Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…

Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Educate a woman and you educate an entire generation…


Recently a photo of a 25 year old Afghan girl Jahan Taab from  a remote poor village Oshto in Daikundi,  went viral when she was taking the college entrance exam called Kankor Exam while breast feeding her child. Later it was confirmed that she has passed the exams and wants to go to college to study Sociology. Photo credits are given to an invigilating lecturer Yahya Erfan. He was so moved by her determination that he posted the pictures on his facebook. Link here

“She got up from her desk when her baby started to get fussy. She sat down on the floor, breastfeeding the infant, and kept filling out the answers to the test.” (Buzzfeed).

She reportedly told the lecturer Mr. Erfan that she is worried about the cost of education and that the University is 8 hours from her residence. It is the power of social media that a Go-Fund was created to support the cost of here higher education.

More about JahanTaab

 

 

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Needless to say, girls’ determination to study is never an issue. The key barrier is the systemic patriarchy in the garb of cultural mores or religious edicts.

Patriarchy is such an omnipresent barrier that hinders women in all communities and all economic strata one way or the other. And here is where the role of men becomes extremely important in bringing about women empowerment by dismantling the walls of patriarchy.

Here I must share my own story too.

(Bear in mind I am an urban educated woman with a strong will power. But even then, had it also not been the supportive men in my life, I may not have sailed through various systemic hurdles that patriarchal infrastructures create at every nook and corner of a woman’s life). 

In the early 1990s, as an Indian medical graduate I had to go through a written and a clinical exam by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to be certified to practice in Pakistan. I opted Karachi centre. When I received notification for the exam it said the exam will not be held in Karachi as there are no other candidates. The exam will be in Peshawer.

Since I lived in the Middle East, I was supposed to travel with my kids to Karachi where my in laws lived. But before I could even know and panic about how I will travel with kids to Peshawer, my husband first took an emergency leave from his hospital, and then informed me that we are all travelling to Peshawer. 

My husband Fasih and I, with our two kids- a toddler and a 6 month old breast feeding infant landed in Peshawar. It was a 3 day long exam- with a written paper and clinical exam.  From day 1, my husband sat in the lawn of the examination centre, with two babies, as he dropped me for the exam. I would come out to feed the baby every few hours in the breaks.

Funniest incident in the whole saga was when my daughter cried, “Papa potty.”
He ran with the baby in one hand and the toddler in another to the washroom.
As he entered the male washroom the guard said, “Take the girl to female washroom with her mother.”
“BUT mother is busy in exam.”
“Then wait.”
“But this baby cannot wait. She has to go urgently.”
So the guard let him take her to the washroom. And while holding the infant in arms he helped the toddler finish the job and clean her. 
Finally they came back to play and sit in the lawn again. 
And then he smelt the baby has soiled his diaper. He ran again to the same wash room.
The chowkidar got annoyed, “Ap pher se as gaye?” (You have come again?).
Fasih: “Smell this diaper.”
The guard laughed and commented, “Aur parhao biwi ko.”(Let your wife study more).

After day1 the entire examination team knew about my family and when I went from each viva and clinical exam, from Internal Medicine to General Surgery to ENT to ObGyn to Ophthalmology, first thing the professors asked was how are the husband and babies doing? 
Second question they asked was, “Where have you graduated from?”. 
On reply “Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi” every single one of them began the viva with the comment, “So do we really need to test your knowledge?”
No bragging but I passed with the top position. 

The head examiner was Prof Zakaullah Beg who was my husband’s professor in his postgraduate life. He himself called Fasih on phone 2 weeks later in Karachi to break the news.

Moral of the story: Empower a woman and she will make her husband, family and entire community proud.

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“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”


“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”

I wish men ever got pregnant and had to raise children the way mothers do to realize what a travesty of injustice this clause by Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan is. It should be the other way round….men must have the permission from women for not using contraception.

