2018 started with small but significant attempts at breaking down taboos and calling out misogyny, with efforts turning up a notch at the Aurat March, which eventually paved way for men losing their cool (it was hilarious, trust me!).
Men whined throughout the year primarily since they could see their beloved patriarchy being dismantled — as women took a firm stand to push for “‘No’ means no!” and stressed that they would not tolerate sexism anymore — and continued through to the year end, as they exhibited frustration with “Jahez khori band karo! (Do away with the tradition of dowry)” by attempting to point out double standards and failing to understand that hatred towards women often results in violence.
Nevertheless, we have compiled a list of the amazing, positive things that happened in favour of women this year!
Months after the #MeToo movement started and Harvey Weinstein was accused by dozens of women of sexual assault and harassment, the #TimesUp movement was born, paving way for women to name and shame their harassers and abusers and saying ‘No’, that it was enough, that the time was up for powerful men to continue living their lives without any shred of accountability.
Pakistani actress Nadia Jamil and media personality Frieha Altaf spoke up against child abuse and how prevalent it is in Pakistan, in light of a discussion on the topic after the news of Zainab Ansari’s horrendous rape and murder on January 4.
Jamil said: “I was 4 the first time I was abused sexually. People tell me not to talk to respect my families honour. Is my families honour packed in my body?”
Altaf, on the other hand, stated: “I was sexually abused by our cook at age 6. My parents took action but everyone remained silent as if it was my shame.”
A major win for athletes associated with the US Gymnastics came through when Larry Nassar, a doctor who had abused more than 200 women, directly or through grooming, was sentenced to 40-125 years in prison.
During the sentencing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said if “you survive the 60 years in federal prison first, […] then you start on my 40 years. You’ve gone off the page here as to what I’m doing. My page only goes to 100 years. Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2,100 months. I’ve just signed your death warrant.”
Thousands of women turned up at the first-ever Women’s March in Karachi, held at Frere Hall on the International Women’s Day and organised by ‘Hum Aurtein (We, the women)’. It was a breath of fresh air to see women of all ages and every social class and background coming together to demand equality, call out the injustices they face in their daily lives, and talk about the sexism and double standards.
Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai appeared for the first time on Netflix, in David Letterman’s show “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” to talk about education, extremism and politics. She received a standing ovation and discussed gender equality and the importance of education.
Trumping tonnes of venomous hate thrown at her, Malala made good on her promise and visited Pakistan following a near-fatal shooting in Swat. Her four-day visit was well-publicised and she arrived in Islamabad under tight security.
In Pakistan after nearly six years, she made a televised speech, saying it was her dream to be back in her motherland “without any fear. […] And I think that it’s my old home again… so it is actually happening, and I am grateful to all of you.”
Girls at Dhabas successfully marked their third annual, all-women bike rally, with the goal of promoting women’s presence in public spaces and normalising riding bikes on the roads.
While the rally has now expanded to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, it was originally started in solidarity with a cyclist in Lahore, Aneeqa Ali, who was followed and harassed for riding a bike, eventually resulting in her being injured.
In a major cultural first, Beyoncé headlined Coachella, an annual event held in the desert and featuring music and arts. She became the first black woman in history to do so and her iconic performance came about after the birth of her twins, Rumi and Sir Carter.
Famed singer Meesha Shafi broke her silence and alleged Ali Zafar, fellow Pakistani singer, sexually harassed her, inspiring multiple other women to find the courage and speak up against Zafar and his predatory behaviour. Zafar sent Shafi a legal notice over alleged defamation, while Shafi filed a harassment case. Both are pending in courts.
Also, on the same day, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois brought her newborn to the US Senate, marking the end of a long-held baby ban. Her adorable daughter, Maile, was bundled up in her arms as she made her first public appearance 10 days after her birth. The news led to a debate on how the US, a developed country, does not provide paid leave to new parents, rekindling the debate on maternity policies.
