Resistance arts.

KAHLIL Gibran wrote many decades ago: 'Pity the nation that despises a passion in its dream,/...Pity the nation that raises not its voice...and will rebel not.../ Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,/ whose philosopher is a juggler,/ and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking...'

These lines sound so familiar in Pakistan's context. But this country also has the good fortune of having a Sheema Kermani, who founded the Tehrik-e-Niswan soon after the 'fox' had seized power in Islamabad in July 1977. No voice was raised. No whisper of a rebellion was heard. But soon a female voice rose from the heart of Karachi to, in Sheema's own words, 'advocate for gender and class equality' and launch a 'creative dialogue'. It was the need of the hour.

That was when the age of 'chador aur char diwari' had descended upon the women of Pakistan. For the underprivileged and the workers, the threat of lashes was like the sword of Damocles.

Equality has underpinned the causes that Sheema championed.

Using theatre in support of rights advocacy is shrewd.

What was particularly significant about the Tehrik was its recourse to performing arts in support of its advocacy. This was a shrewd use of 'resistance arts' to challenge the concept of culture as imposed by the ruler of the day. Heads had to be covered and the sari was declared un-Islamic. It was a brave act of defiance by the Tehrik's founder that also proved to be the secret of her success. Theatre, dance and music have been part of our cultural legacy since the age when the Mohenjodaro civilisation flourished.

As Sheema puts it, her goal is to 'interrogate the constructions of identity, class and religious affiliation and provoke people to think beyond the stereotypical representations of gendered experience'.

In an unlettered society where literacy even today is as low as 60pc, the visual makes an impact. Hence Sheema Kermani is right when she says that she managed to pioneer a dialogue on women's rights and convinced others to join it. They did. The discourse continues without interruption. But nearly 45 years later, Pakistan still has a long way to go to empower its women. The Global Gender Gap Index 2022 issued by the World Economic Forum ranks Pakistan 145th out of 146 countries. Similarly, the World Gender Gap Index of UN Women 2022 ranks Pakistan 145/156 for economic participation and opportunity, 135/156 for educational attainment, 143/156 for health and survival and 95/156 for political...

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