The “F” Word: Feminism in Pakistan

Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country — Islam itself has given Muslim women many rights and so has Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him), but why does the nation fear feminism so much?

When the word feminism is even uttered many roll their eyes, but such people have only have seen and heard of white feminism in North America. White feminism bases their advocacy on issues white women face while ignoring the oppression many women of color have and are facing.

That being said, many people from Pakistan who are opposed to feminism would find it shocking that Pakistani feminists have a deep-rooted history in Pakistan.

The first phase of feminism in Pakistan started in 1947 when the partition of the British-Indian Empire took place and thousands of women were being raped and abused, leaving many disfigured. Fatima Jinnah, who many refer to as the “mother of Pakistan,” did a lot of relief work at this time and created the Women’s Relief Committee which later became the All Pakistan Women’s Association. She invested much of her time in these years helping others, particularly during the partition and making sure that many received food and basic necessities. Needless to say, Fatima Jinnah was there to help and support men and particularly women during this desperate time of need. She advocated for women’s rights in Pakistan and brought light to many concepts that were seen as foreign at the time — such as women making their own income.

“Fatima Jinnah was interested in making the women of Pakistan become independent in financial matters; she desired an end to women’s economic dependence on men. Rather, both men and women were required by her to jointly share the responsibility of their family with complete understanding of each other.” 

Another very important figure in Pakistan’s feminist history was Begum Ra’na Liaquat Ali Khan. She broke stereotypes when she became the first Muslim woman to become an ambassador, and even later become the first Muslim woman governor. She achieved many awards and brought many new concepts and ideas to the country for the betterment of women. When she became the first lady, she worked on issues revolving around women and children; she even executed health services for the women and children who were migrating from India to Pakistan.

I could go on and on about their work for Pakistan and even bring up several other women who shaped Pakistan. These are just two examples of the many women who have shaped the lives of Pakistani women.

Both Begum Ra’na Liaquat Ali Khan and Fatima Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a country that treats women equally, but have we lived up to their expectations? It’s 2018 and issues such as child marriages, domestic violence, forced marriages, genital mutilation etc. still exist in Pakistan. Many proclaim that Islam and many other religions have already given women the basic rights we need — I 100% agree that Islam gave us rights, but why are so many women being denied these rights if our religion has promised it to us? The issue is not religion, the issue is people who run the state, the issue is families, elders who for centuries have denied women basic human rights. The quicker we understand this, the faster we will be able to enact change. 

This is an issue that needs to be highlighted more; we need to take a deeper look into the history of women in Pakistan who have shaped the country and learn from the legacy they have left behind. Many women who have shaped Pakistan have fought for the rights of Pakistani women, but we still have a long way to go.

The fight for education, equal pay, and equal opportunities will continue until the nation wakes up and realizes what they have and are doing to the women of Pakistan.

 

(Featured Art: The Pakistani Martha Stewart)

 

References:

TheFamousPeople: Fatima Jinnah Biography

The New York Times: “The Great Divide” by William Dalrymple

The New York Times: “The Fate of Feminism in Pakistan” by Bina Shah

PakPedia Encyclopedia: Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan (Politician)

Legends of Pakistan: The Year of Fatima Jinnah