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Feminism in Pakistan refers to the set of movements which aim to define, establish, and defend the rights of women in Pakistan.This may involve the pursuit of equal political, economic, and social rights, alongside equal opportunity. These movements have historically been shaped in response to national and global reconfiguration of power, including colonialism, nationalism, dictatorship, democracy, and the War on Terror. The relationship between the women's movement and the Pakistani state has undergone significant shifts from mutual accommodation to confrontation and conflict.
Pakistan ranks third-worst – 151 out of 153 – on the Gender Parity Index of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Pakistan's women literacy is so low that more than five million primary-school-age girls don't go to school. According to UNICEF, 18 percent of Pakistani girls are married before turning 18. The prevalence and incidence of forced conversion and marriage are difficult to accurately estimate due to reporting deficiencies and the complex nature of the crime. Estimates therefore range from 100 to 700 victim Christian girls per year. For the Hindu community, the most conservative estimates put the number of victims at 300 per year. bridging the gender gap could boost Pakistan's GDP by 30 per cent, says IMF bailout programme for Pakistan.
According to Zoya Rehman, the image of Pakistani womanhood has been a construction of the Pakistani state since its inception. Pakistani woman, she argues, are expected to guard their sexuality, are controlled, and can even be murdered in honour killings when they do not meet cultural expectations. According to Afiya S. Ziya, this cultural orthodoxy is produced and sponsored by state, the government, and its agency the ISPR as propaganda engineered to influence the public in its own pre-decided way, and censor what it considers to be unsuitable. The state, she argues, does not stop at controlling the national narrative but intrudes public and private life to decide what is legitimate and permissible as 'Pakistani culture' and, what is not.
After independence, elite Muslim women in Pakistan continued to advocate for women's political empowerment through legal reforms. They mobilised support, leading to the passage of the Muslim Personal Law of Sharia in 1948, which recognised a woman's right to inherit all forms of property. There was an attempt to have the government include a Charter of Women's Rights in the 1956 constitution, but this was unsuccessful. The 1961 Muslim Family Laws Ordinance covering marriage and divorce, the most important sociolegal reform to have had Feminist drive in Pakistan, is still widely regarded as empowering to women.
Muslim women were some of the most badly affected victims of Partition; it is reported that 75,000 women were abducted and raped during this period. It was soon after this that Fatima Jinnah formed the Women's Relief Committee, which later evolved into the All Pakistan Women's Association. Jinnah later founded a secret radio station, and, in 1965, came out of her self-imposed political retirement to participate in the presidential election against military dictator Ayub Khan.
Begum Ra'na Liaquat Ali Khan helped the refugees who fled India during partition and also organised the All Pakistan Women's Association in 1949, two years after the creation of her country. Noticing that there were not many nurses in Karachi, Khan requested the army to train women to give injections and first aid, resulting in the para-military forces for women. Nursing also became a career path for many girls. She continued her mission, even after her husband was assassinated in 1951, and became the first female Muslim delegate to the United Nations in 1952.
The end of 1970s heralded a new wave of political Islamisation in many Muslim majority countries. In Pakistan, the military dictatorial regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq gained power and initiated the Islamisation of Pakistan. These reforms replaced parts of the British-era Pakistan Penal Code, making adultery and fornication criminal offences, and introducing the punishments of whipping, amputation, and stoning to death. The feminist movement in Pakistan highly opposed this implementation of Islam, which was they believed to be based on an archaic understanding of Islamic literature, asking instead for liberal modernist interpretation. After much controversy and criticism, parts of the law were considerably revised by the 2006 Women's Protection Bill.
In this context, the vocal Women's Action Forum (WAF) was formed in 1981 According to Madihah Akhter, General Zia ultimately sought to morally police the role of women in the public sphere, which brought unexpected pressure on Pakistani women. As a reaction to the form of Zia's Islamisation, many Pakistani women, including writers, academics, and performers, became active in the opposition of these policies. Akhter argue that the younger generation of 1980's activists were more feminist in their outlook and approach; the Women's Action Forum, she says, used "progressive interpretations of Islam" to counter the state's implementation of religiously interpreted morality, and in doing so, succeeded in gaining the unexpected support of right wing Islamic women's organisations too. They campaigned through various mediums, such as newspaper articles, art, poetry, and song
Since the end of General Zia's rule, Pakistan elected its first female prime minister - Benazir Bhutto. Some feminist legislative attempts were made, such as the founding of all-women police stations, and the appointing of female judges for the first time. Many of anti-feminist laws of General Zia era remained.
