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Sunday, March 09, 2008

International Women's Day @ T2F

From 2 PM to midnight, T2F had loads of acivities, long and short, with intervals for coffee and change of audience (many were rushing between the numerous other events marking the day in the city).

The afternoon started with the screening of the 2001 telefilm, When Billie Beat Bobby. A turning point in the business side of tennis and a delightful strike for feminism, the match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was termed The Battle of the Sexes.

The film is often repeated on TV channels and is well worth watching, if you have not seen it already. Billie is played by Holly Hunter, whom many will recall from her Oscar-winning performance in The Piano and also for her role, the same year, in The Firm.

The next session, Sex Sells, was well-attended and attracted many media & advertising personalities and feminists (some were all three!) discussing the exploitation and stereo-typing of women in ads. A short excerpt from Jean Kilbourne's Killing Me Softly 3 (short clips from which can be seen on YouTube) was followed by a few local tv commercials. Fair & Lovely ads seemed to be the most reviled by those present, almost everyone finding the 'fairness meter' a really obnoxious idea. On the other hand, senior ad execs told us that the product was the largest selling one. Not only did it respond to the inner desires of the majority of our females - as discovered by various focus groups - it's biggest buyers are those not seen recently, by many, as being Fair or Lovely: The Pakistan Army! No, no, these guys are not cross-dressers or make-up freaks. The product, apparently, is also an effective sun-block cream.

The session covered many aspects of the MNC/Advertising/Media approach as a whole, rather than focus just on the women's issues, since the latter is part of a greater malaise.
(For more on how ads use 'sex associations', watch a couple of Psychology with Sandy segments on the subject. Also, read this blog entry from South India for other misappropriate elements, such as - in this case - subtle elements of racism, in ads by even the most powerful vendors.)
War Against Rape - one of the most commendable NGOs in Karachi, with chapters in other cities - held a session, next, to introduce its work. What made this session powerful and different from the usual presentations was the presence of Medical and Legal experts discussing the difficulties in supporting the victims. We learnt of the numerous hurdles, irregularities, and prejudices that make justice or help near impossible. The in-house lawyer at WAR has received death-threats as well as being told that she would soon face the same fate her client-victim had to undergo.

The audience sat spellbound, some moved beyond tears, while listening to a brave poor couple who had come to share with us the difficulties they have encountered since the rape of their 8-year old daughter two years ago and the child's continuing ordeal. As expected, the various authorities, bribed by the rapist's side, have made the case proceedings difficult. Far worse, the neighbours have pushed the family out of the area because they are ashamed by the victim's presence! The fact that the rapist lived in their neighbourhood has not been a source of anger or shame. The couple's parents and other members of the family have also cut off ties with them as they feel that the family name has been brought to shame by their reporting the case to the police and making it public. How does one change such mindsets? Where does one begin? How does one tackle the combined effects of feudalism, superstition, false sense of honour and shame, corruption, poverty, unbelievably stupid laws and rules, male-bonding and chauvinism - all of which are at work in such instances?

The mother of the child has suffered a heart attack and minor attacks of paralysis, depleting all the funds that the family had gathered. Her husband has lost his job - the employers held that they were unable to deal with his frequent leave-taking to attend courts. He has been living on an occasional day-wage stint and, mentally, becoming less able by the day to cope with this state. He is hoping to collect the grand sum of Rs 30,000 as a down-payment for an auto-rickshaw that he can use to earn. He knows that that path, too, will be paved with extortion money, police corruption and more, but says he has no other choices.

Next: Sheema Kermani - activist, feminist, dancer, actor - presented a very brief video and then joined two members of her theatrical team in presenting the enjoyable Voh Naak Say Boltay Haeñ, a short one-act play.
The next session was a 10-minute reading by Nuzhat. She chose Bayvah - a story about widowhood - written by my father in the late 1920s. While his story is set among a Hindu home, where the traditional attitudes about widowhood were extraordinarly bad, the fact is that a number of Muslims in India, perhaps because of their Hindu ancestry, share almost the same negative views, thankfully stopping short of suttee - the cruel practice of burning widows at the husband's funeral pyre, of which a recent example can be seen in Anand Patwardhan's superb must-see documentary, Father, Son & Holy War.

The story was a great preamble to the screening of Shaali by its author - well-known feminist poet Attiya Dawood.  The story of a tragic child marriage, sadly still a common practice in our villages, had everyone in tears at the end. The young Director, who has treated the subject with great sensitivity, was there to talk about how moved he was during the making and had often wept. The irrepressible little star of the film whose appearance in each scene won the audience's heart afresh, is Attiya and Abro's daughter, Suhaee. She was there, too, and deserved the thunderous applause she received. The tele-film is part of a Hum TV series, Aseer Shahzadi, based on stories by Attiya on women's issues.

The session was followed by a long break, during which, at the request of some audience members, Nuzhat read two of Kishwar Naheed's poems from Beyond Belief - ASR's excellent bi-lingual (Urdu, with English translations) anthology of feminist poetry. (C'mon, ASR, we are waiting for reprints ... but please, please, please skip the crazy Urdu formatting, it's a strain to read.)

After the break the final session of the evening ended on a celebratory note with a gentle musical performance that seemed apt after a day filled with so much. Tp, you have a lovely voice! Hope to keep having you back at T2F often!


Slightly unrelated footnote: An organization called Ladies Fund held an event at Karachi's Mohatta Palace to award some women for their diverse contributions to society. This is to congratulate the three I know well: Tehrik-e-Niswan's Sheema Kermani, School of Leadership's Shireen Naqvi (who, to celebrate, brought me freshly baked bread from Bakerei, an initiative for the deaf and dumb that she has helped set up in Karachi), and PeaceNiche/T2F's very own Sabeen Mahmud :-)

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Anonymous the olive ream said...

Spectacular day! Only T2F could have managed to fill the day with such great presentations and personalities... I wish I was there.

And a very big congratulations to Sabeen for being recognized for all her efforts.

09 March, 2008 14:31

Anonymous Mariam Khan said...

let me start off by saying what a pleasure it was that we had that discussion at the first blast the other day.
i happened to find, or rather looked for n then found!, your blogs and i must say that on a lighter (pun intended!) note, the blog about fair n lovely was close to heart.
it is the single most effective sun block that this army man's daughter has come across and i have had my fair share of skin issues in the sun.
so maybe the product shouldnt be binned just yet...
and yes fully agree that the fairness meter is complete rubbish.
maybe the advantages of the product as sunscreen need to be highlighted! more effective marketing strategy i would think!
thanks a lot,
hope to see u again..

17 March, 2008 14:44


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