There is little consolation that contraception is not an ‘as big an issue here like in Catholicism'(as often compared by the apologists), but if Allah (SWT) allows it, I am sure the Almighty has granted this right to  women knowing they are the ones who bear the children in their wombs and raise them.  Making husbands be the police over contraception is injustice and no where in any holy texts can this be found. Why is it a rocket science that this is simply a patriarchal attempt by  opportunistic men to control women?

Having worked in a conservative community in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the field of ObGyn/Family Medicine for 14 years, I know exactly what this means.

Here is a true story, which I remember even the details of.

A 40/41 year old woman with 5 children, eldest in his late teens came to me asking for contraception. After discussion on pros & cons, she decided to choose a pill that was appropriate for her age.
Half an hour later, her husband, in early 60s banged the clinic door open and showed me the medication in his hand asking: “What is this?”
I told him “This is a medication for women.”
Him: “Is this contraceptive?”
Me: “Yes.”
He threw it in my dustbin and warned me that if I prescribed a contraceptive again, he will complain against me.
He closed my door back and I was later told that he dragged his wife to the car pulling her by her head scarf.

An year and a half later, the woman had a new baby.

Three years after the child was born this man suddenly died of brain hemorrhage at 67.
The lady was left with 6 children, 2 of them not even in their teens. And she was the second of the three wives he had left behind.
I saw her all the years, until I left the job, and I know in how much misery this woman in her mid to late forties was going through raising children as a widow on 1500 Saudi Riyals stipend as a widow.
(BTW this is one of several stories I personally encountered).

It is easy for men to dictate not to use contraception but it is extremely hard for women to raise children when men take decisions but do not follow through with responsibilities arising out of it.

Decision to bear children and their number must ideally be a joint responsibility. The woman must have a voice in that decision making instead of being forced upon her.

 

Going Home~ Creating safe space is not a rocket science.


It is dark, and quiet,
She is alone,
She is young and beautiful,
Yet she is spontaneous and warm
Because she feels safe.
Doesn’t that feel good?
Whether you are a man or a woman,
to see a fellow human feel secure in your company?
Age, place, dress, time do not matter,
Secure and safe space is everyone’s right.
Can you give that space menfolk?
Yes, you can, and you must.
I know womenfolk will have that space one day,
And I know that day is not too far.

Creating safe space for women
Is not a rocket science.
Its not just possible,
but is very simple
Watch this:
A lovely short film by Vikas Bahl #GoingHome

The Flawless Purse: Dilemma of Consumerism


In style she clutched a glossy purse,
Tight between her hand and her chest,
Protecting it from falling or
From being scratched,
From the pointed necklace
Around her own neck.
She had saved for years,
And dreamed of even longer
To own this branded gem.
She holds on to it firm,
Yet all tender, all protective,
Like a beautiful relationship,
Between two souls,
Knowing how hurt,
The purse can get,
When there are bruises
And that the purse
shall never be the same,
if held back after it falls.
So precious, and so priceless,
She finally owns a flawless dream.
But oh for the flawed souls,
They come and go in our lives.

ClutchBag

Kesariya Baalam by Reshma


Reshma who originally hailed from Bikaner Rajasthan here sings a ‘maand’ or a welcome song in Rajasthani language for the arrival of the beloved.
(Have attempted to translate the verses from my basic knowledge of the language).

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Thaare aayo dujaan
Barishme mere
Your arrival
shall bring life in me

Saajan aaye o’ sakhi,
Main kayeen manwa vikraan,
Thaari paryo gaj motiyaan,
Aur ooper nayn dharaan.
My beloved shall come my friend
How can I keep my mind sane,
I shall spread pearls on the tray,
And keep my eyes on them.

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Sajan sajan main karaan
Sajan jeev jari
Choorley per moondshaan
Aur vachaan ghari ghari.
I utter “Beloved, Beloved.”
“Beloved” is embedded on my tongue,
Shall weave his name on my bracelet,
And watch it over and over.

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Awan saavan keh gayo dhola
Ker gaya khol anek
Bin taagan taa gash gayee
Mhaari anganiya ree rey.
Shall come in the rains, he promised,
Played many cruel jokes on me,
Without the rope of his swing,
My courtyard is deserted.

