Friday, 29 April 2016

Celebrating women of Pakistan

by Noorulain Masood

Photo credits: British Council Pakistan

WOW is usually a term of exclamation, of wonder, of celebration; and that is what the Women of the World (or WOW) festival aims to accomplish. The WOW Karachi is a one day festival, on 1st of May, to spark an open and honest dialogue on the rights and issues of women in Pakistan, celebrate women and girls and discuss and address some of the obstacles they face in achieving their potential. 

WOW Karachi is part of a global movement of WOW festivals. Jude Kelly launched WOW London in 2011 to mark the centenary of International Women’s Day. She saw this as a major global festival that celebrates women and girls and looks at the obstacles they face. Since 2011, the festival has been happening everywhere from Sydney to New York to Alexandria in Egypt. As a city that thrives on its diversity, it is only befitting then that Karachi will play host to the first full WOW – Women of the World festival in South Asia.

With talks, debates, workshops, musical and art performance, mentorships sessions, a vibrant market place and much more, WOW Karachi showcases how far women in Pakistan have come along and how far they still need to go. The festival is curated by Southbank Centre, British Council, The Abbassciy Foundation (TAF) and the WOW Karachi Core Committee of thought leaders from Collective for Social Science Research, Department of Visual Studies at Karachi University, Entrepreneurship and Community Development Institute (ECDI), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Salt Arts, and ToffeeTV.

The Collective for Social Science Research has helped curate four one hour panels. Each of these bring in the female perspective on an important social reality. The panels are:

- Conflict in City: Karachi as a woman (2.00-3.00 pm, Jasmine Hall, Beach Luxury Hotel): Karachi is often synonymous with conflict: political violence, the Lyari gangs, Shia-Sunni targeted killings, attacks on health workers, the list goes on. What is this phenomenon and how can we tell a more complete story about it? What is the human experience of conflict, especially those of women? The panel on ‘Conflict in City: Karachi as a woman’ attempts to begin a conversation on the nature of conflict in the city, how it affects women, and what have been some female responses to it. This panel will be a free flowing conversation primarily in Urdu. Mahvish Ahmad, co-founder and editor of ‘Tanqeed’, a magazine on politics and culture will moderate the discussion. Mahvish has taught at the Quaid e Azam University Islamabad and the Lahore University of Management Sciences and is currently pursuing her PhD from University of Cambridge and will be joined by some eminent women. Kishwer Zehra is Member of National Assembly (MNA) from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and is responsible for setting up and mobilizing their women's wing. Hameeda Sikander Ali is a survivor of conflict and works as a social activist for women’s education specifically in Pashtun communities. Nazish Brohi is an activist and researcher who through her work has highlighted the female perspective on coping with violence. Dr. Fatima Ali Haider is the founder of The Grief Directory, an initiative that started after Fatima lost her husband and eleven year old son to an incident of sectarian killing in February 2013 in Lahore. The Grief Directory acts as a bridge of compassion between the grieving families and volunteers who are willing and able to provide support.

- Women surviving vulnerability (3.15-4.15 pm, Jasmine Hall, Beach Luxury Hotel): There are scores of women in Pakistan who face extreme disadvantages and vulnerabilities on a daily basis. The panel on ‘Women surviving vulnerability’ will begin a dialogue not only on what these realities are but also what women have done to overcome their own disadvantage to make a positive difference in others’ lives. The panel brings together women with first-hand experience of these struggles: women are not only survivors - but have helped many other like them overcome similar vulnerabilities such as acute poverty, health issues, violence etc. This discussion, moderated by researcher Haris Gazdar will bring together inspirational people such as Mukhtar Bibi, Perveen Saeed, Shabana Noor and Naila Mahmood. Mukhtar Bibi is an outspoken advocate for protection and promotion of women's rights and the founder of Mukhtar Mai Women's Organization (MMWO). Perveen Saeed established Khana Ghar in 2002 which provides low cost meals to people low income communities. Khana Ghar currently feeds over 3,000 families in Khuda ki Basti and its adjoining areas, six days a week. Shabana Noor is a local social activist and health worker from rural Sindh who works on advocacy of women’s rights issues in the village of Bhanot. Shabana has over fourteen years of experience partnering with local NGOs working on health and social issues for women. Naila Mahmood is a Karachi based visual artist and documentary photographer. Her work revolves around the complexities of urban spaces and human rights and she teaches at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

- Feminism today (12.15-1.15 pm, Jasmine Hall, Beach Luxury Hotel): Feminism as a term has various connotations for many people, but we know it has been a largely progressive force for men and women in Pakistan. What does feminism mean in the Pakistani context? How does it link with how feminism is perceived across the world? How has the concept evolved over time in Pakistan, what are the realities of pushing women centric legislation in an overall patriarchal society? This panel will bring together Nighat Said Khan, Dr Nafisa Shah, Nimco Ali and Ghausia Rashid Salam to reflect on the future of feminism in Pakistan. Nighat Said Khan is a prominent feminist activist, academic and founding member ​of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and​ dean of the Institute of Women's Studies, Pakistan and Director of Applied Socio-Economic Research (ASR) Resource Center for Women. Nimco Ali, is a UK based ​feminist activist and co-founder and Director of the Daughters of Eve non-profit organization. She was one of Britain’s most influential women in the BBC Woman's Hour power list 2014. Ghausia Rashid is a feminist writer and member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in Karachi. She has previously managed gender and tech initiatives at Bolo Bhi and was Chief Storyteller at Stories Beyond Borders. Dr. Nafisa Shah is a Member of National Assembly (MNA) from Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) and has previously served as chair of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and General Secretary of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. The discussion will be moderated by researcher Noorulain Masood.

- Bringing up girls, it takes a village (2.00-3.00 pm, Aquarius Hall, Beach Luxury Hotel): The well-being of a society is closely connected with how it raises healthy and happy female children. In the ever evolving context of Pakistan, what should be the roles of parents, teachers, extended family and other actors? How can these actors come together to collectively raise empowered, happy and productive young women? The topic will touch upon aspects of child psychology, economic class and poverty and the role of community. This will be a bilingual free flowing conversation moderated by Zain Ahmed, the Artistic Director at Napa Repertory Theatre in Karachi​ and will bring together diverse perspectives from the following individuals. Kausar Saeed Khan​ is the Associate Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences at the Aga Khan University Hospital and a long standing member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). Shahnaz Wazir Ali is a Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, President of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology​, and an illustrious educationist. Shaista Aziz is a former BBC News and Aljazeera journalist, experienced aid worker, stand up comedian and writer based out of the UK. Dr. Unaiza Niaz​ is the Director of The Psychiatric Clinic & Stress Research Center in Karachi and part of the teaching faculty at the Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi and the University of Health Sciences, Lahore.​

A detailed programme of the festival is also widely available.