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Is popular culture supporting women empowerment?

Addressing issues that women face on a day-to-day basis, several Pakistani TV plays are empowering women and giving them a voice. That voice just needs to be louder and bolder. Instep takes a look…

Is popular culture supporting women empowerment?
The recently concluded drama Dar Si Jati Hai Sila presented an account of sexual harassment prevailing in households.

As much as we talk about women’s liberation in our society, it remains a challenge to actually see that change in people’s mindsets. A woman taking a stand, speaking up against injustices, saying no to discrimination, reacting to violence, unwilling to compromise on self respect and so on, is still not ‘acceptable’ in our part of the world. No matter how many people appreciate a woman who does something out of the box or achieves something big, most of them feel intimidated when a woman related to them reaches that position.

However, constant efforts to bring a difference in the way people perceive women and their status in society may lead to a considerable change in the coming years. While numerous initiatives in terms of protests, marches and panel discussions have attempted to take the cause forward, popular culture remains a powerful tool of change in this regard.

The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment controversy, it was recently reported, is “getting the Hollywood treatment”; a film is being made on the story of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and their roles in taking the movie mogul down. On the local front, some of the recent efforts in this direction include the ‘Mein Bhi’ song, inspired by the ‘Me Too’ movement in Hollywood, which highlights multiple social issues (violence, child abuse, sexual harassment) plaguing the Pakistani society. Another music video, titled ‘Jeevan Daan’, aims to talk about empowering women and giving them their due place in society. With lyrics and vocals by Shuja Haider, the video features Saba Qamar Zaman alongside the singer and is releasing next week.

Moving on, some of the recent fashion showcases have also taken up themes of child education, women empowerment and raising a voice against misogynist social evil while Adnan Sarwar’s newest release Motorcycle Girl is perhaps the only Pakistani film with a female protagonist as the nucleus of the story. Starring Sohai Ali Abro, the film not only presents a woman in an unconventional role (a motorcyclist) but also sends out important social messages to bring about positive change.

While these are just a few examples from the world of fashion, film and music, the impact and viewership that television has is incomparable. It remains a strong and influential medium when it comes to making a statement and instilling ideas in mass minds. Though our TV screens have been dominated by weeping willows for long, things have lately changed for the better with an inclusion of more progressive and inspirational themes.

The recently concluded drama serial Dar Si Jati Hai Sila is one such example. Starring Yumna Zaidi as the titular character Sila along with an ensemble cast including Noman Ijaz, who brilliantly portrayed Uncle Joi, the sexual predator, DSJHS can be considered an eye opener for the subject of sexual harassment in joint families. To say that the characters did complete justice to their complex characters is an understatement but what’s just as impressive is the handling of such a sensitive subject. Joi not only harassed Sila on multiple occasions but also manipulated her mother Sitara as her father used to live abroad and was neither interested nor protective of his wife or daughter.

The two women never gathered the courage to speak up as Joi kept threatening them and the entire family considered him to be very kind and pious. However, there is only so much one can take. Sila, who used to be scared and hesitant earlier, finally broke her silence and exposed Joi and his shameful acts in front of the entire family. It was liberating to see her raising her voice and, as a result, Joi was kicked out of the house while Sila and her mother were introduced to a new, fear-free life.

Shuja Haider’s upcomimg music video ‘Jeevan Daan’ features Saba Qamar alongside child artists and aims to talk about empowering women and giving them their due place in society.

Shuja Haider’s upcomimg music video ‘Jeevan Daan’ features Saba Qamar alongside child artists and aims to talk about empowering women and giving them their due place in society.

While Dar Si Jati Hai Sila presented an account of sexual harassment prevailing in households, the Nadia Khan-starrer Zun Mureed revolves around domestic abuse and violence and talks about the Women’s Protection Bill. Currently on air, it features Nadia as Tabassum, an educated and opinionated working woman who is married with kids. Her husband Sajjad, essayed by Omair Rana, is apparently very loving and understanding but in reality is abusive and hits his wife when she speaks her mind. Though we too found her unnecessarily blunt at times, there is absolutely no justification for domestic violence. Tabassum files a case against her husband under the Women’s Protection Bill and this leads to severe differences between the two for obvious reasons.

Other TV projects that have attempted to shed light on issues that people shy away from include Muqabil (child sexual abuse), Mujhe Jeenay Doh (child marriage) and Sammi (forced marriage), among others.

Likewise, the last couple of years have seen multiple TV projects that talk about empowering women and giving them a voice. The roles assigned to women have begun to change with an inclusion of white collar jobs, irrespective of their relation to their male counterparts. Apart from being mothers, daughters, sisters and wives, they have emerged as doctors, teachers, managers, assistants and much more on the small screen. Some of the recent TV plays like Yakeen Ka Safar, Khamoshi, Baaghi and Khaani have featured strong, independent women who not only look after home chores but also support their families financially.

One of the ongoing dramas Nibah, that features Asif Raza Mir and Aamina Sheikh as husband and wife, has caught our attention because of the way it has treated its female protagonist. When the husband accuses his wife of having an affair with another man and stealing his money, her father finds it insulting and chooses to take his daughter along. Later, despite family and societal pressures, she refuses to apologize for the crime she hasn’t committed and remains persistent with her decision. While many may take it as her ego, it is her ‘self-respect’ that stops her from bending since it is her character that is in question and there shouldn’t be any compromise on that.

VeereCompromise, sacrifice and similar notions that society expects from women maybe a key to success in relationships but there is a very fine line between ego and self respect that needs not be blurred.

The question of ‘acceptance’ arises when a woman chooses not to comply with society’s norms and how society wants her to behave. A recent example is the upcoming Bollywood film, Veere Di Wedding, which has gotten public flak for not portraying the four leading ladies in accordance with typical and acceptable social norms as have been decided by Indian men. The socio-cultural norm in India is very similar to Pakistan, as has been reflected in films and television plays for the past few decades. But what we’re sensing now is an irreversible wind of change blowing in the women’s favour. Let’s just hope this wind keeps fueling a progressive fire and women see the narrative built around them change for the better. It has the influence of changing reality too.

Buraq Shabbir

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