she had received through the settlement of the case to construct two schools for girls within her village setting up the Mukhtar Mai Girls Model School and established a crisis centre in her own home for women subjected to violence to provide them with shelter and legal counselling. She also set up the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organisation to help support and educate women and girls. She was invited to numerous talks, both at a national and international level and became an important figure in raising awareness of the rights of women and in attempting to change the tribunal system borne through caste and gendered hierarchies.

She was accredited with the title of Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine in 2005, and she received Fatima Jinnah gold medal for bravery and courage in the same year. In 2006, her autobiography In The Name of Hon-our – A Memoir was released and reached number 3 in the best seller list in France. Her story was featured internationally in both the news, the media and the arts. It became the subject of a book Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, an opera Thumbprint, and a documentary Shame by Muhammad Naqvi.

Her continued presence and involvement in public and political events acts as a rebuttal against the stigma of rape and against the traditional mandate of hiding women away in the confines of the private sphere. It lays down a new precedent that breaks away from the many pronged patriarchal beast, putting a crack in its edifice, paving the path for more and more women to speak out and be heard.

We see in Mukhtar Mai’s story signs of struggle and resilience, of perseverance and retribution, of a reclaiming of narrative. We see through her story a subversion and attack against the oppressive norms of the society. But more than anything, we see through her story an alternate path to that of shame and silence laid out for women – we see the path of resistance.

And that is why we must speak of her, to highlight her power in breaking the silence, in breaking the bonds that shackle despite continued attempts to silence her. We seek to recognise and appreciate her strides for women and to hope through it all for a future where attacks against women would not go unpunished, a future where rather than elicit cries of shame, there would be cries of outrage against the injustice, a future where women will no longer be considered objects of men and a future where the judicial system isn’t borne of selective justice that benefits only the perpetrators.

Today, we must remember and remind ourselves to be like her ~ fearless.

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Aamna Rashid recently finished her BA Honours in Literature from the Lahore University of Management Sciences with a focus on feminist politics, questions of identity and resistance. She pursues photography and art in her free time and has a keen interest in art history and film.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Hina Jilani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Hina Jilani
lawyer/human rights defender/elder

Voice of Resistance and Courage
By Asma Sayed

I always had this feeling that if you see injustice,
you have to speak out against it; otherwise, you are not
in a position to complain
.’ – Hina Jilani

Hina Jilani is one of the most noteworthy and globally known activists in the field of human rights and women’s liberation. Born and raised in Pakistan, she has served in many roles and continues to fight for the upliftment of the marginalized and oppressed in Pakistan and elsewhere.

After completing her training as a lawyer in 1974, and after a number of years of legal practice, she was appointed as an Advocate to the High Court of Pakistan in 1981; that year, she also co-instituted Pakistan’s first all-women law firm. In 1986, she established the first legal aid centre in Lahore. Among one of Hina’s most notable achievements is the founding of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission as well as the Women’s Action Forum in 1986. During her remarkable career in law, Hina especially focused on litigation related to human rights of women, children, minorities, and prisoners, groups that have historically been underrepresented. As well, she is the founder of Dastak, a housing facility for women at risk of being targets of honour killing. Dastak not only provides a safe place to live, but also helps women achieve education and financial independence.

Hina was appointed as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1992. She was the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008; during this time, she presented numerous fact-finding reports to the Human Rights Council. She was also a member of the UN Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur in 2004 and on the Gaza conflict in 2009.

In 2007, she joined The Elders, ‘a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights,’ which was founded by Nelson Mandela. The group works on six core programmes: ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation; conflict countries and regions; universal health coverage; climate change; refugees and migration; and access to justice. A member of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, and Human Rights, Hina has been affiliated with the United Nations Center for Human Rights, the Carter Center, and the UN Conference on Women. She has worked for numerous non-governmental organizations such as UNICEF and UNIFEM, and visited many countries on human rights missions: Angola, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Nigeria, Serbia, Thailand, and Turkey among others.

She has received multiple awards for her remarkable work; the highlights include: Human Rights Award by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (1999); Amnesty International’s the Ginetta Sagan Award for Women’s Rights (2000); the Millennium Peace Prize for Women (2001); the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Lawyer Award (2008); and the Editor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement (2013). A versatile speaker, she has delivered talks at universities around the world.

Hina hails from a family of human rights activists. Her father, Malik Gulam Jilani, was a strong critic of Pakistan government. Her sister, Asma Jahangir, who passed away in 2018, has been known for her human rights activism. The family has been subjected to abuse by both government and non-government forces and been attacked multiple times; they have been kept under surveillance and received death threats. Hina, along with her family members, stood her ground and did not give up her fight for a better society.

Hina Jilani has dedicated her life to the uplifting of humanity. She is a voice of resistance and courage personified.
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Asma Sayed teaches literary and film studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She specializes in postcolonial South Asian literature and cinema. Her interdisciplinary research and social activism focus on marginalization of gendered and racialized people and violence against women as represented in literature, film, and media. Her publications include five books and numerous articles. She is the President of the Canadian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..