My mother would have turned 72 today

I remember the afternoon of 12 February 1983 very clearly.

I’m six years old and I spend what feels like several hours swinging back and forth on the front gate of our house in Lahore, Pakistan.

Why? Because my father is there, with my seven month old sister in his arms, pacing up and down the driveway and across the front of our house, looking increasingly concerned.

My mother, Shahla Zia, whose 36th birthday it is that day, isn’t home. I don’t know where she is, really. I just know that she was full of energy when she left with her friends and work colleagues.

Me and my father in, I think, 1980. I would have been four years old at the time.

§

Many years and several women’s day marches later I connect the dots: this is the day the women’s movement in Pakistan celebrates as National Women's Day (or Pakistan Women’s Day, as it was called back then).

On this day, some three decades ago, 200 women activists took a stand for all the women of Pakistan. The year was 1983. Images of these women being beaten up by the police are now part of the country’s searing conscience.

These women defied the military dictatorship of the day by taking out a public demonstration in Lahore, despite martial law regulations that outlawed political activities, processions and public protests. These iconic women of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in collaboration with Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association (PWLA) carried out a rally from Hall Road Lahore to the Lahore High Court to file a petition against the law of evidence which would reduce the testimony of women to half that of men. The accumulative trigger was the dictatorship’s unrelenting push to rescind women’s rights.

History has it that when these women reached the high court, the revolutionary poet Habib Jalib came to show solidarity with these women for their struggle for an egalitarian, democratic and progressive society and world order. He was beaten up by the police along with the women who were put behind bars for several hours.

National Women’s Day: Memoirs of trailblazing activists’ – Hassan Naqvi, The Express Tribune, 12 February 2014

Baton charge on protesters at Hall Road, Lahore. 12 February 1983. Photographer: Azhar Jaffery. (Source)

§

Today, on 12 February 2019, I’m in Melbourne, Australia.

I’m on the committee that’s organising this year’s International Women’s Day events at the company I work for. I’m working on a communications plan to showcase on social media how we're an employer of choice for women in Australia (as we have been since 2015).

One of the reasons I took this particular job (I got two job offers when I was looking for work last year) was because of how well Transurban scored on workplace gender equity. Now I get to tell people about it.

Compared to 1983 in Pakistan, I’m in a vastly different time and place – a vastly different world. A lot has changed. But, sadly, a lot hasn’t.

View from my office building on a rainy day.

§

Every year on 12 February my father writes a note to my mother, which he then sends to me and my siblings. (This year via WhatsApp!)

He writes about what we’re up to, where we are in our lives, and how proud he is of us. Three of us have kids (the other two, of which I am one, have pets) so he also talks about his grandkids and us as parents.

Ami and Abu, some time in the 1980s.

§

If she hadn’t died of cancer in 2005, Ami would’ve turned 72 today.

We all mark the occasion in our own ways, often with food – something Ami loved to eat. Today I’m having alu ka parathas for dinner.

I miss her.

Ami on her 50th birthday in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Making International Women's Day events in Australia more diverse

If you work in corporate Australia you’ll know all about the various events (usually panel discussions) that businesses tend to host or participate in around International Women’s Day (IWD).

As Cathy Ngo writes, most of these events aren’t particularly “diverse”.

But the problem I see with many IWD events, is that they look a little familiar. The venues may get fancier to attract corporate sponsors, but the line-ups are too often far from diverse. You tend to see the same career narrative presented: often from white middle class women, with backgrounds in journalism or TV.

I’m in no way downplaying the achievements of the speakers and panellists – but it doesn’t exactly reflect society’s broader career-pool and life experiences. An event where we are meant to celebrate all women’s progress and achievements, can quickly become a celebration of white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class women’s experiences.

This, of course, shouldn’t be the only experience we consider when it comes to gender equality.

Observing gender-equality through a solo lens, only allows us to see one angle. It excludes a huge percentage of women who have a completely different lived-experience but whose stories are equally valid and critical to a more nuanced conversation. As a society and in the workplace, we must ensure our gender inclusion policies and practices are made with those who can give voice to the lived experiences of all women.

If you want your event to have more diverse representation, multiple points of view, and a discussion of different lived experiences, check out this article that Ngo wrote for Women’s Agenda (which is where that quote above is from): ‘Speakers, organisers & attendees: Here’s how to make IWD events more diverse’.

I’m on the working group that’s organising this year’s IWD events at Transurban. We know from experience and surveys that IWD events aren’t particularly interesting or useful to attendees if they can’t relate to the people who are speaking or presenting. So we’re actually using some of the ideas from that article to make our speaker line-up as diverse as possible. I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with!

<random aside>

Also, is it just me or does the #BalanceforBetter pose look like a smiley-er version of the shrug emoji?