Rebellious actor Kristen Stewart protested the Cannes Film Festival’s discriminatory dress code policy by taking off her high-heeled shoes on the red carpet. With her cropped hair slicked back in a signature fashion, she said, “If you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress, you cannot ask me either.”
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (formerly Meghan Markle), married Prince Harry on this day. Why we chose this date is so as to commemorate her ascending a royal place yet continuing to speak about her feminist views, not on a rare occasion or two but time and again. Even her website mentions that she “proud to be a woman and a feminist”.
In New Zealand late last year, she said during a speech: “Suffrage is not simply about the right to vote, but also about what that represents: the basic and fundamental human right of being able to participate in the choices for your future and that of your community.”
Asma Nawab, a woman who was unjustly charged with the murder of her family and then arrested and sentenced at the age of 16, was released after 20 years. It is interesting to note that prosecutors’ push resulted in a 12-day trial, concluding in a death sentence.
In this regard, Benazir Jaoti, a lawyer, said, “Within the system, women are one of the groups of people that are significantly disadvantaged, it being a patriarchal society and a patriarchal system.”
Hajra Khan, the captain of Pakistani women’s football team, called out the sexism and ignorance on part of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), saying the organisation’s officials were not even aware of any calendar events of the team. To top it off, a PFF representative called her to participate in a promotional video shoot for… a men’s football event.
“I suggest PFF to take it seriously,” she said.
Captain Maryam Masood and First Officer Shumaila Mazhar, two pilots, ruled the skies up north when they flew and successfully landed a flight to Gilgit. It was especially commendable — and went viral on social media — because “is very challenging and requires a lot of precision and technique”, according to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
In what came as yet another heavy blow to the Pakistani music-streaming app, the leadership of Patari — comprising Mahwish Bhatti, Aiman Farhan, Fariha Awan, Sarah Fatima, Ahmer Naqvi, and Shahan Shahid — quit for company values being “under threat” and that shamed co-founder Khalid Bajwa, who was earlier told to step down over claims of sexual misconduct, “continued to represent the company”.
It went to highlight further how women speaking up against their abusers not only has consequences but that shielding harassers is not okay.
Pakistani tech entrepreneur and gaming enthusiast Sadia Bashir was named in the Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list, especially with regard to the PixelArt Games Academy that she founded. To add to this ‘Enterprise Technology’ accolade, she was Facebook’s Global Gaming Citizen on the Game Awards 2018.
The arrest and forced confession of Iranian teen Maedeh Hojabri over dancing in videos on her social media accounts led to country-wide and, in some cases, around-the-world peaceful protests, with women posting videos of themselves dancing to show support for the young girl. Iran has often done the same in the past as well, with punishment including lashes as well.
Three teenage girls — Amina Hanif, Maryam Bashir, and Siddiqa Batool, aged 13, 14, and 15, respectively — marked a world record when they successfully scaled the Manglesser peak (6,080m) in the Karakorams. Unsurprisingly, the trio is the granddaughters of local mountaineer Little Karim.
Also, on the same day, Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, who shot to fame as a resistance member against Israel and its consistent aggressions after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral, was freed from an Israeli prison. Following her release, she said, “I see peace as all of us living together without borders, without occupation, all of us equal. The resistance continues until the occupation ends.”
She said she would study law so that she could “present the violations against the Palestinians in criminal courts”.
In a feat similar to the one above, a group of six girls summited Shifkteen Sar (5,300m) in Hunza’s Shimshal Valley. The team, the first all-female one to reach the top, comprised Hafeeza Bano, Afasana Shahid, Shakeela Numah, Nadeema Sehar, Samreen Afiyat, and Zubaida Waheed.
Riffat Masood became Pakistan’s first-ever woman ambassador to Iran after presenting her credentials to the country’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zareef.
Nargis of Quetta, Pakistan, bagged a karate medal at the Asian Games, triumphing against her Nepalese counterpart becoming the first Pakistani women to win. “I believe that Pakistanis should not make excuses anymore; that is my advice to other female athletes,” she said.
