The International Women’s Day marked another Aurat March ending with the demonstration of women power and valour. Every year Aurat March keeps social media abuzz. Twitter remained thronged with pro and anti-women march advocates with a similar effect. The anti-Aurat March advocates, however, seemed more frequent applause-receivers than those who stood in support of this march. Why has any supportive move for women emancipation, from social taboos, stereotyping and marginalization in the hands of ‘male dominated’ society, flunked to attract a big chunk of advocates in Pakistan? Some anti-women march advocates, on social media, staunchly advocated the view that the ‘feminist muscle flexing’ during Aurat March was bolstered by the ‘hands in gloves’— NGOs.

Similarly, it was also interesting to get a reply from one of my female colleagues that why should she relate herself with those demonstrating or ‘smoking’ openly while claiming to be feminists. Here a pertinent question arises. Whether females engaged in doing anything openly must be deemed or termed feminists?

Conveniently, answer to the question might be debateable. However, the die was cast when women in 15th century challenged their exclusion from literary lexicon which was entirely controlled by male. The women also defied the prevalent concept of ‘god spoke through the male’. The Pact of Westphalia (1645) not only emancipated Europe from the clutches of church, it also paved the way for women to challenge the socio-political and cultural imbalance which was consolidated through language with the discourse that shaped and stereotyped women while converting stereotypes into a social reality. Subsequently, the Europe experienced first organised feminist movement in 19th century. The first wave resulted in achieving voting rights for women in 1918 with the enactment of Representation of the People Act. Likewise, the second wave of feminism (1960-1980) focused on the inequality and other forms of discrimination against women.

Ironically, it is the third wave of feminism which has been perceived to have brewed more controversy given the criticism by post-feminists that the ‘conventional’ feminism/feminists are conservative. In 19th century, women in Europe had been going through a spell of a drastic change, which concurrently affected the overall socio-political landscape of the European society. On the other hand, in colonial era, women in subcontinent still suffered in the hands of cultural and societal restraints let alone wedging an organised movement for their political rights. Subsequently, the women were seen in participating in political movements in subcontinent; however, the women participation, in those political movements, could not be seen as feminist movements, for women were pursuant of goals set by the male politicians. 

Given the third wave of feminism, currently, in Pakistan predicting a feminist movement might be a vague discussion. Dr Rubina Saigol attempts to answer the question whether there exists an autonomous feminist or women’s movement in Pakistan? Saigol in her research paper, Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Actors, Debates and Strategies, argues that neo-liberalism has drastically diverted the course of feminist movements since the NGOs have been catapulted at the centre to fund women rights movements. Saigol further writes that in Pakistan NGO-ization of the women’s right movements resulted in de-politicization and diluted the movements to a more ‘gender-based’ debate. Saigol, after interviewing feminists, concludes that Pakistani feminists believe that contemporary ‘donor-funded’ movements may not be termed as feminist movements in letter and spirit.

During 1960s, the second wave of feminism, Pakistani women remained more vocal in order to stand against cultural and societal constraints unleashed by patriarchy which stripped the women of their socio-political rights. Shahid Siddiqi in his book ‘Language, Gender, and Power: Politics of Representation and Hegemony in South Asia' writes that women remained victim to a highly patriarchal system where writing literature was considered a taboo for women. Siddiqi further argues that female writers wrote with ‘pseudonyms’ as the patriarchal dominance considered female contribution to literature a taboo. For instance, in 1903 Akbari Begum’s first story Guldasta-e-Muhabat was published under ‘pseudonym’ of Abbas Murtaza. Furthermore, Siddiqui shares another instance about a female novelist Rasheeda-tun-Nisa whose novel ‘Islah-un-Nisa’ (Reformation of Women), written in 1881, could not be published for Nisa was a woman. Finally, the novel was published under the name of Nisa’s male relative as author.

Similarly, during the second wave of feminism Gloria Jean Wetkins, who used pseudonym ‘Bell Hooks’, criticised Women’s Liberation’ movement that emerged in United States during 1960s. Wetkins argued that the movement ignored race and class which divided women. The black feminists also argued that feminists should focus on liberation of black women since they were bitterly discriminated on class system and their liberation could result in emancipation of all women with collapse of class system.

Interestingly, Gloria Jean Wetkins’ criticism makes a case to ponder for the contemporary ‘women’s liberation’ struggle wagged with more or less an outlook of new-liberal approach given the urban structure of the women’s manoeuvre which fully ignores the socio-political cultural issues faced by women owing to rooted patriarchy in rural areas of the country. Unlike Suffragette movement which resulted in gaining voting rights for all women of Americas, each Aurat March, despite being bitterly criticised for the language depicted through play cards, jolts the patriarchal walls that have fortified women for a long!