Social Issues

Oscar-winner filmmaker says women pushing back against sexism in Pakistan

By Jaime Leon

Islamabad, Sep 11 (efe-epa).- Two-time Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy of Pakistan believes that women are pushing back against sexist and misogynist culture in the country, a conviction portrayed in her latest Emmy Award-nominated documentary “Freedom Fighters.”

“Women are now more educated, many of them working now, and they want a greater say in how their lives are, who they marry, how they live, how they want to be treated,” Obaid-Chinoy, 42, told EFE in a telephonic interview.

The “accidental” filmmaker, who studied economics, considers that women wanting to take their life decisions represent a change in the conservative Islamic country of 207 million people.

Pakistan is considered the fourth-worst country in the world for women, according to Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security Index.

“The rules for women are written by men in Pakistan but women have now decided to take charge of their lives,” she said.

Obaid-Chinoy said her film was about women rising from the grassroots to bring about the change.

The 33-minute documentary “Freedom Fighters” focuses on three women who defy the standards imposed by men and choose their path.

The first to appear on screen is Tabassum Adnan.

Married at the age of 13 when she barely understood what was going on, she decided to divorce her husband 20 years later for ill-treatment.

In 2003, she launched a jirga – an assembly usually made up of older males in villages – comprising of women, defying tradition in the conservative northwestern Pakistani.

Adnan is now a prominent women rights activist in a country where 21 percent of girls are married by their families before the age of 18, according to Unicef data.

Saima Sharif, the film’s second protagonist, joined the police and later the Elite Force, a tough police commando corps, which does not usually have women in its ranks.

The third woman portrayed in the documentary is Syed Ghulam Fatima, an activist fighting for the rights of the workers subjected to semi-slavery, a condition in which some 3.2 million people are caught in Pakistan, especially in brick factories.

For the acclaimed director, these three women represent the change the country is going through.

“I think Pakistan will change. When you have 50 percent of the population women, women going in greater numbers to schools and colleges, with the internet they can converse with other women, to create safe networks, they will push, and they are pushing,” said Obaid-Chinoy.

This change, according to the filmmaker, was causing men to retaliate against women claiming their rights.

The nonprofit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its 2019 report that in recent years violence against women in Pakistan has been increasing.

The director became the first Pakistani national to win an Oscar in 2012 with the short documentary “Saving Face,” which portrayed the struggle of acid attack survivors.

She repeated the feat in 2016, winning her second Academy Award for “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” which focused on honor killings, or murders committed by relatives on moral grounds to protect their so-called family honor.

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