Kesariya baalam o’saa,
padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved,
Come to my abode.

Samra’s story: When marital abuse did not break her


First published in Express Tribune, Pakistan on June 10, 2013 : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17620/samras-story-when-marital-abuse-did-not-break-her/

 

Attending the graduation ceremony of students at the prestigious University of Toronto, my daughter pointed out Samra Zafar, saying

“She topped in Economics and she is a Pakistani!”

Samra was flanked not by parents, but two daughters, aged 12 and seven. I wanted to know more about her, and hence invited her over to our house next evening.

At home, while sipping tea, Samra shared her 14 year journey with me and I was absolutely floored by her story.

In 1999, in Abu Dhabi, Samra was a brilliant 16-years-old student of grade 11, dreaming to go to a foreign university to pursue higher studies. Her only fault was that she was tall and extremely good looking – she was a dream bride. Hence when the proposal from a ‘well settled boy in Canada’ arrived, it was difficult for her working class parents to refuse. Eldest of four daughters, the parents thought this would give her a great opportunity to go aboard and pursue her dream, under the safety of her husband and in-laws.

The in-laws reassured their support too.

However, once married and in Canada, things changed. She was told,

“The atmosphere in high schools is not good, and hence it is better to not be thankless and stay happy at home.”

Samra refused to give up though and completed her high school courses through distance learning.

Despite being a mom at the age of 18, she excelled in her high school exams and got accepted to the University of Toronto. Her husband, however, refused to support her and his good financial status left her ineligible for university loans. She tried to convince her in laws for three years but to no avail.

It was not just her education; she was under strict vigil all the time. She was not allowed to leave the house, had no cell phone and was not allowed to learn how to drive. She never had a penny on herself and was constantly abused and neglected.

Samra had not visited her parents for five years. The first time she went back was when her father sent tickets for Samra and her daughter. When she was leaving, she asked her husband fora meagre $10 so that she could have some coffee and buy some chocolate for her daughter during their transit stop at Heathrow Airport. He just snarled at here and said,

“Ask your father for that too.”

She had left and did not intend to come back, but her husband begged her to return with a promise that he would change and that she will be allowed to study this time; he said that he realized he could not live without her. Reassured, Samra returned, only to know that once she got pregnant the second time, the physical abuse was to became worse.

Samra stated that,

“A bruise on my upper arm was a permanent fixture, as in every bout of anger, he would grab my arm really hard and squeeze. Often he pushed me, pulled my hair and spit in my face, even in front of my daughters.”

Again disheartened, she went back to her father’s home, pregnant with her second daughter. Within a couple of months her father suddenly fell ill and passed away. Samra recalls the day before his death and the advice her father gave her when he said,

“My life is uncertain, I may not live to look after you. You have to be strong and pull yourself out of this. I have always envisioned seeing you at the top of a world ranking University.”

Things had changed. Her mother was alone now and had two other unmarried daughters to support.

Samra, accepting it as fate, returned to her husband. To earn her own money, she began baby sitting in her house. As consolation to continue her work, she would give her husband some pocket money from which he would buy his cigarettes and a share to her mother in law, too, to earn their approval.

In 2008, she applied again and got accepted to the University of Toronto. This time she did not have to look to her husband for financial assistance, as her child care business could enable her to pay her own fees. However, this led to escalation of physical abuse. She was instructed by her husband on a daily basis,

“Don’t talk to your male professors, don’t talk to anyone on campus and don’t go to the library.”

The abuse was so severe, that she had to take a break after the first year. Several times she had suicidal thoughts and her self-confidence had completely shattered. That led her to a meeting with the Psychological Counselor at the university campus. She attended the sessions in secrecy and there she was informed that what she was going through was a typical cycle of domestic abuse. And that it was not her fault, or her destiny to bear it.

She reveals;

“It was my daily routine to beg my husband and ask him, ‘Why do you do this? Why don’t you love me?’”

And all he replied with each time was,

“Because you deserve this.”

The psychological counselling at the university, gave her the strength to get back to university. By the second year, the abuse had become worse but she had been told that she could call 911 if need be.

