The Feminism Wave versus Pakistani Culture
Introduction to Feminism
Feminism is the promotion of the rights of women on the grounds of equality between genders. This includes all possible political, social and economic movements and ideologies that attempt to advocate the rights of the suppressed female gender. Fourier, a French socialist and philosopher, formed the term ‘feminism’ in 1837.
Throughout history, this word has had various meanings and various implications. Nonetheless, there have been four main feminism waves. The first launched during the 19th and 20th centuries, centered in the UK and the US. Waves during the mid-20th century and the later 20th and early 21st centuries followed. The ongoing wave is the fourth wave: the technological wave.
The current feminism wave focuses on social media and harassment at places of work. Along with constant rape threats and occurrences, US president Donald Trump’s campaigning for president started. Trump made many misogynist comments. Following the election, an elderly lady suggested a march in Washington against such derogatory remarks. Thus they established the Women’s March.
The Women’s March and Feminism in Pakistan
Pakistani women took inspiration from the MeToo movement, and similar campaigns. They took to the streets with the ‘Meri Jism, Meri Marzi’ slogan. Also known as the Aurat March, it commenced in 2018. March 8 2020 marked the third consecutive year of the march. Women were seen chanting statements like ‘Apna Khana Khud Garam Kar Lo’ (Heat your own food) and ‘Paratha Rolls Not Gender Roles’.
The march aimed to promote support for vulnerable women, condemn violence against women, and harassment. Pakistani women are made to encounter such happenings from time to time, if not on a daily basis. Women must face all these with little to no appeal on their behalf. The horrors women have to face are as follows.
Pakistan faced its fair share of honor killings. Also known as ‘karo kari’, Pakistan hosts the largest figure of per capita honor killings in the world! The practice continued for years, and will continue in the future. The reasoning of such murders is ‘immoral behaviour’ of the victim (who is usually a woman). In such anciently patriarchal frames, the honor of a woman is the honor of the entire family.
If she ‘deviates’, punishment ensues. A particular example is that of the murder of a young woman in 2017 because she declined to marry someone. The most infamous example is that of Qandeel Baloch. Her own brother strangled her because of her ‘inappropriate’ pictures on social media. In 2017, there were reports of around 500 honor killing cases. Women constituted more than half of this figure.
Although these attacks have declined recently, problems remain. Again, such crimes are committed because a woman somehow casts ‘dishonor’ on her family members. Reasons vary from refusing a proposal of marriage to wearing ‘immodest’ clothes. The issue in Pakistan rose to light with a documentary Sharmeen Chinoy made: ‘Saving Face‘. Most attacks happen during the summer seasons, with up to 150 attacks each year.
Rape in Pakistan is unfortunately increasing. The problem surfaced with the well-known case of Mukhtaran Bibi, a victim of gang rape. Figures also state that more than 70 percent of women in prison are victims of harassment or sexual abuse. Recent horrific examples include the rapes of minors from ages 7 to 12. There was even a case of a 3 year old girl’s brutal rape and murder in 2018, following the notorious case of Zainab. These incidents are creating tears in the social structure of Pakistan as perpetrators of such crimes walk away without consequences.
Other examples are: harassment at work-places and gender ridicule.
Pakistani Culture and Feminism
Countless complaints arose about the vulgar nature of the Aurat March.
For instance, Shaan Shahid, who is one of Pakistan’s most popular film actors, argued that the slogans did not support Pakistani culture. Veena Malik is an actress known for the controversies she creates. Ironically, she claimed that the Aurat March humiliated women. Kishwar Naheed remarked that designing slogans means keeping the present culture in mind too.
Pakistan is a conservative society. The traditions and religion form this conservationist culture.
Women in Pakistan are a smaller portion of the overall labor force and are less educated than their counterparts. Until the year 2017, 71 percent of men were literate. This contrasts sharply against the 46 percent of literate women. These differences arise due to a belief that women do not need to be educated. Most people opine that educating them is a sunk investment.
Due to these backward beliefs and traditions, most Pakistanis believe that the freedom of women equals shamelessness. They associate empowerment with little clothing and lewdness. Therefore, opposing parties interpret an Aurat March as an invitation to shed most of their clothes and their modesty. Even if the women are only demanding the most fundamental of their rights.
One writer claimed that the vulgarities were highlighted too much on social media, whilst the real messages remained in the shadows. Because of negative attention, the overall purpose of the cause was lost. Petty arguments over the clothing of the women holding the slogans surfaced.
Sadly, Pakistan ranks 151st out of 153 rankings in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2019. Economic opportunity ranks at 150, education at 143, survival and health at 149 and political empowerment at 93. All of these are downward slips from 2018. It is also the lowest among all South Asian countries.
Pakistan is a society that leans towards traditions and cultural implications rather than religion. Islam took a necessary step towards allowing women access to their basic rights. Unfortunately, the country is deviating towards extremist standards. The youth are too liberal in their views. And the elderly are too rigidly traditional. Perhaps we should emphasize on the actual teachings of Islam.
Our forefathers died giving us the land to practice our religions freely. Dividing it up into black and white liberal and traditional sectors, we are doing more harm than good.
For the liberals: Islam gives women their rights but there is a decent way to propagate those rights and mandate them.
For the traditionalists: Tolerance is a primary pillar of Islam – in fact, of most religions! Accepting the beliefs of others is Islam’s main principle.