“Gender, Religion, and the Quest for Justice in Pakistan”

Study launched

This launching of the study organized by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, Pakistan, is the first activity of the Working Series on Women Religion and Politics. The other activity includes national and international conferences which shall be held in the year 2010-11. However, publications are also envisioned in order to successfully accomplish the aim of the working series.

Report by Saima Jasam

This launching hosted many senior and eminent politicians, like Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali assistant to the prime minister, Ms. Yasmeen Rehman advisor in the ministry of women development. Parliamentarians like Ms. Bushra Gohar from Awami National Party and Ms. Nafisa Shah of the Pakistan People’s Party also contributed and Participated.

Besides this Ms. Saba Khattak member for the social sector  of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, various other members of the national commission on the status of women, other political activists, civil society actors, students, researchers, media personnel and participants from all walks of life participated.

Heinrich Boll Stiftung and Shirkat Gah welcomed the guests and introduced their respective work.  The launching started with opening remarks by Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali who is a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on the social sector. In her opening remarks, she assured the participants that the government is taking the women issues seriously and any recommendations coming out of this conference will certainly be taken up. She made several positive remarks and appreciated the study and gave comments.

Ms. Farida Shaheed In her presentation touched upon the issues of militancy, education system, the role of media and minorities issues in relation to gender, religion, and politics. Some major findings of the research study were that the women’s movement in Pakistan has concentrated more on legal rights issues and less on other social issues which should be included in the agendas now.

The study further reflected that there is a dire need to redefine and reorganize the civil society, in order to bring change.   Ms. Farida further stated that women should not be taken as one category; there are all types of women having different agendas. There are groups who have a secular vision, on the other hand, many groups have a closed and conservative ideology.   She further remarked that we are in a small minority and need to expand our hegemony. Moreover, the study tells that the female militancy has been increasing and references have also been made to the Lal Masjid.

Ms. Neelam Hussain the Executive Coordinator, Simorgh Women’s Resource and Publication Center, Lahore commented on Farida’s study and very symbolically talked about the grand narratives created by the state which does not necessarily include the voices of the women. Therefore women have to make and create their own grand narratives in order to reclaim the shrinking spaces of women.

Dr. Rubina Saigol an Independent Researcher, Author and Editor of Several Books and Papers highlighted the Religious Prejudice and Stereotypes in Public Education System and targeted the mainstream education system and curriculum.

Dr. Saba Gul Khattak, Member of the Planning Commission of Pakistan gave her presentation on the role of the state in relation to gender and religion. Mr. Mazhar Abbas a Deputy Director of ARY One World, TV channel talked about the role of mainstream media. Naeem Shakir an advocate, Human rights activist and member of the Workers party did his presentation on the State of minorities in perspective of politicized religion.

Samar Minallah a Pakistani documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist gave a very moving account of the women in Swat, also showed a documentary and explained the fight of women in Swat. However, she also reflected how one can help them in order to move forward and showed their strength in spite of the difficult situation they are facing. She threw light on their struggle and courage.

The conference also included the comments of the Parliamentarians. Ms. Bushra Gohar from Awami National party,  Ms. Nafisa Shah from Pakistan people party and Ms. Farrah Naz Ispahani also from Pakistan people’s party showed great interest on the subject and wanted the syringe between them and the civil society to grow.
They have networks with the women rights groups and said that conferences like this bring them further close to each other. They also said that there is a dire need of working closely as it would strengthen the relation.

On the whole, the conference was very successful and encouraging and many issues emerging out of it will be dealt with the upcoming national conference which will be held on the 21st and 22nd of May 2010.

Download the complete research study report as pdf-file (42 pages, 385 KB)

A Debate on the Public Role of Religion and its Social and Gender Implications