Outrage in Pakistan after feminism panel includes no women

  • Asia
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Image caption At a women's day march in Karachi, activists demand basic rights be respected

The Arts Council of Pakistan has been forced to backtrack after it emerged that a discussion on feminism it is hosting was to have an all-male panel.

An outcry on social media resulted in two women guests being added, and Friday's event in Karachi was renamed.

The original title, Feminism: The Other Perspective, drew derision and has now been recast as Understanding Feminism.

Organisers say male decision-makers were to share views on feminism, but many critics questioned the very idea.

In overwhelmingly patriarchal Pakistan, having an all-male panel discuss feminism didn't seem the obvious way to tackle gender inequality.

The only woman included in the original line-up was discussion host Uzma al-Karim, whose name was put at the bottom of the promotional literature.

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After sustained criticism on social media, two women speakers were added to the panel - feminist Mehtab Akbar Rashdi and journalist Quatrina Hosain - and Uzma al-Karim's name was made more prominent in the amended literature.

But that didn't persuade everyone.

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Many criticised the men who'd agreed to take part, accusing them of using feminism to further their own interests.

The writer of this article and others acknowledged there was no reason why men shouldn't give their views on feminism - it just seemed wrong to invite a panel that included no women at all.

One woman, Erum Haider, tweeted : "The men I know who are feminists would be embarrassed to be on this panel."

Discussion host Uzma al-Karim told BBC Urdu: "Our purpose was to get men having decision-making powers in major media houses and those with a following to talk about their understanding of feminism.

"We wanted to register their perception because they were in a position to influence public opinion. And that's why we called it 'the other perspective'."

One of the men taking part in the discussion, human rights activist Jibran Nasir, said he'd found the original title misleading.

"I was informed the panel is about men talking to other men about rethinking masculinity and why as men we need feminism. It wasn't to explain feminism or talk about women issues as men," he tweeted.

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There was also humour. Comedian Shahzad Ghias Shaikh weighed in, inviting people to "join him in teaching the world about women's lives".

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Jibran Nasir declined to comment when asked by the BBC whether he was told clearly what was to be debated, and whether he had been told by the Arts Council there were to be no women on the panel.

"It's not such a big issue," he said. "People had raised some objections, following which the management made some changes, and I'm only a guest at the event."

Nida Kirmani, professor of social sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences, says the issue of men debating feminism is justified - but the Arts Council failed to clarify the concept and that's why there was such a big reaction on social media.

"I think this reaction was also caused by the fact that we are getting sick of seeing male panellists endlessly debating frivolous issues on electronic media," she said.

"Rarely do we see a woman protagonist, and this seems normal to most people."