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.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Sheema Kermani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Sheema Kermani
dancer/activist/mentor

Of Dance and Dissent
By Mahnoor Kazmi

Her limbs move with ease and grace, in perfect harmony with the melody and rhythm. She takes another step forward. With each delicate movement, the sound from the paayel anklet on her feet echoes on the stage, creating music of its own. There is a tender and loving quality to her dance; it is, at the same time, fierce and bold. It is enticing. Challenging. It is, in these ways, a perfect reflection of her own self.

Sheema Kermani was born in Pakistan in 1951 in the city of Rawalpindi. Her family migrated from India following the partition in 1947, and her childhood was spent travelling to and from India on a regular basis. She comes from a middle-class and educated upbringing, and takes pride in the fact that her parents always laid emphasis on the role of performing arts in their children’s lives. She became acquainted with classical music and dance in her early years, and consequently developed a deep and lasting bond with art in its many forms.

Her decision to pursue the medium of dance was influenced by her politics. During the 1970s, in the Bhutto era, Kermani worked with women who were factory workers, helping them to form trade unions and increase awareness about their own rights. She founded the Tehrik-e-Niswan as an organization that aimed to provide women with basic skills which would allow them to enter the work force. The organization also developed adult literacy programs, as well as educational programs for children whose mothers could not afford to send them to school.

The 1980s in Pakistan, under General Zia Ul Haq, saw a surge of Islamization, of the infiltration of right-wing, and Islamic fundamentalist mindsets in all strata of society. The state became increasingly draconian in its laws, and the performing arts began to be seen as inextricably tied to moral degeneration and anti-religious beliefs. Dance, in particular, was detested by this new moral order and was banned by the state. It was in this social and political climate that Sheema made the decision to take up dancing as a form of resistance. Her dance symbolized her defiance and her rejection of the establishment. It laid claim to her ownership of her own body, and became her way of exploring and sparking dialogue about women, their agency and their sexuality.

Sheema continued to dance in the Zia era, and for each public performance she had to obtain a No Objection Certificate. This was a time when fundamentalism and religious extremism was quickly becoming ingrained into the very fabric of Pakistani society, and as a result anything considered ‘un-Islamic’ was a direct threat, one that needed to be eliminated at all costs. Sheema chose to dance, even when death was a likely consequence. She risked her life to defy and question established notions of public and private space. She claimed public space for women, in a time when it was only acceptable for men to inhabit it, and through her dance attempted to engage with and change people’s relationship with the space itself. Through her dance, she became the voice of the voiceless and the unheard.

Her dance is intricately tied to her feminist and socialist politics: Sheema focuses on the significance of the spine, more specifically the straightening of the spine, in her teaching. She sees dance as acceptance and as an embrace; it is to feel confidence in your body, it is an assertion that no oppressive structure can make women cower and become weak. To stand straight is to stand against those modes of oppression and subjugation that attempt to silence women, and to make them invisible. Sheema sees dance as a way to subvert the ways in which women interact with and view their own bodies, and their own selves.

In 2015, Sheema co-edited a book titled ‘Gender, Politics, and Performance Art’. She has worked extensively for women’s rights, and has made major contributions towards the feminist movement in Pakistan by raising awareness about multiple issues faced by women across different socio-economic classes. She has performed at hospitals and for women training to become midwives. Through these performances, Kermani highlights the specific health issues that arise from child marriages, forced sexual intercourse and the violence – physical, sexual, psychological – that women face in the domestic and public spheres. Her work has inspired many women to take up dance and to make it their mode of resistance: resistance against the patriarchy and against the State that has continually existed as an oppressive structure, causing and reinforcing this violence against women.

Asked, in an interview, about how circumstances have changed since she first started performing, Sheema stated that today it is even more difficult to reach people through the medium of dance. Religious fundamentalism has seeped into people’s way of life in subtle but more concrete ways than ever before. She says the ‘enemy’ is now obscured; where as it was the State in previous times, it is now more abstract and latent, and so more difficult to address. This difficulty has not hindered Sheema’s efforts; she continues to boldly and bravely perform her subversive art in public spaces.

In 2017, the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (a Sufi saint) became the target of a terrorist attack, which killed 88 people and left several hundreds injured. Darbaar shrine/court culture forms an integral part of sub continental heritage: it has historically transcended barriers of class and religion and existed as a unifying force in this part of the world. The attack left the entire country heartbroken, stunned and scared. Following the attack, Sheema visited the shrine and in her characteristically fearless manner, performed the tradition dhamaal, a dance form linked to Sufism and shrine culture. Through this simple yet deeply courageous act, Sheema once again demonstrated her passion and vigour towards the cause of social justice, towards her struggle for peace, for harmony and for love.

Her art is how she chooses to converse with the world: through it, she talks of pain, and of loss, and of hope. Sheema Kermani continues to be an inspiring force of resistance and opposition. She embodies, in her art and in her being, the message of hope.
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Mahnoor Kazmi is pursuing a B.A. (Hons) in History at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, with a special focus on South Asian History, post-colonial studies and feminist politics. She has a keen interest in the performing arts, particularly music and dance.
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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.

..