The Punjab government launched a 16-day activism campaign, which includes street theater performances executed by the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) to be held in various public places as well as universities in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan to create awareness about the challenges faced by women in Pakistan and the laws that have recently been passed to ensure protection and empowerment of women.

The initiative was taken by the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit-law and order (SMU) in collaboration with UN Women. A spokesperson for SMU told The Nation that the SMU was working on certain women centric reforms one of which was ‘Women on Wheels’ campaign, launched in collaboration with City Traffic Police and City District Government, through which they aim to provide free motorcycle training to women all over Punjab. She said that around 1500 women had already been trained through this initiative.

The other reform is the Violence Against Women Centres (VAWCs) which is to provide a swift justice delivery mechanism for the female victims of violence and is to be implemented across Punjab. The centres would also provide rehabilitation for victims of violence. The first VAWCs is being built in Multan and “would be completely female run”. She said that Interactive Resource Centre (IRC) was collaborating and aiding in running theatrical performances based on these initiatives to raise awareness.

The street theater is to have a two pronged effect on the public, firstly they are to inform about these reforms taken by the government and secondly to internalise and make the public more sensitive to issues related to female mobility, and the objectification of and violence towards women.

The first day of the campaign was kicked of with a street theater held near the Old Anarkali on Mall road, Lahore on the 5th of December. The two skits were written and directed by Muhammad Waseem, Director/Founder of Interactive Resource Center (IRC) and were about the initiatives taken by the SMU i.e. the Women on Wheels campaign as well as the Violence Against Women centers (VAWCs).

The introduction to the event was made by Waseem, who said that the script of both skits were inspired by actual stories of the women that had been positively affected by these reforms.

The first play was about female mobility and the social stigma attached to women driving motorcycles. The plot revolved around a girl whose future was threatened by the mere fact that her brother couldn’t drive her to her university everyday so the girl encouraged by the government’s initiative decides to learn how to drive a motorcycle to the university herself.

The second play was based around violence and objectification of women. In this play a stool wrapped in a duppata personified a girl with men revolving around her telling her what to do and what not. The play was about how females are treated as personal property by their family and eventually their husbands and rarely looked upon as a person with desires and ambitions of their own.

At the end of each play, there would be a monologue in which the flute player would wrap up the story by informing the audience of the various bills that have been passed recently such as Women’s Protection bill that has criminalized harassing women and domestic violence against them as well as the reforms currently being undertaken by the SMU.

After the play had ended, The Nation approached some local audience members to ask what they thought about the play. Some members said that they believed domestic violence against women was wrong but then hesitantly added that women driving motorcycles was “against the teachings of Islam” because Islam requires a woman to observe “purdah” (veil).

A policeman standing nearby joined in on the conversation and said that the word “aurat” was synonymous with the word “purdah” and that a woman only looks good when she’s in a “purdah”. The policeman further went on to add that the people living in the west were very bothered by the liberation of women in their society.

The brief conversation shed some light on the importance of the Street Theatre initiative because while laws can be changed on the surface, the mind-set and perception of the people cannot. Perhaps the only way to tackle this issue and to internalize the concept of women empowerment is through art and the Street Theater campaign is doing just that.