Islamabad - AAWAZ, voice and accountability programme, organised a conference titled ‘Exclusionary Practices: Building resilience and responsiveness in State and Society’ on Thursday.

Academia, civil society leaders and parliamentarians were invited to speak at the conference about political participation of women, empowerment of minorities, democracy and civil-military relations.

Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, who was chief guest on the occasion, said, “Exclusionary practices are the biggest problem in our society. By excluding women, minorities, transgender and disabled persons, we deprive our society of their potential to contribute to the society”.

He underlined the contribution of minorities to the society since creation of Pakistan in the fields of law, literature and defence.

Dr Kamran Asdar Ali, dean of social sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences, who was keynote speaker at the event, delivered a speech about how power silenced certain voices in history. He said that the state in Pakistan had historically tried to suppress the cultural, ethnic and linguistic identities of people, imposing on them a homogenous identity. He spoke at length about the silences of history in Pakistan and globally whereby certain groups dictated as to what events and struggle become part of the documented history.

Chairing the panel discussion on gender and power in Pakistan, Umair Javed, a columnist and researcher, said that politics provided us an avenue to tackle exclusionary practices and discrimination. He added that state institutions could play a key role in enabling inclusion of women in politics.

Speaking in the panel, Fareeda Shaheed, executive director of Shirkat Gah, said that people tended to think that women empowerment meant providing them certain skills. On the contrary, she said that there could not be any women empowerment without their participation in political decision making.

Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, said that despite increased participation of women in the last local government elections, only a handful of them won.

Many speakers agreed that overall political transformation could not take place until there was a change in the patriarchal family structure.

Civil rights activist Marvi Sirmed chaired a panel discussion on substantive and controlled democracy in Pakistan. The speakers discussed the balance of power between civilian and military institutions. The speakers highlighted the limitations of democracy in Pakistan, lack of democracy within political parties and difficulties for women to participate in the political process.

ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak said that it was the military that controlled the narrative and decision-making process even when an elected government was in power in Pakistan.

Political analyst and TV anchor Ejaz Haider said that the days of martial laws were long gone and now the establishment also had to use the same platforms and instruments to wield influence that the politicians use, social media and amenable political analysts. The gist of the discussion was that Pakistan still had a long way to go on these fronts.

The last panel discussed the state of minorities in Pakistan. Framing the discussion, Dr Ammar Ali Jan said that democracy was only effective if it gave voice to the weak and marginalised segments of the society. He said that unfortunately that was not the case in Pakistan.

Jennifer Jag Jivan of the Christian Study Centre said that social justice meant equal opportunities for all citizens irrespective of their religion, gender, ethnicity and sect.

The conference was followed by a cultural performance by Sheema Kermani and Tehrik-e-Niswanat at the PNCA Auditorium.

–The writer is a member of staff.