I am a woman who lives in Pakistan. I turned 23 this year, and the past few years have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. I have seen good, bad and worse times in my life, and no one in this universe can invalidate my experience as a woman living in a society deeply rooted in patriarchy. Today, people see me as a strong, bold and blunt journalist but this wasn’t always the case. This path was never easy. It still is difficult because people living in our subcontinent still don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a woman who can give a voice to not only her sufferings, but to the suffering of others as well.
I was in 8th grade when I wanted to be an RJ (radio jockey). I still remember how I used to practice my opening lines in school before my first class started. Back then, I chose sciences and did my intermediate in pre-medical. I guess I never wanted to be a doctor because that was never my dream job. I wasted one year of my life because I was supposed to re-appear in medical college entrance test exam as my family wanted me to be a doctor. After failing in the entrance exam twice, I somehow convinced them to try my luck in a field I was interested in. I took admission in BS Communication Studies in Bahauddin Zakriya University Multan, one of the largest public sector universities in South Punjab. This was a turning point in my life.
It was not easy for my family to accept it because most of them were doctors, and as the notion goes, “Doctor k bachon ko Doctor bn’na chahiye,” kids of doctors should become doctors. My mother and my sister stood by me and gave me the strength to pursue my dreams. I joined “Makhotay”, a performing arts organisation, and started performing theatre on social issues. Women performing theatre in our part of the world are not considered “respectful” because according to the societal norms, “Women belonging to good families don’t indulge in such activities.” Then, I started my journey in NGO sector, breaking another taboo because, “You know, good women don’t work in NGOs either.” These common notions in our society kept pushing my rebellious soul and I never gave up. There were numerous times when my loved ones let me down, insulted me, shattered my soul and made me believe that I was not a good woman... but then I thought, who really needs a certificate from them? “Log Kya Kahein Gay”, what people would say, should not, and can not define me at all.
I was in my 7th semester when I started my job as a junior reporter in a national broadcast channel. I was never convinced by the idea that women ‘should be confined to soft stories only’. Breaking this unwritten law was not easy at all, and was not easily digestible for people working as my seniors. I got a complaint from my head office in first month of my job that there are very few female reporters associated with the media house and I don’t “talk like a female” and “don’t report like them too”. I was heart broken, but I am thankful to my former boss Jamshaid Rizwani who told me that I am not supposed to conform to anyone’s standards, that I should be myself and report the way I want to. I never stopped after that. I felt proud of myself when one day he said that I am one of those reporters who report on everything with confidence and are not afraid of any place or any type of crowd. Getting this compliment from a person who is an institute in himself meant a lot, and still gives me goosebumps.
But, the achievements of a woman in this country come with a price. My bold and blunt nature resulted in attempts of character assassination by some of my colleagues and even their family members. I still remember that I used to work for a Ramzan transmission from around 2pm till 5am, and it was an issue for a lot of people that “A girls stays in office all night long” because that was unheard of in the media market in Multan. The wife of a fellow reporter who worked in another channel even ridiculed me by pointing out that women in our office worked all night, which according to her good women shouldn’t. To be honest, I didn’t let that incident impact my work or my thought process because I wanted to prove myself, which was not only for my own satisfaction, but I am happy to say that it paved the path for women who joined after me too.
I made my first vlog exactly 4 days after Aurat March last year. There was no other woman in South Punjab who was vlog-ing at that time. It was about “Khana Khud Garam Kar Lo”, warm your own food. The march was against patriarchy, and women voiced their sufferings. There was a lot of backlash on a poster which said “Khana Khud Garam Kar Lo” and that backlash on social media became the reason of my first vlog. I had no idea that it would go viral. Within three days of publishing the vlog, I received death threats, rape threats, abuses, and character assassination not only by men, but women as well. There were a lot of people who appreciated this effort, but the backlash was unbearable. I was not prepared for it. But after a few days, I started gaining strength and I am thankful to my loved ones who stood by me at that time. I have faced the same backlash after this year’s Aurat March, but this time I feel like I was almost expecting the backlash, and I had more strength to fight back as compared to last year. I believe that now this abusive behaviour by social media users is giving me more strength to fight back against patriarchy. Now, I am associated with a digital platform and my vlogs there are my voice against patriarchy and the oppression that comes with it.
I am a woman who was blackmailed, mentally, physically, and verbally harassed, a woman who complained about the incidents of harassment and faced the consequences, a woman who succeeded in setting new trends for other journalists, and a woman who is still struggling every day. For me, every new day is a new fight, but I gather my strength because in the end I have to win this battle - not only for myself, but for those who stood by me, and those who will join this path after me. I don’t believe in the characteristics of a good woman defined by this society because I know who I am and I am proud of myself.