Women-Led Social Movements in Pakistan

Women-Led Social Movements
    The landless peasants’ movement began to take shape in Punjab around the end of the 20th century, under the military dictator Pervez Musharraf. In that region, almost one million peasants—roughly 60% Muslims and 40% Christians—work on property that is either managed by government-run businesses or military farms while living in abject poverty. When the rulers’ smugness and corruption grew intolerable, the peasant communities rebelled by claiming ownership of the land their ancestors had been toiling on for more than a century.

    Between 2001 and 2003, when the government started using violent methods against its people, tensions with the institutions of the state reached a peak. The administration gradually withdrew as it realized the catastrophic public relations disaster it had caused by fighting against these tenacious adversaries. Because the male leadership had been imprisoned, women originally joined the movement during these clashes but eventually emerged as a mature, bold leadership collective. The government made numerous concessions to the peasants, but problems still exist, and the movement is still going today.

    Communities engaged in artisanal fishing may be found all along Pakistan’s Arabian Sea southern coast. These communities have a strong connection to the water that has grown through the years, and as native fishermen, they have unrestricted fishing rights. However, due to the militarization of the coastal region, the commercialization of the fishing sector, and environmental degradation, these people have had to endure progressively worse hardships and indignities over the past few decades. These groups started defending their rights collectively in the late 1990s, and in 1998 they organised into the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF). Various solutions the women in these communities came up with to deal with their problems and chronicles the ongoing struggle they endured.

    In Pakistan, health professionals organized this social campaign in 2007, which was started by women. Affected by the government’s inability to pay their wages and weary of being humiliated and harassed by their superiors, over 100,000 workers found the desire and resources to take collective action to improve their positions with a suitable pay scale. They encountered numerous obstacles in their struggle from the government and their families. They were water-hosed, tear-gassed, beaten, and imprisoned.

    They used a variety of tactics, including the skillful use of the judiciary’s power to persuade the bureaucracy to accede to their requests. Despite having minimal means, these women, who were mostly from the lowest and lower-middle classes, managed to plan massive protests around the country. As a result, even if they are still at odds today, they eventually succeeded in meeting some of their requests.

    Eleven women successfully sued a UN representative in Pakistan’s office, and as a result, AASHA (Alliance Against Sexual Harassment) was born. A movement centred on the issues of sexual harassment in the workplace was started as a result of the case. Beginning as a tiny network in 2001, AASHA quickly expanded to encompass labour unions, businesses, academic institutions, the media, and ordinary citizens, both men and women. The AASHA eventually succeeded in persuading the parliament to pass legislation in 2010 declaring sexual harassment to be a crime and requiring every formally registered organization to establish and use an internal anti-sexual harassment grievance adjudication mechanism. The organization was led by women, with men included at all levels. This legislation was the first of its kind in South Asia.

    AASHA officially ended in 2012 after supporting the implementation of the laws during their first two years. Before dosing, however, AASHA tutored several government offices and civil society organisations, enabling them to continue the work.

Source: On Their Own Terms- Early Twenty-First Century Women’s Movements in Pakistan by Fouzia Saeed

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