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Rubina Feroze Bhatti

Fighting violence against women-such as "honor killings"-through the media is key to Rubina Feroze Bhatti's schema, as is building interfaith and inter-sect harmony.

While still a Masters student at Bahuddin Zakria University in Multan, a city in southern Punjab, Rubina Feroze Bhatti (born 1969) had a close encounter with injustice: in 1991, one of her relatives was arrested under Pakistan's infamous blasphemy laws and given the death sentence. In 1992, Rubina began campaigning against the law by writing articles and organizing a procession in Multan and her home district of Sargodha. Her efforts not only helped save her relative's life, but also facilitated her involvement in social activism.

Rubina, who belongs to the minority Christian community, took up the issue of separate electorates, which was a form of religious apartheid imposed on the country from 1979-2002 by the political establishment, which denied non-Muslim citizens the vote. Rubina tried to galvanize public opinion against this extremely controversial system by writing articles and making speeches. As a result of her efforts, many rural folk in Sargodha and Khushab districts boycotted elections to local bodies for 2000-2001.

Between 1996 and 2001, Rubina worked as a lecturer in chemistry at a local women's college, and then devoted herself to activism by founding, along with others, the Taangh Wasaib Tanzeem (Longing for Hope), of which she is general secretary.

She was nominated for a provincial assembly seat by the Pakistan People's Party, but the she did not win. Undeterred, she refocused on social activism.

Domestic violence and other acts of violence against women - such as the practice of "honor killing" - are key to Rubina's action schema. She works by creating networks, and has trained a women's group in the area to report on violence against women. She herself makes it a point to visit victims of domestic violence, and supports them with counseling, legal aid, and highlighting the issues in the local media. In district Sargodha, 10 cases of acid thrown on women were reported in the press, and as many as 24 cases of Karo-Kari were exposed due to her efforts.

Rubina was involved in fact-finding and organizing legal aid for some of the victims. This included some daring forms of intervention. When a woman councilor of the area was stripped naked by a group of influential locals in December 2003, the media and other social actors were reluctant to act. Rubina risked her social standing, and her life, to bring this case to light. In another example, she was instrumental in following up cases against Farman Ali and Muhammad Asghar of Sargodha, who reportedly amputated their sister-in-laws' legs as Karo-Kari.

Rubina launched a campaign in the print and electronic media in collaboration with civil society organizations to highlight domestic violence, even condemning such acts in a talk show, "Chothi Khabar Bari Baat" (Small News, Big Event) conducted by the GEO television channel. The district nazim (mayor/administrator), who participated in the show, blandly refuted her charge. Rubina stuck to her ground.

As a result of her efforts, the government of Punjab selected her member of district Sargodha's District Core Group, where she is associated with the women's development wing, and coordinates government efforts to eliminate violence against women.

Rubina focuses on building interfaith and intersect harmony in an area with a plethora of differing faiths - mainly Muslim, but also Christian and Hindu. She has written scripts for several theatre productions, developed a peace education manual, and chalked out a sustainable peace education program through training workshops for peace volunteers. She has also been very active in setting up an educational and healthcare facility in village in Khushab for children working in Pakistan's intricate carpet-weaving industry.

Living in a society with feudal standards, Rubina's many challenges include intimidation to threats of prosecution to false accusations. However, like others of her radical genus, she accepts them as part and parcel of an activist's job.

Her organization, the Taangh Wasaib Tanzeem, has ratcheted up support in civil society and among academics, and has linked up with other social organizations. Rubina has networked at both regional and international levels by participating in conferences such as an NGO in Nepal meeting associated with the World Conference on Racism in 2001, and the Asian Civil Society Forum in Thailand the year after. She presented a paper at a conference on the Communication for Social Change Forum in Canada in 2003, and attended the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004.

These successes are all the more creditable given Rubina's family background. The daughter of village schoolteachers, she grew up in a community consisting mainly of landless farm laborers. She is one of two members of her family to have become a postgraduate.

 

In 1991, while Rubina Feroze Bhatti was a masters student at Bahuddin Zakria University in Multan in southern Punjab, one of her relatives was arrested under Pakistan's infamous blasphemy laws, and given the death sentence. In 1992, Rubina campaigned against the law, writing articles and organizing a procession in Sargodha and Multan. Her relative survived.
Rubina, who is Christian, took up the issue of separate electorates, a form of religious apartheid imposed by the political establishment from 1979 to 2002, which prevented non-Muslims from voting. She galvanized public opinion, writing articles and making speeches. Many people in Sargodha and Khushab districts boycotted the elections to local bodies for 2000 and 2001. From 1996 to 2001, Rubina worked as a lecturer in chemistry at a local women's college, and then founded the Taangh Wasaib Tanzeem (longing for hope), of which she is general secretary.
Violence against women-such as "honor killings"-is key to Rubina's schema. She has trained a women's group to report on violence against women. She visits victims, supporting them with counseling, legal aid, and highlighting issues in the local media. In district Sargodha, the media reported ten cases of acid thrown on women, and 24 cases of honor killings. Rubina then launched a media campaign, along with civil society organizations, to highlight domestic violence. She set up an educational and healthcare facility in a village in Khushab for children slaving in Pakistan's famous carpet-weaving industry. Rubina also focuses on building interfaith and inter-sect harmony in an area teeming with different faiths-primarily Muslim, but also Christian and Hindu. She has penned scripts for theater productions, developed a peace education manual, and built a sustainable peace education program.

 

A Punjab women development and social welfare department study released in October 2001 showed that 42 per cent of women accepted violence as their fate, while more than 33 per cent felt helpless to defend themselves. Only 19 per cent protested and four per cent took remedial action.

 

Tangh Wasaib Tanzeem

 

South Asia | Pakistan

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