Anita Karim, Pakistan’s first and, to date, only woman mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, stressed that she “wanted to beat the stereotypical thinking that girls are not strong enough”.
Karim, who, needless to say, did not have a companion of the same gender to undertake training with, did so with her brother and some seniors.
Justice Tahira Safdar made history for the second time after taking oath as the first woman chief justice of a Pakistani high court; she did so the first time in 1982 when she assumed the post of a civil judge in Balochistan.
A young girl, Tatheer Fatima, petitioned the Supreme Court to have her surname changed to “Pakistan”, thereby, removing her birth father’s name from her official documents. CJP Justice Mian Saqib Nisar acknowledged the uniqueness of the case but said a father was the head of a household so there was no space to make such a change.
A major debate opened up when tennis legend Serena Williams pointed out to sexism by referees in matches after US Open umpire Carlos Ramos gave her three code violations and a game penalty.
What Williams experienced at the hands of Ramos contrasted with what her male counterparts faced, often getting softer punishments. She fiercely stood her ground and made her arguments, saying
“I have never cheated in my life. […] I’ve never cheated, and you owe me an apology. You will never be on another court of mine as long as you live. Say it. Say you’re sorry.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality,” she exclaimed.
Two Pakistani women were selected for Facebook’s Community Leadership Program from approximately 6,000 applicants from the world over. Kanwal Ahmed (Soul Sisters Pakistan) and Nadia Gangjee (Sheops) were two Pakistanis among the 115 community leaders in total.
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, set a new precedent in history when she brought her 90-day old daughter, Neve, to the UN General Assembly, becoming the first world leader to do so.
On working women juggling responsibilities and bringing up children, Ardern said it should become common. “If I can do one thing — and that is change the way we think about these things — then I will be pleased we have achieved something,” she stated.
Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford, in a funny yet adorable post, posted Neve’s ID card for the UN that read: “First Baby.”
In a highly-anticipated hearing with the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr Christine Blasey Ford detailed the allegations of sexual misconduct she had made against the then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, cementing a new movement under the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors.
Dr Ford’s testimony was earnest in every sense, humane, sensitive, and emotional, and got her tremendous applause for standing up for what was right. She had gone public with her accusations against Kavanaugh on September 16 following media reports and days of speculation about her identity.
Pakistan’s first-ever national women’s blind cricket team was announced, with Rabia Shahzadi being named the captain two months later, on December 26.
“Blind players are capable of doing almost everything sighted players can do. We are no less than the regular team,” Nimrah Rafiq, one of the players, said.
—trigger warning: rape—
Nadia Murad won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Iraqi woman to receive the accolade. She rose to prominence as a Yazidi activist who escaped the confines of Daesh extremists, who had kept her as a sex slave. She has since campaigned for ending rape as a weapon of war as well as human trafficking.
Daesh militants captured Murad in 2014, raping and torturing her day in and day out for three months, and trading her as a commodity under their slave trade. Labelled a “spoil of war”, she was raped by every single man in the Daesh compounds.
“At some point, there was rape and nothing else. This becomes your normal day,” she said.
Almost half a dozen women accused prominent stand-up comedian and vlogger Junaid Akram of sexual harassment, alleging the comedian of sexual assault, blackmail, suggestive comments, assumption about sexuality, and slut-shaming. The survivors were girls in their teens and early twenties.
Almost two dozen young girls went cycling at Karachi’s Sea View on the International Day of the Girl, celebrating the day with the hashtag #AaoCycleChalaen (Let’s go cycling!). According to the Lyari’s Girls Café, which organised the event, the rally was aimed “to highlight the challenges girls face while advocating for their empowerment”.
A young woman, who refused to be okay with discriminatory hiring and work policies, challenged the top boss of an agency when she narrated her ordeal on social media. According to what she wrote, a manager told her that she could stay in the job if she could take off her hijab since the veil was ruining the company’s “all-embracing” image.
Although she was warned against taking any legal actions, the chief executive of Creative Chaos was consequently forced to step down.
