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Of viral pictures and cultural values of Gilgit-Baltistan

Traditionally, Gilgit Baltistan is very tolerant towards women’s role in the society as many women from GB have risen to gain fame through excelling in various fields.

Take the examples of Dr. Shama Khalid, the former governor of GB, Samina Baig the celebrated mountaineer and Pakistan’s National Goodwill Ambassador at UNDP.

There are many women politicians as well who are actively participating in public life and also many women working in developmental sector.

Similarly, many GB women have made their names in sport and had the prestige to represent Pakistan on international events.

These examples are of those women who have adopted other than traditional professions which were associated with women like medicine and education and made a place for themselves in a predominantly patriarchal society.

But the news of appointment of Samina Baig as ‘goodwill ambassador for climate change and environmental protection and advocate to empower young girls’ coincided with a gender related controversy on social media.

Some pictures of group of females on a picnic spot in a nearby town of Skardu came to limelight due to intense debate on social media about the ‘freedom of women’.

In these pictures, some women were seen trekking on the famous Sarfaranga desert rally track near Skardu.

The trip looked like a sort of get together by some private school teachers and their  family members.

As the pictures surfaced on the social media, an intense debate started.

Some brandished (using derogatory words) the act as violation of our societal principles.

Some other opined that some NGOs are on a mission to destroy our culture and values and accused USA and its Jewish lobby as conspiring behind these NGOs.

Some even derided that in the past, some people supported these NGOs who are bent upon ‘westernizing’ our  society with activities like opening women markets and creating women organizations.

The heated debate went on as progressive youth came to defend the act as ‘nothing wrong’.

Asif Naji Chief Organizer Baltistan Student Federation defended by saying that creating such a huge fuss for some women’s personal choice shows that the society is in decline as for as gender equality issue is concerned.

He elaborated in Balti culture, women have enjoyed a special status and they enjoyed freedom in the past than they are enjoying these days.

He gave example of ‘Mindoq Gyalmo’,  the flower queen who was famous for her construction of ‘Flower Fort’ and famous ‘Gangopi Channel’ which were considered a marvel in itself.

He argued nearly all the traditional songs are sung by women and includes their stories of warfare as well as romance.

Another activist tweeted that the issue is sensitive and it shouldn’t be posted on the media with negative remarks.

Professor Dr Nazir Bespa, an intellectual, educationist and professor at Karachi University, said on social media that the issue is being highlighted without any reason and logic. They [women] had the right to go anywhere with the consent of their families and there is no harm in such healthy activity and if someone thinks the content is un-Islamic they shouldn’t share it on media because sharing such propaganda betrays basic principles of Islam and morality.

The debate attracted even the local MPA Kacho Imtiaz Ali Khan who agreed with Prof Nazir’s view and asked the propagandists to stop sharing those pictures.

A large part of educated youth rejected the conservative mindset and argued that Gilgit Baltistan is a tolerant society and shall remain such.

In fact, many of these youth derided that in the wake of globalization, our youth are being pushed into darkness of extremism.

They argued that Gilgit Baltistan is known in the world for not only its natural beauty but also for its peace, harmony and hospitality and giving such non-issues undue attention would certainly bring a bad name to the region.

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