Post-Zia, activists have been able to produce research that has focused on strengthening the political voice of women, and inclusive democratic governance. They have also produced some of the first Pakistani research and awareness-raising material on the sexual and reproductive rights of women, environmental issues, and citizen-based initiatives for peace between India and Pakistan.
The feminist movement in Pakistan entered a crucial period after 2008 with the advent of private media channels and social media. The movement gained momentum as women were increasingly able to share their ideas and beliefs. Aurat March (Women Marches) are now held in numerous cities over the country. The subjects and issues raised by the marches include increased political participation and representation of women, gender and sexual minorities, religious minorities and other marginalized groups in Pakistan. The movement has also demanded for public spaces to be made safer for women and transgender people, as well as called for an end to all violence against women and transgender people.
Liberal feminism is most prominent in leftist liberal circles, and is often supported by left-leaning political parties such as PPP. It is often characterised by liberal values of freedom, liberty, human rights and secularism.
Nisaism is more traditionalist in nature and supports the acquisition of women rights under an Islamic lens. The movement is mainly supported by centrists and the right-wing parties of Pakistan. The word Nisaism comes from Surah Nisa, a chapter of Qur'an, demonstrating the Islamic roots of the movement. The movement has faced some criticism for preaching Islamic rights and accepting what other atheist feminist groups call the 'Islamic patriarchal structure of Pakistan'.
Much of Pakistani femininist art and literature struggles against orthodox advice literature, known for imposing religious dogma through puritanical reform; feminist authors often describe the journey of feminism in Pakistan as an oscillating battle, where women's movements struggle against the continued backlash of the patriarchal hegemony. According to Shahbaz Ahmad Cheema, the Pakistani patriarchy produces literature and art with the ultimate goal of making women accept, internalise, and promote patriarchal discourse as an ideal. Afiya S Zia identifies some of the writings she considers to be most problematic, such as those of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; Ashraf Ali Thanawi's Bahishti Zewar; and, in post partition times, Abu Ala Maududi's writings, which she considers to intend to create and sustain a privileged Muslim class, further facilitating and supporting patriarchal male dominance. Television and Film likewise continues to present submissive and subservient Pakistani women in a male-dominated Pakistani society.
S.S. Sirajuddin in the Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literature in English, expresses reservations about the availability of free space for feminism in Pakistan, and feels that the nation is still much affected by religious fervour. However, she admits that an awareness of feminist concerns, the changing role of women, and female identity do exist in Pakistan, and these concerns are reflected in Pakistan's English literature.
Perception and intervention of major female characters can be observed in novels like Bapsi Sidhwa, and Sara Suleri's Meatless Days. Pakistani poets like Maki Kureishi, Hina Faisal Imam, Alamgir Hashmi, and Taufiq Rafat have been considered to be sensitive but restrained in their portrayal.
One of the first feminist films in Pakistan was called Aurat Raj (Women's Rule). It was released in 1979, but failed to achieve at the box-office despite the fact that released in a successful period for Pakistani cinema.
Womansplaining: Navigating Activism, Politics and Modernity in Pakistan is 2021 collection of feminist essays edited by Sherry Rehman consisting of essays by Hina Jilani, Khawar Mumtaz, Afiya Shehrbano Zia and others narrating the history of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, Women's Action Forum and various legislative changes in Pakistan's history. Bina Shah and Fifi Haroon write about feminism and the arts, Nighat Dad tells about feminism in the digital age.
Main article: Ismat Chughtai
Beginning in the 1930s, Ismat Chughtai wrote extensively on themes including female sexuality and femininity, middle-class gentility, and class conflict, often from a Marxist perspective.
Fatima Bhutto is the daughter of former Minister Murtaza Bhutto. She is the author of three novels. Songs of Blood and Sword is a memoir of her father, who was assassinated.