“I will call the cops, if you hit me again.” She uttered once, while her husband raised his hand. That is what triggered him to say,

“Talaq, talaq, talaq.”

(I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.)

Samra says,

“I was shattered, and I did not know what to do next. If I left the house, I would not have childcare income. How would I continue to study? I had two young girls to support.”

Samra’s husband and in-laws ran from pillar to post to get Fatwas to invalidate the divorce. Samra laughs,

“Once my mother-in-law even brought a person for the necessary Halala to rectify the Talaq.”

However, by now Samra had, despite many weak moments, gathered enough strength to move out of this cyclical abuse and face what came her way.

She shifted to a residence at the university campus. Her husband and in-laws then tried threatening her; they said either return or they would malign her in the local Pakistani community of her ‘living’ with men at the university. Her husband often told their daughter,

Do you think your mother goes to university to study only?”

Samra revealed that,

“After a decade of physical, financial, psychological and emotional, abuse it was only in the summer of 2011, that I finally had the courage to go to the cops and give a detailed, date by date account of the abuse I faced, along with the evidence.”

As a result, her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. Despite two court cases, three jobs and two children, she continued to excel in her studies and became head teaching assistant.

Today, Monday June 10, 2013, at the official convocation of the prestigious University of Toronto, Samra will not only be awarded a Bachelors degree in Economics, but she will also be awarded the prestigious Top Student Award in Economics. She also has to her credit a dozen more awards given to her for her academic excellence in the past four years, including the prestigious John H Moss Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a single student in the entire university (all three campuses). She has also been admitted to the PhD program in Economics at the University of Toronto, with a full scholarship.

When not studying or working, Samra loves cooking for her girls and gives them all the free time she gets.

“We are now the happiest we have ever been.”

I asked her how she would advise other girls who are trapped in the same scenario and to that she said,

“Do not let anyone disrespect you. Believe in yourself. You are the only one who can change your situation. It is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. I had all the disadvantages any girl could have.”

She refers to the myth of needing a man as a support,

I have no father, brother, son, or husband to support me. But I have done it, all by myself. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Read more by Ilmana here or follow her on Twitter @Zeemana

Sometimes calamities unite us more


First published here: http://amankiasha.com/detail_news.asp?id=1018

The conscience-shaking brutal rape and subsequent
death of the anonymous student from Delhi is not India’s issue alone and the grief is not for one case alone
By Ilmana Fasih

As thousands of people on both sides of the India Pakistan border mourned the death of the Delhi gang rape victim, someone commented on Aman ki Asha Facebook group: “Well, the Delhi rape proceeds from a common mindset. The negatives unite us just as well as the positives.”
“Sometimes, calamities unite us more,” came a response.

The conscience-shaking brutal rape and subsequent death of the anonymous student from Delhi (who is referred to by different names by various sections of the media) has made us rethink how common our pains are.

Beyond this tragic incident, looking through the e-newspapers from the subcontinent, there is hardly a day without some incident of rape being reported.Be it the gruesome gang-rape of a medical student at a bus stop in a megacity, or a six-year-old girl raped by local goons in a village, or a girl raped while partying with friends in the posh area of another city, or a teenager gang-raped and then asked to patch up by accepting money or marrying one of the rapists in a town. Can you guess which side of the border each case belongs to? The scenarios differ, cities differ, but the crime remains the same. The mindset stays identical. Age is no bar. Infancy upwards, one finds women and children of all age groups being subjected to rape and sexual abuse.

Unfortunately this is one situation where the human race seems to have achieved a “no barriers of age, color, creed or class”, the world over.

Hard to digest, but rapes are on a steep rise in the subcontinent.

In 2011, 568 rape cases were reported in Delhi, and 459 in 2009 (National Crime Reports Bureau) .The figures given by Delhi Police reveal that a woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in the capital.

Similarly in Pakistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, estimates that “every two hours a woman is raped in Pakistan and every eight hours a woman is subjected to gang-rape”.