A Christian woman accused of blasphemy, Asia Bibi, was acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, sending waves of hope and Twitter into a frenzy of joy and festivity. She was cleared of all charges and ordered for immediate release.
A record number of women won in the US midterm elections, with Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib becoming the first Muslim ones to head into Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the youngest one ever elected, Marsha Blackburn her state’s first female one, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids the first Native American women, Kyrsten Sinema both the first openly bisexual one and Arizona’s first female one, Ayanna Pressley the first black one from Massachusetts, Lou Leon Guerrero the first female governor of Guam, and Kristi Noem South Dakota’s first female governor.
Pakistani lawmaker Krishna Kumari was featured on BBC’s “100 women” list for 2018, showcasing women who have weathered all odds and broken barriers. Kumari was taken as a captive along with her family in 1979 but joined politics as a social activist along with her brother. She is related to the Kolhi family, which stood against the British in 1857.
ASP Suhai Aziz Talpur made headlines after reporting first to the Chinese consulate in Karachi as reports of gunshots and blasts surfaced. She subsequently led an operation to foil the terrorist attack and successfully engaged the suspects on site.
Aziz became the first woman ASP from lower Sindh and received praise from top officials.
Saba Khalid, a Pakistani entrepreneur, along with co-creator Tino Hahn secured a BAFTA award for ‘Aurat Raaj,’ a women empowerment chatbot, which, with its central character Raaji, takes on various stereotypes, taboos, and myths about women’s sex and reproductive health of women.
Harvard University’s Kennedy School honoured Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai by granting her the 2018 Gleitsman Award for her work in promoting young women’s education.
According to officials at the university, Malala’s life story has inspired a new generation. Under the award, Malala received $125,000 for activism.
Officer Helena Saeed was appointed the first additional inspector-general of police (IGP) for Balochistan, becoming the highest-ranking women officer.
The United Nations (UN) Women Pakistan and Pakistani actor Ali Rehman Khan collaborated to start a campaign against receiving and demanding dowry — called “Jahez khori band karo! (Do away with the tradition of dowry).”
The body said it had coined the term as a play on existing terms “such as ‘Rishwat Khori’ ‘Muft Khori’” and that violence related to the practice included “emotional abuse, domestic violence, acid throwing, [and] stove-burning”.
It quickly spread, with Osman Khalid Butt, Muneeb Butt, Ahmad Ali Butt, Nabeel Zuberi, Aiman Muneeb, Juggun Kazim, Emmad Irfani, Alyzeh Gabol, and Iqra Aziz joining the campaign.
Also, on the same day, as Hajra Khan did, Pakistan‘s women tennis players penned a letter to the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF), describing the challenges they faced as well as how the “prize money is kept low”.
Signed by Ushna Sohail, Isha Jawad, Mansha Babar, Shamza Naz, Sara Mehboob, Mehak Khokhar, Sara Mansoor, and Aleena Aftab, it also noted that the players “don’t have a conducive environment to play tennis in the country” and “no female player has a future in the sport”.
—trigger warning: rape, threats of physical assault—
Although first reports of allegations of abuse, both physical and sexual, by the players of the Afghanistan women’s national team against Afghan Football Federation (AFF) President Keramuudin Karim were made on November 30, an exclusive report by The Guardian on December 27 revealed the horrific, chilling details by the girls.
Karim had allegedly raped more than one of them, made threats of physical abuse, including cutting the girl’s tongue, and spread rumours about the sexuality of the girls he had assaulted in order to save himself and easily kick them off the team.
Let’s also not forget all the women, in educational institutes, corporate settings or social spaces, who have taken a stand against systematic sexism, calling out misogynistic behaviour and the power that men use to get their way, the lack of policies regarding sexual harassment and abuse, pointing out discriminatory actions with regard to opportunities, dress codes, etc., and those who stood up against their harassers in daily lives.
And, on a lighter note, 2018 brought us movies and TV series such as Black Panther, Ocean’s 8, and Lust Stories!