I dont think there are enough opportunities for women across the workd to share their experiences:Human rights activist, Farida Shaheed, tells The Oslo Times
The Pakistani sociologist and feminist human rights activist, Farida Shaheed, over the past 25 years of has used feminist lens on issues of rural development, labor, culture, religion and the state. Also a United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.She heads the Shirkat Gah women’s resource centre in Pakistan, and is known for her extensive work on gender and class analysis, both in Pakistan and globally.
Shaheed was recently, also awarded with the “International Award UCLG – Mexico City Culture 21”, for her work on gender, culture, religion and the state. During her visit to Oslo This award winning activist spoke to The Oslo Time International’s editor-in-chief Hatef Mokhtar on various gender right issues in Pakistan, south Asia and the world alike, she also spoke about the relationship of Pakistan with its neighbors and religious extremist groups like the Taliban.
The excerpts below give us an insight into her interesting views on the issues mentioned above:
My first question to you today is a question we ask all our guests–What does human right mean to you?
I think the basis of human rights is human dignity and if you are deprived or denied of dignity then that is the violation of your human rights. Human rights are things, which are right of every human being because they are indivisible and universal and are for everybody without discrimination or distinction.
What do you think about politics in Pakistan?
I think Pakistan politics is complicated. We have had some terrible experiences of military intervention and the military rule. We had more time under military rule than under democratic sensation. But I am hoping that the democratic process it is there now takes root and takes time. Of course everything is not perfect but I think democracy is a process that you have to allow to grow and nurture in order for it to become stronger. And, I think there are many very disappointed Pakistanis who are not engaged in the party politics but who are struggling for a more democratic and a just society in which you do have human rights as the parameter for everybody.
Some people believe that Pakistan is a very ‘extremist society’, that it always supports extremism and that many extremist groups were born there. What do you think about these beliefs?
Pakistan is a very vast country with many hundreds millions of people. I would say that in fact Pakistanis are tolerant people who put up with a lot of abuse in their own everyday life. I do not think we are extremist as a society. I think there are certain elements which are extremist and which have found fertile ground in Pakistan. We have to start dealing with the support given to such elements. And I am glad that the government and the military establishments finally seem to have come around with the realization that you cannot have something like the good Taliban and the bad Taliban. These are the people who are anti-government and anti-country itself, people who want to destroy our society.
Do you think there would be a place for negotiation with the Taliban or should they be just eliminated?
I think you have to think sequentially and at the same time figure out who are extremists like those who are militants, are fully armed, are not just targeting the state, but who have focused on taking soft targets such as the children, I think its outrageous what has appointed there. I think we need to deal with them in a way that has military components to work but which has have to move from the military to the civil authorities. I think police has to be strengthened for this. The only way that you can deal with security threats, is through good intelligence and through interventions which allow in spreading alternative narratives across the country. Unfortunately, I do not think we are doing enough to spread a different viewpoint in the country for true newspapers, in our schools and in our public places.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are two Muslim nations with the same history and same background and over three million Afghan refugees were in Pakistan during the Russian attack. But there is huge dispute between them. Some countries blame Pakistan of playing double deal. What do you think about this and the reason behind the huge dispute between them?
I think societies who are neighbors and who may share the same history and same language in some cases have fought each other for centuries. This is not something that is new. I would like to see is that Pakistan has very good and friendly relationships with all its neighbors, which includes Afghanistan and India and not just China and Iran. I really think we have to look at the issue we are facing as a region and have to come up with regional responses to it. I am very appeased at that the moment that the President of Afghanistan is someone who seems to have a different outlook on the situation and there seems to be greater cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I can only hope that this gets strengthened as we move forward, because without it we will have no hope of dealing with the problems, whether they are at this side of the border or on that side of the border.
For the next three question I will give you words and statements, you just need to describe what they mean to you:
What does totalitarian regime mean to you?
A totalitarian regime is where you have a single narrative and single decision making from the top to the bottom; where there is no space for democratic dissent; where there is no space for debate or for alternative reference point. That means that in a totalitarian regime you try and ensure that the people lose their ability to think creatively and to think themselves and take actions.
As I have already mentioned,the essence of human right is human dignity and if we cannot ensure human dignity for everyone on the basis of equality then we are failing in our duty to ensure human rights for everyone, which means for women, for children, for men and for people from different classes, from different caste and different religions. Everybody has to be treated on the basis of equality and have equal opportunity for themselves.
Freedom of expression?
I think freedom of expression is something that we need as a part of humanity, we all have differences and we should be able to express our differences. I think the challenges come in when we transform the attentions and the differences of opinion we have. Instead of doing it through debates or discussions or artistic creation, we do it by taking up arms and start fighting each other in an armed conflict manner.
In one of my report on women’s right and cultural rights, in that, I have stated that it is high time for the world to change the paradigm demanding equal cultural right to women on the basis of equality with men and girls with boys.
It means the girls and women must have equal rights to determine what their culture is and what part of their cultural heritage and customs and practice that they want to keep, what they want to throw out, and what they want to change.
It means women must have the right to join and to be community of shared cultural values without fear of punitive action, it means that you must send the same amount of resources to women to ensure that women are able to express themselves in terms of the opportunities that are created in terms of force, in terms of surviving equal face on the air time, in terms of musical or theatrical things. I think without that change you are never going to have true equality. There are many things that you can change in law, but cant change the way we practice them in our culture, to make equality happen in reality.
What do you think about the people of Norway?
You know I would like to comment on that except the fact that I have only come here, yesterday and leaving today. I have not have the chance to engage with the Norwegian people, as would have been in the real basis. But let me say that I have always admired that very strong women have been part of the decision-making processes in Norway. And I think in that sense you do have change in the society which is positive and which allows men and women to rethink how they are engaging with the world and how they engaging with each other. And I think that is something positive. But of course there are challenges everywhere, in every corner of the world gender issues have not been resolved .
I think it is a marvelous endeavor. It is really important to have these kinds of forums which allows women working in different areas from across the world to share their experiences and for others to listen to them. I don’t think there are enough opportunities for women across the world to share their experiences. What you have here is the other side of reality. Very often women from certain community and background are portrayed as silent, as people without voice, and I think that this conference gives voice to those women who have suffered. It’s amplifying their efforts to defy the odds and to continue to speak out for justice and gender equality.
Can you tell us something about the Deeyah Khan?
I came across her when I was writing my report on artistic freedom. She is absolutely a wonderful woman, not just amongst women but also as a person among men and women. She is exceptional. She has a drive for giving voice to those who do not have such platforms. I think she really does want to struggle for social justice. She is very sharp in her analysis of what is injustice. I think all of us have to have that burning desire to stand up against injustice to bring about the better world and I think Deeyah is one of those voices.
A large portion of the world’s population does not have access to free media because of totalitarian and dictatorial regimes. And many journalists, human and women rights activist in those parts of the world are in prison. What is your message for these totalitarian and dictatorial regimes; for those activists and journalists who are struggling for freedom of expression, and for the right of humanity; and for our worldwide readership?
I think in terms of totalitarian regime, these cannot last forever. I think the people who think that they will last forever have always proved wrong in terms of history. It may take a few decades longer than people think. As I said peoples rebellion is like a tender and slime grass shoot that breaks through a neat, and clean concrete slab, makes itself heard and have an impact, though it may take longer.
To those who are resisting it, I would like request them to continue their struggle even though it’s very difficult and hard to continue the battle for human rights. I think that is where all of us have to extend solidarity to each other. We have to make our faces available to each other and to recognize difficulties in which people are struggling for human rights across the world.
All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times