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Pukhtun Women: Challenging Stereotypes

Mar 16, 2015: The Pukhtun Festival Committee, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) Afghanistan, the Institute for Preservation of Arts & Culture (IPAC) and Kuch Khaas, organized the Pukhtun Festival 2015 in Islamabad. The festival celebrated the resilience of the Pukhtuns, who have withstood decades of unrest. The three-day event included modern and traditional Pushto music, songs and dance, documentary screenings, art displays, poetry sessions, and a range of food and craft stalls. Panels of experts also discussed key social and political issues faced by Pukhtuns today.

The first of these panel discussions, titled Pukhtun Women: Challenging Stereotypes, was held on Saturday morning. The panel focused on the stereotypical perception of Pukhtun women and their negative portrayal in mainstream media, and the steps required to counter these stereotypical images and perceptions. Women in Pukhtun society are commonly portrayed as powerless, but the women who participated in this panel are all pioneers in their respective fields of work, symbolizing socioeconomic empowerment. Their various achievements served to challenge the stereotypical representation of Pukhtun women.

The session was led by Samar Minallah Khan, a research anthropologist and documentary filmmaker. A University of Cambridge graduate, she has been a pioneer in using film as a tool for development and social change. She holds a special interest in issues related to Pukhtun women, and has made several influential documentaries on the topic.


Cultural Diversity Day celebrated

May 23, 2014: To celebrate World Cultural Diversity Day, the Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture (IPAC) and the happening community space for discourse, learning, meaningful entertainment and participation, Kuch Khas (KK), organised an evening of music along with poetry reading and the screening of a video - and the added attraction of refreshments for hungry bunnies, courtesy KK "because this is a special day and this is what we work towards - showcasing cultural diversity," said
The event was open to those who registered and was well attended with a number of expatriates also present.

The programme began with anthropologist, documentary filmmaker, and human rights activist, Samar Minallah
  • she has been a pioneer in using film and traditional culture as a tool for change and development in Pakistan
  • giving her thoughts on what cultural diversity means, beginning with the quote by Yolanda King
  • "Cultural diversity is as important for humans as biodiversity is for nature."
This was followed by the screening of a documentary she has made on the subject. Snippets of Pakistan's rich cultural traditions across the country have been captured on film, giving a clear picture of the cultural diversity that exists in the country and needs to be preserved.

The poetry was read eloquently by Taimur Rehman who has embarked on a journey of reviving the lost art form of storytelling and poetry.
Over the last two years, Taimur has performed with the likes of Iftikhar Arif, Bee Gul and Nighat Chaudhry. He has also performed at TEDx Change, Islamabad, Children's Literature Festival 2013 and 2014 and also performed at the South Asian Literature Festival, London.

He read poems which included the very relevant to our times 'kafir' by Salman Haider and Faiz Ahmed Faizs 'Hum Dekhaingay" among others.

The music was provided by pride of performance award winner Muhammad Ajmal on the tabla; getting more famous by the day Salman Adil on the flute and Shabi Nizami on the sitar.

First Adil played a couple of compositions followed by Shabi, with a repeat of this arrangement and their session closed with all three of them playing together. The music was from all four provinces - most of it familiar, popular numbers to which the audience clapped along - and was enjoyed by the serious listeners.

Of-course there were some in the audience who talked throughout without being considerate about the fact that others were there to listen to the music and not to their chatter! As long as there are people who care for and want to preserve our cultural heritage we need not fear the dark forces who want to do away with it, so well done, KK and IPAC!

The News International

Cultural Diversity Day celebrated

Ishrat Hyatt
Friday, May 23, 2014

From Print Edition


Vigil for activist Rashid Rehman

May 9, 2014: Politicians, civil society activists and representatives of non-government organisations gathered in Sector F-6 on Thursday to protest against the killing of notable human rights lawyer and the coordinator of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Rashid Rehman.

Prayers and vigil were also held for the slain activist.

Mr Rehman was shot dead at his office in Multan, on Wednesday evening. Two other persons, who were present in Mr Rehman's chamber, were injured in the attack.

Participants of the protest included Member of National Assembly Marvi Memon, human rights activists Fauzia Minallah, Sarwar Bari, Tahira Abdullah, Samina Nazir, Karamat Ali, William Pervez and Nageen Hayat.

The protesters chanted slogans against the killing of Rashid Rehman and demanded the arrest of the culprits. They also demanded protection for all human rights activists in the country.

The participants held a candle light vigil and prayed for the departed soul of Rashid Rehman. After a protest of an hour, they dispersed peacefully.

Human rights activist William Pervez, while talking to Dawn, said Rashid Rehman would always be remembered for his services to the people.

A Reporter
Dawn News Islamabad

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Filmmaker by cause

Feb 23, 2014: Samar Minallah Khan never felt like a "typical urbanised child". At home, she saw a progressive atmosphere, where her father encouraged her to do all that her brothers did. "It was a feeling that something was expected of me, something meaningful," she reminisces, while chatting with me in her Islamabad home.

