islamabad - Speakers at a seminar called for re-examining the current narrative on morality and tradition, urging to highlight and propagate new role models of traditional women to reclaim the progressive spaces provided within the culture.

A one-day seminar on “Women Reclaiming Culture” was hosted by the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage (Lok Virsa) here at Shakarparian marking the International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on March 8 to mark the struggle for women’s rights, celebrate the successes and build solidarity for the struggles that need to be done in the future. This year’s theme for international women’s day is art and culture.

The first session remained focus on the discussions and consultation regarding indigenous feminism, which was chaired by the cultural icon Ms Mahtab Akbar Rashdi. Key scholars including Dr Riffat Haque, Noureen Lehri, Ms Amar Sindhu, Afsheen Kamran, Dr Fouzia Saeed, Sarwat Mohiuddin and Nazish Brohi unpacked this phenomenon and defined the key areas that need to be worked upon.

They stressed that the current narrative on morality and tradition needs to be critically examined, new knowledge on women in folklore has to be developed; and new role models of traditional women have to be highlighted and propagated. Research papers presented in the session aimed to further plan out this discourse. Academics as well as practitioners were invited who showed keen interest in the topic from the twin city area and other parts of the country. A half day structured discussion facilitated to come up with a framework to be pursued. A plan has been developed to systematically evolve certain themes within the discourse on indigenous feminism. A core group of 20 persons held intense discussions to develop a framework.

The second session of the seminar provided an opportunity for women who have been survivors of gender based violence (GBV) to share their struggles in the light of the discussions in first session. They inspired people of the strength women show and fight against those who violate in the name of tradition. This took place in an outdoor area where ministry of human rights set up information-dissemination booths. Women shared their experience and to acknowledge them, the High Commissioner of Australia distributed shields to recognise their bravery.

Food stalls were also set up at Lok Virsa premises to facilitate the participants of the seminar. The outcome of this consultation would be a framework that would guide further research work on this discourse in the coming year. The second half of the seminar had narratives of courage - experience sharing of women who resisted oppression. Deputy High Commissioner of Australia Jurek Juscszyk was chief guest at the second session of the seminar.

Speaking on the occasion, Executive Director Lok Virsa Dr Fouzia Saeed, who is also a renowned folklorist, cultural expert and social activist, said this year Lok Virsa celebrates the International Women’s Day on the 12th–13th of March and unleashes the power of culture. It encourages women to reclaim the progressive spaces provided within the culture and use this day as a step forward into this process. “For long, traditional culture has been abused to restrain and suppress women. Crimes against women were legitimised in the name of honor and tradition. Women were restricted from utilising their abilities in public life in the name of their “traditional role” and society stayed silent at heinous atrocities, protecting, so to speak, “sanctity of feminine”. What people do not realise is that traditional culture requires pruning all the time. Strange practices, that violate women’s rights, need to be rooted out like unwanted wild weeds from the desired plants”.

Interestingly, she said, enough women have been repositories of traditional culture and folklore throughout South Asia. “They have been keepers of rituals, folk songs, language, clothing, foods, relationships and many other aspects. They have played an important role in continuation of cultural identity in a society. However, when it comes to their own rights and breathing space, the society uses the same culture as a beating stick. Women have the same cultural rights to enjoy creativity, performing arts, aesthetics and means of expression as anyone else in a society. But these areas get stigmatised when it comes to women, sometimes in the name of morality and sometimes as a means for their ‘protection’”.  

Dr Fouzia Saeed went on to say that “any writings or action on women’s rights is associated with the western ideologies in Pakistan. This has almost become a beating stick to de-legitimise women’s struggle.”

She added, “Ironically our own tradition is full of examples of how women fought against the social status quo and symbols of power to get justice and their rights, but this has not been documented properly. No attempts have been done to undo the bashing women suffer in the name of tradition. The cruellest practices are sold off as traditional practices without questioning or condemning them. Selective and self-benefiting use of tradition is allowed to men in power where they themselves quickly take on modernisation but any such advance for women is stopped in the name of tradition. Even many women themselves are not aware of this abuse in the name of traditions.”