Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pakistan's so called "Feminists"

Imagine waging a grand struggle for something for 30 odd years and still being unable to make even a small incremental change towards your goal. Pakistan’s so-called feminist movement is a story of foibles, missed opportunities, humongous egos and personal enrichment. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, a woman’s testimony is considered half that of a man in terms of financial transactions, and Hudood Laws for all intents and purposes continue to infringe upon women’s personal freedoms. The little progress that women have made, and it is pathetically little, over the last 30 years has come from outside the influence of the cabal of feminist activists. In fact, at every opportunity, these feminists have tried to bring down people who have tried to speak for women’s rights and equality from a non-gender based perspective on the basis of equality of citizenship regardless of gender.

So what has the so-called feminist movement of Pakistan really achieved then? It has failed to make alliances with progressive forces, failed to even unite amongst themselves, has been unable to challenge the primacy of the Islamist narrative or even come close to achieving a minute fraction of what the feminist movement has achieved in the west. May I ask these ladies a simple question: where is Pakistan’s Roe v. Wade? Forget it. After the 30 odd years of hullaballoo, some of the leaders of Pakistan’s feminist movement still meet in their plush drawing rooms and whine about men this and misogyny that, before dispersing for their other meet ups and commitments, all the while fooling foreign donors into doling out cash, which they happily pocket in the name of feminism! Pakistan’s feminist movement is selling the collective misery of women, without lifting a finger to do anything about it practically. And why would they? What would they do if tomorrow some of these wrongs were actually redressed? It is a cash cow for milking purposes.

Before I am denounced, most certainly, as an anti-feminist misogynist pig — and apparently, I have already qualified for these epithets for reasons unknown to me — let me state as clearly as possible: no people in the world can progress or move forward unless women and men are treated at par with each other without distinction whatsoever. This means an end to all discriminatory legislation, and yes, Pakistan’s laws are very discriminatory against women. If one was to quantify, a woman is not considered even half the person a man is under the legal system as changed by General Ziaul Haq. Still women like Benazir Bhutto and Asma Jahangir have done wonders coming up the ranks, but they did so fighting on the ground of equality and transcending gender barriers. That is what is important: transcending gender barriers or as Lady Macbeth put it so eloquently, “Unsex me.” Here is another fact that must be driven home: it will be a cold day in hell before the Pakistani feminist movement achieves anything even remotely close to this state of affairs.

A more uniquely Pakistani problem is that the new generation of feminists — who are incapable of reading critically or understanding the diversity of the feminist movement worldwide — conflates feminism with other ideological offshoots such as feminist separatism, lesbian separatism and radical lesbianism. I personally do not have a problem with any of these ideologies but we have to proceed in our own environment and everything has a time and place. There was no finer man in the cause of racial equality of men and women in the US than the great Thaddeus Stevens, who helped in the passing of the 13th and 14th Amendments. He was a fervent believer in racial equality, a radical Republican and an ardent abolitionist. When the 13th Amendment was being passed, Stevens declared in his speech that he stood for only equality before the law instead of racial equality. Those who knew the man knew he was not letting his innermost feelings be known. His speech was seen as a major concession to those people in the House of Representatives who while wanting to abolish slavery did not believe in racial equality. With their help, Stevens and President Lincoln prevailed in passing the 13th Amendment and pronouncing slavery done and over with. It was the first important step towards racial equality in a country that had until then failed to recognise legally black people as citizens. Soon thereafter, legal equality gave way to racial equality. In fact, that was the beginning of the rights legislation, which ultimately led to not only civil rights for African-Americans but also voting rights for women.

Compare this to the angry slogan of Pakistan’s feminist separatists: men do not get to decide what is misogynist and white people do not get to decide what racism is! Well, history tells us that men have led the battle for full legal equality for women and white people, white men no less, have cast the first stone against the glass house of racism. Stop compartmentalising human beings on the basis of their biology. Let humanity stand on an equal footing regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Please stop selling all or any of these for your own personal enrichment and lending meaning to your hollow little lives.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address

Courtesy Daily Times


  1. Pakistan's feminists have united on many fronts and worked hard to enact legislation that is pro-women: the Honor Killing Bill, the Sexual Harassment Bill, the Domestic Violence Bill, the Acid Attack Bill, to name a few in recent times. Historically, the seminal group WAF (Women's Action Forum) has been instrumental in women's advocacy, and so has WAR (Women Against Rape) for the last 40 years, especially during the Zia times. Concerted agitation against the Hudood Ordinances has led to their becoming largely defunct, although no leader has been brave enough to actually try to get them repealed.

    I would have appreciated a more detailed analysis of all these groups and consortiums, with an evaluation of both their triumphs and failures, rather than this one-sided post which feels much more like an opinion piece than an unbiased examination of the women's movement in Pakistan. Perhaps someone has doubted your feminist credentials and you are reacting to that accusation, but that's no reason for discrediting Pakistani feminists as a whole.

  2. Bina,

    Of all the things you've listed, the Harassment Act is the only real progress and I don't think the aforementioned women's groups had anything substantially to do with it. The Hudood Ordinance is not defunct. The Women Protection Bill was an improvement but even that was the doing of Makhdoom Ali Khan and men like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, who in turn managed to make something of it only because you had Musharraf pushing it from above.

    The fact of the matter is that so called women's movement has pathetically little to show for its efforts over the last 30 years. This is because the women's movement is more interested in attacking and abusing those who mean it no harm - people like me. As you recall - thanks to your own efforts- a cabal of so called feminists take every opportunity to abuse and attack me.

    I am just showing the so called women's forum the mirror. And it is not a pretty picture is it?

  3. What do you think of the National Commission for the Status of Women? I think they've been doing excellent policy work, with a team of very dedicated feminists in their ranks. And yes, men have to be 100% committed to the push for women's rights in a system as patriarchal as ours.

    As for the incident that involved you, I remember it very well. To be fair, I felt you'd made an error in judgement during that one incident, but I wouldn't write you off as a supporter of women's rights on the whole.

  4. I am and will always be a supporter of equality of women as equal citizens and an end to gender based discrimination, no matter how many times self styled feminists - like those involved in personal libel against me - call me a misogynist pig.

    This is because I am a father to two beautiful daughters and I'd like to see them grow up as proud confident young women equal in every respect to any man... just like their grandmother and mother.


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