After reading this excellent article by Rubina Saigol in the Herald on the Past, Present and Future of Feminist Activism in Pakistan, I made a matrix to showcase the information in the first half of the piece.
This information outlines the time period, major actors, major issues, and method of action of feminist activists in Pakistan from Partition to the present day.
It’s fascinating to see how feminist activism has evolved over the decades. I would add, however, that in addition to the issues of today, Pakistan’s present-day feminists are dealing with all the issues of the previous eras as well as the ones of this century and decade. The past issues — women’s education, income, basic rights — have never been satisfactorily resolved and are still contested by patriarchal elements in our society. In fact, there has been so much opposition and backlash to women’s gains that some of them have even been reversed. For example, recent statistics show that of all married Pakistani women between the ages of 18-49, about 50% of those women are uneducated, and that number rises to 60% or more in rural areas.
Countering one assertion in the article that feminists of the 70s could not talk openly about sex and sexuailty, history shows that those activists did address issues of bodily autonomy and sexual violence as evinced in the poems of Fehmida Riaz. However, the 1980s and Zia’s puritanical regime drove those discussions straight back into the realm of the taboo, at least for discussion by women.
(Saigol in her smart article notes that open discussions of women’s bodies and of sex were conducted with hearty enthusiasm by religious right wingers and clerics. You can go on the internet and find speeches by religious figures describing in great detail the sexual act as it will be experienced by martyrs in paradise with hoors, for example. A similar openness was not to be found in women’s religious right wing movements; this talk is almost always dismissed in conservative women’s circles as “dirty talk”.)