Compare the official photo/social media pose for this year’s IWD theme:

To the shrug emoji:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

</random aside>

My Mother, the Women’s Rights Activist

When I was six I remember spending a few bored hours swinging on our front gate at our house in Lahore. I was there because my father spent those hours pacing anxiously up and down the driveway with my eight month old sister in his arms. It was years later I realized that this was the day that my mother, along with a few hundred other women from the Women’s Action Forum, had been arrested for staging a rally against our then-dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia-ul-Haq was in the process of changing the country’s constitution by creating the Federal Shariat Court, a parallel court system that bypassed the Supreme Court. My mother, who had co-founded AGHS, the country’s first all-female law firm, had helped organize this rally. The police had tear gassed and baton-charged the protesters and had arrested dozens of them. That day, 12 February, is now celebrated as Pakistan Women’s Day. It also happens to be my mother’s birthday.

Shahla Zia at a protest rally in 2003

*start trigger warning about violence against women*

When I was thirteen my mother picked us up from school but, instead of taking us home, we drove for an hour and a half to the other side of Karachi where she had a meeting with some doctors and lawyers. We waited in the car outside the hospital for about an hour. On the way home she told us she’d gone there to see an eleven year old girl from a farming village who worked as a babysitter at her family’s land owner’s mansion. While there she has been raped, beaten, electrocuted, and held captive in a well. Aurat Foundation (AF), the non-profit my mother had co-founded a few years earlier in Lahore, was helping this girl and her family find shelter and legal representation.

My mother, by the way, was a constitutional lawyer and had previously been a criminal lawyer. When she was studying law in the 1970s she was one of six women in a law school of over two hundred men. She was the only woman in her graduating class.

Shahla Zia meeting with Nilofer Bakhtiar, President of the Women's Wing of the Pakistan Muslim League, in 2003.

When I was seventeen I dropped my mother off at her office for a meeting. She had established AF’s branch in Karachi and was now co-running its Islamabad branch. I was supposed to pick her up an hour later but, when I got there, there were a few police cars parked outside and an officer prevented me from going in but wouldn't tell me what was happening. I waited around anxiously for a bit but then went home and telephoned the office instead. My mother told me she’d call me once she was ready to head back, which turned out to be about four hours later.

They’d had a client at their office who had wanted to marry the wrong man; a man who was also of her own choosing. Her family had forbidden her from doing so but she and her now-husband had eloped. Her family had subsequently tracked her down and had made contact with her. She had sought help and had been referred to AF for legal advice. AF had negotiated with the family – who had said they wanted the client to come back home – so that afternoon they had organized a meeting between their client and two representatives from her family in order to discuss terms. However, before the two parties had met, one of the ‘representatives’ had slipped into the room down the hall where the client was waiting and had garrotted her. The murderer and associate had then then snuck out of the building without alerting anyone. From that day onwards there was always a security guard outside of my mother’s office.

*end trigger warning*

Shahla Zia at a panel in 2004

When I was nineteen my mother became a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission was tasked with proposing amendments to the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (1961). The committee held a two week long session in Islamabad when I was back home from college during the summer holidays and so, every day, I would drop and pick up my mother from the meeting venue. On the way home my mother would tell me about all the different ways in which the rights of women and minorities had been restricted by the law - and not just Pakistani law, but most of the legal systems around the world. It was quite an eye opener.

My mother, Shahla Zia, made a real, tangible difference to the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people in Pakistan – particularly women. Sadly, she died in March 2005 when she was only 58.

Online content & services worth paying for

I get a lot of ‘free’ stuff from the Internet – everything from news and entertainment to email and online storage.

By 'free', of course, I mean ad-supported (in most cases) so while I do technically pay for these services with my time, attention, and user profile data I don't directly pay for them in cash.

There are, however, a bunch of online services that I do explicitly pay for with my own money.

Paid Services

These include services you can't access without a subscription, such as:

I only recently signed up with MOG, by the way, and chose to pay them over their competitors for two main reasons: they stream high quality music (320kbps over WiFi and 4G) and, since they’re a Telstra partner, streaming music from them doesn’t count toward your mobile data bandwidth. Being both an audiophile who values high quality music and a Telstra mobile customer both of these are excellent reasons.

Payment Optional & Freemium Services

The other online services I pay for/contribute to are the kind that you can access for free but can also support financially if you so choose.

These include the news, information, and editorial services like:

With the exception of Wikipedia, to which I donate annually, the rest I support through automatic monthly micropayments.

The freemium services (products, really) that I pay for include:

  • Online information management from Evernote
  • Online photo storage from Flickr

Oh, and depending on how Fairfax rolls things out, I’ll probably subscribe to The Age Online, too, once they set up their paywall. And, speaking of news outlets, I also used to subscribe to the Economist but, much as I loved their content and editorial, I wasn’t getting enough of a return on my investment.

So that’s my list. What online services – content services or products – do you pay for?

Photos from SlutWalk Melbourne

So today we took part in SlutWalk Melbourne (which I wrote about earlier).

