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Five years ago, almost to the very day, my sister-in-law Nighat Rizvi performed the playNecessary Targets in Mumbai with Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei and the author Eve Ensler (ex-wife of Rudy Guiliani). It was shortly after uncovering the atrocities of Abu Ghraib that the play had been performed in Mumbai, and the war was raging in Afghanistan and Iraq. When Nighat came back to Islamabad, she decided to organise a reading of the play here too.
The Necessary Targets is a play about women in a Bosnian refugee camp and the after effects of war. The idea of systematic rapes, ethnic cleansing, trafficking of women, the brutality of fratricidal killings made our audience and cast shudder and weep, yet it happens time and again and has happened in our own shifting borders, in 1947 and 1971. Within all our lifetimes, globally we’ve all witnessed it in the past decade in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kashmir, Palestine, Gujrat, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan…and now in our own homeland.
When we performed the play five years ago, we never imagined that we would one day perform it to raise funds for our own internally displaced people. Everyone I know is raising funds in whatever way they can.
In the play, Eve Ensler narrates a tale of two American women, a Park Avenue psychiatrist and a human rights worker who go to Bosnia to help women confront their memories of war, and they emerge deeply changed themselves.JS is a middle-aged and unsatisfied psychiatrist, who wants to find meaning in her life; Melissa is a deeply ambitious young writer, moving from one war zone to the next. Beyond their professionalism and the methods they have been taught to emotionally distance themselves from other people, they have almost nothing in common. As JS’s defense mechanisms begin to wear down and she begins to feel compassion for the people whose tragedies she has been sent to expose, she turns on Melissa who remains firmly in control. In an unexpected moment of revelation, JS and the women she is supposedly treating, find a universality: a place to be taught and a place to learn.

Based on the stories of women Ensler met in Bosnia, their sense of community, their holding on to love, their unstinting humanity in the face of catastrophe, their rejection of revenge and their desire to direct their energy towards rebuilding, Necessary Targets is a groundbreaking play uncovering certain truths about war and women; its impact on women and children, the darkness it leaves in its wake, the memories and the enduring resilience of the human spirit.

The performance got a standing ovation, accolades and opened a discourse and dialogue on women, war and peace, and exposed hidden gender vulnerabilities in conflict zones.

These past two months have brought the plight of families especially women and children who observe strict purdah and live within the confines of protective patriarchy. It also highlights the exploitation of the poorest.
I read in the paper today that there are an estimated three million in the camps with over 6,000 women who are pregnant. The civil society and the government are pitching in as they did in an amazing way for the earthquake. Pakistanis are known for their generosity and right now, the food and aid is pouring in along with aid workers and journalists. Everyone I know is collecting funds in whichever way they can for the IDPs. The scale of this emergency is huge.

The author, Eve Ensler writes: “When we think of war we think of something that happens to men in fields or jungles. We think of hand grenades and scud missiles. We think of the moment of violence, the blast, the explosion. But war is also a consequence: the effects of which are not known or felt for months, years, generations. And because consequences are not usually televised, by then the war is no longer sexy – the ratings are gone, consequences remain invisible.”

After wars, men are shattered. Women not only participate in the rebuilding, they create peace networks, find unique ways to bring about healing, teach in home schools, create kitchen gardens and pick up the pieces. Because the work of survival is restoration, and like most women’s work, it is undervalued, underpaid and difficult.

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