The Additional Police Surgeon, quoted in a 2008 newspaper report, estimated that at least 100 rapes are committed in Karachi alone every 24 hours, although most are un-reported.

If these are the statistics of two megacities, one can fathom what would be the situation in the other smaller towns and villages. It is well known that the majority of the rapes in India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries are never reported, and just a handful of the perpetrators are ever punished.
The tragedy is amplified when inane solutions are offered like: “Women should not go out late at night” or “Women going out late night should be accompanied by a male.” In the ‘Delhi gang rape’ case, the solution of an accompanying man clearly failed.

Women are advised not to wear western clothes, or more ridiculous “not to eat chow mein” or “not to carry mobile phones with cameras”. Some even advise women to not report the attack “if there are not enough witnesses”.

But none of this well-meaning advice takes into account why rapes occur. It is not because the woman was dressed so, or walked alone on the street late at night, or was attending a party with her friends or ate a certain kind of food. No. Rape occurs because some men want to rape. And why do ‘some’ men want to rape and not others? Rape is the culmination of a series of systematic experiences that a man is exposed to, from infancy to manhood- in which he is told, with or without so many words, that he is stronger, and a woman is not just weaker, but a commodity at his disposal. Rape is a way to display power and superiority.

So long as this mindset persists, legislation and punishment will never be enough of a deterrent. This tends to get overlooked in all the outrage at the gruesome details of the Delhi gang rape, that has led to demands for the severest of punishments, even public hanging for the perpetrators.
Without undermining that tragedy it is important to remind ourselves of the countless cases of rape and sexual harassment that are routine on both sides of the divide. Those who survive suffer psychological trauma, often far from the media limelight, mostly in silence.

Rape survivors are often pressured by the police or local goons to hush up the matter either, to accept money, or worse still, marry the rapist. Many commit suicide, or live with permanent scars. The rapists often roam scot free, posing a threat to the survivor who does not even dare to raise her head for justice.

Insisting on the death penalty in an isolated case that has shaken people cannot be a solution. Studies have shown that the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, is a greater deterrent to crime.

We also need to look towards at preventing this crime rather than just push for a punishment after a case gets highlighted.

Foremost, each of us, irrespective of gender, which empathises with the Delhi student who was gang-raped, or any other faceless rape victim, needs to strive to ensure every woman in our sphere of influence feels secure and gets due respect. One of the signs of evolution in human beings is the neo cortex which enables us to restrain behaviour and train our minds. We need to use it to ensure that we don’t force anything upon any woman – or indeed anyone in a more vulnerable position.

Secondly, we need to empower girls with the right information and stop making rape a taboo issue for their ‘innocent’ minds. It is more important to teach a girl to be assertive than to try and ‘protect’ her. “Look up as you walk and stand up straight; pretending as though you have two big panthers on either side of you as you walk may sound silly, but it can help boost confidence,” suggests a self help site on rape prevention. “Attackers are more likely to go for those who they think cannot defend themselves.”

Given that over 90% of the perpetrators are known to the victims, girls (and boys) must be taught that if they feel uncomfortable with anyone’s touch – even if it is an uncle, a cousin or a friend – they must trust their gut and not let it continue. Thirdly, if we cannot change the mindset of some grown men, we can at least guide our sons, right from babyhood, to respect women and not consider them a commodity that is ‘available’. Last but certainly not the least, for those who cannot change their mindsets, a real need for certainty and not the severity of punishment to the rapist, as a mode of deterrence, is mandatory.

Shocked after the demise of the Delhi paramedical student, I tweeted: “Her sacrifice must no go in vain. Let us rise to make violence against women a history.” Knowing the scale of the menace, this may be wishful thinking, but we need to keep striving to make it a reality.

The writer is an Indian gynaecologist married to a Pakistani, a proud Indian Pakistani dreaming of a peaceful, healthy and prosperous South Asia.
ilmana_fasih@hotmail.com.

She tweets @zeemana

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A tribute to Delhi gang raped girl, inititially known as Amanat, Nirbhaya or Damini:

Goodbye Damini – A tribute to Nirbhaya