Pakistani Women’s Movement vs. NGO ‘Activism’…

Note: This was partly written on 12th February, 2013
So today is 12th February, another 12th February…three decades back, in the darkest times of the country’s history a group of women (more in number) and men (fewer) took the roads against the amendments in the criminal law of the land. The land and its laws were systematically Islamized under the ‘wisdom’ of a dictator, the then ruler, who changed the course of the country, for worse. But most importantly it turned the country into the most women unfriendly country of the world.
The mis-conception/mis-perceptions/dual standards with respect to women and their lives prevail all around the world, which validate that:
A man who smokes simply brings upon himself a health hazard
A woman who smokes is a loose character woman, too liberal, too modern to handle
So everything a woman does even to herself, only, becomes an implication on her family, on her husband and even on the nation and that’s around the world, irrespective of so-called west or east.
But then why to talk of Pakistan only? Because this land is one of those most unfortunate, God forsaken lands which has constitutionalized/institutionalized the woman being lesser human beings.
For instance, she is only a half witness (according to the qanoon-e-shahadat)
And the most famous Hudood Ordinances (a few would claim that it has been amended), cast the deadliest shadow on the lives of women of this land.
So while, at one hand, land of pure offers ready-made/by default designs for oppression of women ingrained in its customs and traditions, on the other hand to make it a whole these laws prevail to make sure the second grade citizen status of a woman remains intact.
Now, coming back to the topic; we commemorate this day the 12th February as symbol of women rising in the land, while at the same time we see millions of women denouncing the acts of the handful who speak out. The women’s rights movement couldn’t get the buy in by the common woman of the land. Therefore, it lacks the solidarity and support that it needs to get to the change it wants. The movement is so much detached from the grass-roots. The women rights agenda becomes rhetoric and that rhetoric, too comes to the limelight only when such days are commemorated.
The torch bearers of women rights or human rights are often outcasts, targeted by everyone in the society, most commonly terming them as NGO workers/civil society. Let’s face it today that the movements for rights have gradually become Non-governmental organizations and hence had to compromise the political angle of the whole picture along with the activism that is part and parcel of the movement. Hence NGOs formed its own parallel structure; civil society and that too very fragmented, dis-jointed and self/capitalist interest serving civil society. The activists of yesterday are consultants of today, or head of NGOs or working for UN (one of the biggest empires of the world).
Now, in this, I am not denouncing NGOs, or activists turned consultants, I am talking about the kind of work being done, which does so little to change the lives of women, or for that matter the groups they work with. And therefore, the criticism is so rightly directed, because the amount of money spent is often, do not yield the equal amount of result. Now, there are various reasons:
NGO money is not constant
The approach is project oriented rather than change oriented (so we see projects like 16 days of activism, where smaller organizations are given money by bigger organizations to commemorate the day in the name of awareness raising).
They don’t walk the talk… accountability, transparency, equality, women rights etc are shown as values in almost all the HR documents of NGOs but are hardly followed.
And also, NGOs are patriarchal, if we just have a cursory glance and seek answer to the questions as to how many NGOs are women headed, how many leadership positions are held by women (some people would say the situation is still better), and then we would need to look hard and ask, how many women actually are doing the decision-making and we will be disappointed.
So while, in theory, civil society says all the right things in the broader agenda of rights/women’s rights, they don’t really do it.
Well, I seem like an anti-NGO person, while I would just want to say that I am not. I have met some of the most wonderful people working in this sector, people who are humane and genuinely want to bring a positive change in the world, yes our breads are directly linked with prevalence of poverty and prevalence of all the above stated problems and we genuinely want to solve it, but we need to revisit what we do, we need to stop for a while and re-strategize and re-prioritise, in order to bring change we need to change ourselves first. How?
We need to walk the talk. ACT what we say! (that doesn’t mean, for instance, to start living in the huts if we are working for slums)
We need to build alternatives, we need to bring out solutions and demonstrate that other world is possible, and it doesn’t matter if it happens at the short scale. We can always begin small… And building alternatives mean doing something on the ground showing evidence, so that we can buy in the support, therefore, mere words or slogans of freedom are not enough..
We need to bring cohesion in efforts and instead of inventing and re-inventing a wheel over and over again, we should be looking at going a step ahead with each new project, we need to build blocks to get to the whole building.
We need to bring back the spirit of volunteerism
And above all, we need to connect with masses, we need to broaden the sphere of the movement and bring in the women from the grass-roots in the forefront, we need more Malalas and more Mukhtar Bibis and we need to give them real leadership roles rather than mere symbolic ones.

2 thoughts on “Pakistani Women’s Movement vs. NGO ‘Activism’…

  1. Spot on ! Bull’s eye ! I couldn’t agree more Rukhsana. Thanks for sharing. Cheers.

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