The only half decent report on the Melbourne walk is here but I’m sure there will be others over the next few days. The really good accounts (i.e. the nuanced and non-snarky ones) will, inevitably, be published in blogs.

We started outside the State Library of Victoria on Swanston Street with a few speeches:

The one by Cody Smith was particularly inspirational though others made really good points as well, such as:

"It shouldn't be the responsibility of survivors to educate people about rape."

"It is not the responsibility of women to educate people on sexism"

"If you come from a position of privilege it should be your responsibility to educate yourself and your friends."

Lots of people were carrying awesome protest signs, like this one from James:

And this one from someone standing behind us:

After the speeches we walked down Swanston and Collins Streets to Parliament Gardens. Here are Scott, Nadia, James, and Andrew:

And here are me and Nadia once we got to the gardens:

If you’re curious about the “Hornet’s nest of revolutionary feminism” t-shirt I’m wearing, you can find out more about that on the Tiger Beatdown blog.

(Also, you can see a few more photos from this walk on my Flickr profile.)

Sadly, while the walk made an important statement, raised a lot of awareness, and was lots of fun to participate in, my cold didn’t react very well to two hour out in the cold so I got home a little worse for wear. I’ll definitely be sleeping in tomorrow!

A big thanks to the walk’s organizers and volunteers for making this happen; Samurai AV for the sound system; Victoria Police for coordinating our movement through the CBD; and everyone who turned up today (both in person and in spirit).

Here’s hoping this walk – and, indeed, this whole movement – has a genuine, long-term impact that reduces incidents of victim blaming and slut shaming. If nothing else, the walk has got us all talking about theses issues and that, in itself, is a good thing.

SlutWalk Melbourne is on 28 May 2010

In case you haven’t already heard, SlutWalk Melbourne is at 1:00 PM on 28 May 2010 in front of the State Library on Swanston Street in the CBD.

What’s it all About?

For a quick introduction, here’s what the Melbourne protest’s organizer, Clem Bastow, said about SlutWalk in The Age earlier this week:

The "SlutWalk" phenomenon began in January this year, when a group of Toronto women organised a protest following a local police officer's comments (to university students) that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised".

The organisers' stance was simple: to call for an end to victim-blaming, the idea that victims of sexual assault or rape could somehow be blamed for their attackers' actions based upon what the victim was wearing or doing at the time. Was the victim dressed skimpily? Were they intoxicated? Did they have a large number of sexual partners? Yes? Oh well, that explains it then.

In addition, the walks protested against a culture of slut-shaming. As the founders put it, "Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault."

Why Attend?

Nadia wrote a really good blog post about the whole SlutWalk movement which mirrors my own feelings on this topic:

…If you get sexually assaulted, NOTHING you were wearing or were doing is going to be good enough. There will always be some moron going on about how you shouldn’t have gone there or done that or worn such-and-such or had a sexual or professional or intellectual history. The bottom line is that we live in a global society that believes femaleness is a fault and that if something happens to you, well then that’s just what you’re going to get if you insist on existing while female.

So yes, I’m going and I’d encourage anyone of any gender and any orientation who can attend to do so. Because this isn’t about one kind of woman or one kind of world view or even women as a group. Victim blaming and a culture that allows and even expects it are toxic for all of us, whoever we are and wherever we are. It is important then that, when handed the opportunity on a silver platter, we lend our voices to the protest against it.

I recommend you read the whole blog post and I, too, recommend that you attend at the protest walk.

Also, please don’t “slut up” or dress up for the walk. Women get abused, sexually assaulted, and, yes, called sluts regardless of what they do and what they wear. I think it’s important that people of all types, wearing all kinds of clothes attend the protest dressed as they normally would in order to highlight the diversity of people who are willing to stand up against victim blaming and slut shaming.

More Information

‘On Her Shoulders’ - International Women’s Day Documentary (UN Women Australia)

‘On Her Shoulders’ is a short documentary commissioned by UN Women Australia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The message to young women is: You might think you're equal but, mate, you're not.

You earn less, you earn less per hour, you earn less over your lifetime. You do a heap of unpaid work because somebody's got to do it.

You don’t run things, you don’t decide things…so don’t have the illusion that you’ve got choice.

Eva Cox

UN Women Australia commissioned a short documentary to be made to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. 'On Her Shoulders' follows the history of International Women's Day and the struggles women have faced. In addition, it looks at what still needs to be achieved to ensure that gender equality can be fully realised.

Economic Gender Imbalance Infographic Video

The Information Aesthetics blog recently alerted me to this excellent video created by the JESS3 and the Economist Intelligence Unit about the EIU’s new Women’s Economic Opportunity Index (which you can download as a PDF or Excel file):

JESS3 x Economist: Women's Economic Opportunity from JESS3 on Vimeo.

It’s a great video that presents a lot of complicated information really clearly. It’s not often, even in most women-in-development circles, that you get this much global data presented this clearly and powerfully.