“The Wahhabi Islam that Zia chose for the country and the madrassas are two basic reasons for the Islamisation of the elite class. People who used to arrange social dinners and parties are now hosting milads and darses, such as Abida Gourmani, Farhat Hashmi and Nighat Hashmi”.

–Neelam Hussain at the International conference

on Women, Religion and Politics, 2011.

On February 12th, 1983, women poured out on the streets of Lahore, bearing signs and chanting slogans condemning the martial law regime. Walking in groups of four, they had defied Section 144, which banned public assemblies; some had even kept this hidden from male family members. This group of women, some mere teenagers, marched on to the Lahore High to petition against Zia’s discriminatory Law of Evidence that reduced a woman’s testimony to half that of a man’s.

These discriminatory policies had become old news by 1983. Zia had introduced his Islamisation policies years earlier, in 1977, with the Hudood Ordinance having been promulgated in 1981.

It was at this point that Women’s Action Forum came into being as a platform for women to raise voices against gender-based issues. Neelam Hussain, a key member of WAF, was a witness to the events that transpired on February 12th. According to her, the protestors were surrounded by the police force, which was greater in number than the protestors themselves.

Today, such policies still transpire, where people in power (elite) have only used them for their own advantage- creating a form of Islam only for a few, especially excluding women.