After years of resistance, the term ‘feminism’, still raises eyebrows in the Asian subcontinent. For most people, it’s confusing, synonymous with misandri or words made by a communist. Even today, fighting for equal rights for women in the patriarchal world is still a foreign concept to a greater number.
Once the world is finished with polluting the f-word, the most dangerous question might arise in our subconscious – who is the perfect feminist?
In the Islamic country of Pakistan, the word brings back memories of a high political leader, who was killed in cold blood – Benazir Bhutto. This is a woman who revolutionized the government of Pakistan. Although she left a legacy of polarization, her achievements were celebrated as a victory for Muslim women.
But will Allah Rakhi Wasai, known as Noor Jehan, gently voice Faiz’s haunting words “mujhse pehli the mohabat is just mehboob na mang“considered feminist?
A child starring in Calcutta, Wasai moved to Lahore in 1938 and then ruled the film industry for more than 30 years, capturing the world with nearly 10,000 songs and becoming Malika-e-Tarannum. His first big break arrived in the form of a film Chan Wey where she not only acted and sang but was also directed with her husband, becoming the first female director in Pakistan. “There were no significant achievements for a woman of her time,” Amneh Shaikh-Farooqi wrote in her book Fearless: Stories of Amazing women of Pakistan.
Conversations around feminism diverge from its purpose when we become oblivious to colored women and their struggles. Since the election, women of color have fought two wars, one with patriarchy and one for their representation in the movement.
“Research repeatedly reiterates the importance of diversity in the mainstream media and literature, but what many of us consume is often limited to (a) Western construction and aesthetics,” Amneh writes in the introduction to her book, recognizing the lack of representation of colored women, especially South Asian women in feminism.
“Intersectional Feminism” was first created by American black professor Kimberle Crenshaw in her study of overlapping social identities and systems related to oppression, domination or discrimination. Thirty years later, in the subcontinent where identity politics overcomes a woman’s life, it might be a matter of shame that the term “intersectionality” has failed to find a place in our collective consciousness.
In her book, published by the Indian Penguin, Amneh traces the history of the Pakistani women’s movement and brings to the fore, the stories of 50 extraordinary women who have for years accessed science, technology, art and shaped the future of their country. Illustration of Aziza Ahmad breathed life into the stories of these women.
This book underlines through their stories to the world that it is time for the west to recognize inclusiveness.
Patriarchy finds its roots in Islam too, which binds Muslim women to personal space, allowing misogynists to oppress women. But in a country where hatred towards women is so ingrained that for some people who survive being an act of resistance, my type is fearless. We can only imagine how much pressure in the early 1900s that has now led to Pakistan ranking third worst in 151 on the Gender Parity Index of the World Economic Forum.
When inequality in education between men and women was very striking, against opportunities, Fatima Jinnah, sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, became the first Muslim woman in Calcutta to establish a dental clinic in 1923. Fatima stood shoulder to shoulder with her brothers and played an important role in the signing of the Lahore Resolution in 1940. After the death of his brother, Fatima’s voice was suppressed by Ayub Khan’s military government.
His death brought six lakh people together who said goodbye to “Khatun-e-Pakistan”. “Fatima’s courage and determination made her one of the bravest women in Pakistan. Fatima was often photographed standing next to important men of her time, something unusual at the time; but the message was clear: women need to play a role in society and politics with men. man, “wrote Amneh.
The book comes as Pakistani women raise their voices to reclaim public space through protests and marches. March 8, 2020 marked one special day for the country’s revolution as thousands of women marched to the streets of Lahore and Karachi demanding autonomy.
The grandeur of the march, which faces several challenges, marks a new phase of the feminist movement in an Islamic country. Women, regardless of their social background, trans women, all people gather to raise their voices together against oppression, but in a unique way.
With ‘Khudmukhtari (autonomy) and Violence (both sexual and economic)’ as this year’s theme, women are united against patriarchy and its devastating effects.
The concept of body autonomy is so popular in Pakistan that it often takes the lives of women who dare to assert their lives. Moreover, 26-year-old Quendel Baloch, who was found mentioned in the book, was killed by his brother in 2016, for not daring to claim his rights to his body.
“No one expects her to be a feminist icon for young women in this country”. The country’s first celebrity-by-media uses the platform to “encourage discussion around how women are expected to behave in public. He uses his celebrity status to empower women,” Amneh wrote.
“As a woman, we must go our own steps,” he roared. He expanded his voice to empower the younger generation until one day he was silenced by patriarchy.
The ‘aurat parade’, which was supposed to be respected by the state in general, actually rocked the right wing, including their Wazir-e-Azam Imran Khan.
Khan called the struggle of Pakistani women a Western concept and added, “I disagree with this western concept, this feminist movement, has reduced the role of a mother. My mother had the biggest impact in my life.”
The parade came out pidarshahi ka janaza (Patriarchal funeral procession), among others.
In Islam, women are prohibited from being part of a funeral procession. And that kind of sexism transcends borders. While many of us who are privileged suffer less at the hands of patriarchy, battles are less fortunate for their daily existence. Therefore, in the intellectually progressive state of West Bengal in India, I was also banned from being part of my mother. janaza.
Although the right wing does not recognize it, women’s resistance in Pakistan is not new. In 1960, the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) became the face of the women’s movement in this country. Part of the Muslim Family Law Act, encouraged by APWA, creates ripples.
More than 30 years ago, when Zia-ul-Haq proposed the “Evidence Bill”, which suggested that the evidence of two women should be equal to one man, it was these fearless Pakistani women who created history by defending their rights despite face the burden of police action.
Every woman is a novel in itself, every step is an act of resistance and while this book salutes revolutionaries, it is women like Amneh Shaikh-Farooqui, Aziza Ahma, Girls in Dhabas, Malala Yousafzai, Mukhtaran Mai, bringing inclusive feminist struggles carry on. Maybe, for a woman, without fear, is the only way to survive.
Fearless: Extraordinary Female Story from Pakistan
Author: Amneh Shaikh-Farooqui
Illustrator: Aziza Ahmad
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Price: Rs 399