Holding true to her expectations, she pursued with formidable conviction a career in documentary film-making and became a diehard women's rights campaigner. Over the years, Samar has fought tirelessly for the issue of compensation marriages - swara and vani - as a violation of basic human rights. Her contribution is not only limited to amendments in the national laws on swara and vani, but also pursuing the courts to set free 120 girls who were victims of this crime.

For her advocacy on swara and vani, she was chosen for the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in 2012.

Samar started her career as a freelance journalist with interest in Pakhtun women issues. She switched to the medium of documentary film-making during her MPhil at Cambridge. "I was writing in English for English publications. I felt I was not reaching my target audience. I was not achieving my purpose," she says.

In 2003, she attempted to do her first documentary on swara and vani. "I didn't have professional background in filmmaking but I was very passionate about it. I picked up a camera and went to the tribal areas to interview young women, as I wanted to be culturally sensitive," Samar says.

The first screening of the documentary, titled Swara Da Zhwand Mairman, at the Peshawar Press Club was a harsh experience for Samar, as she recollects, "The reaction was that of shock."

Samar chose the issue of swara and vani because "then, there was no law to stop it - a girl was given away to the victim's family as compensation to serve the family as a slave. The criminal aspects were far too many of this practice, such as the youngest girl in the family was given away and treated with condemnation as she constantly reminded them of the crime committed by her father or brother or uncle".

While researching the issue, Samar traveled far and wide, and everywhere she was told that the custom was no longer in practice. One morning, as she walked towards a small hill in Matta, a remote village in Swat, little did she know her footsteps were taking her towards an arduous journey from where she wouldn't turn back. "I came across a woman and a girl child weeding. I asked them about swara. I was holding a camera then. The woman said that her 11-year-old daughter was a swara victim. I was shocked. It seemed she wanted to talk to someone. I asked for her permission to record her story and, surprisingly, she agreed and said she wanted everyone to know the pain she was going through. She said that she was helpless," Samar recalls.

Samar knew there and then "it was my calling and I am going to make sure that people know that this custom is taking place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and that the girls are paying the price for someone else's crime."

The first screening of the documentary, titled Swara Da Zhwand Mairman, at the Peshawar Press Club was a harsh experience for Samar, as she recollects, "The reaction was that of shock. They blamed me of betraying Pakhtuns". But Samar was not going to give up. "I told them I take pride in being a Pakhtun and want to change the practices that bring injustice to my people."

Next day, the newspapers gave her film a positive review.

Samar's greatest strength was her passion for rights of voiceless women. She attended jirgas where women are forbidden, spoke to imams, sensitised the police and aided the victims and their families through public interest litigation. In 2004, the law was amended and section 310(a) of Pakistan Penal Code was inserted, making it a non-cognizable and non-bailable offence.

In 2005, the Supreme Court challenged the unconstitutional, unlawful and un-Islamic custom of giving girls as compensation to end disputes. The Supreme Court further instructed the inspector generals of the police in all four provinces to act against the settlement of disputes through these rural customs.

In 2011, a law on Prevention of Anti-Women Practices was passed which guaranteed greater social protection to women in Pakistan. But this was only a beginning, as creating an understanding of the practice as a violation of human rights and implementation of law demanded greater commitment from judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

Samar has studied both religious and cultural perspectives regarding the custom. She explains, "Surah Al Fatir states that no bearer of burdens shall bear another's burden. There is qiyas and diyat option. In jirgas, there is always a maulvi of that community. A KP based maulvi remarked that the decision is always cultural and not based on religion."

Recently, Samar was in Sukkur where a jirga was giving away a seven-year-old girl as compensation. "The police wanted to introduce her family to a lawyer who would acquaint them with the law. That's when I realised how important is access to information". So, with the help of donor funding, Samar has recently compiled a booklet for law enforcement agencies, which guides the police as to how to enforce the law in the communities and jirgas. "They can arrest jirgas too in this regard."

Samar believes the real change comes from within the community and by changing attitudes of elders in the jirga system. "In all my documentaries I interview persons from jirgas and local imams. I ask them if this practice is Islamic. But they feel encouraged to discuss the issue. If a community has even two persons that matter it is enough to bring attitudinal change."

Samar documented the practice in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan in Urdu and short videos in which community heroes are highlighted. The compensation marriages in other parts of the country are also called Sang Chatti, Irjaai or Bhaan.

Samar has insightful tips on working with communities in development. She points out that when it comes to the development sector, we are still not working at grassroot level, on follow-ups or long-term commitments - all is based on funding. She says projects lack community based dialogue which allows the community members to think of choices and community level solutions. That's how sustainability can be addressed.

The News on Sunday
Aliya Agha
February 23, 2014

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