Misperceptions about Feminism in Pakistan
By running its course completely, the notion of feminism has achieved its objectives, and is now redundant. It is a mantra of Westernization and Americanization which is aimed at spreading obscenity, and it also challenges the well-established Islamic mores. It tries to demonize man, and make woman dominant over man to tear apart the very fabric of the society. It intends to lead our Muslim women astray from the right path. All these, inter alia, are some misconceptions about feminism in Pakistan. In the instant write-up, an attempt has been made to enumerate these misconceptions and clarify them, in detail.
As women make up around 50 percent of population, their participation in every sphere of life for the prosperity and progress of the nation is inevitable. While highlighting the importance of women’s participation in every arena of life for the country’s prosperity, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said in a 1944 speech: “No nation can rise to the heights of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are the victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the house as prisoners.”
Therefore, to emancipate women from the clutches of a stereotyped society, feminism, a belief in, and desire for, equality between the sexes, has been endeavouring to bring women to the mainstream, and grant them their due constitutional and religious rights.
Feminism, according to Merriam Webster, is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” It has been an endeavour for social, political, economic and intellectual equality between the sexes. Bell Hooks, a prominent American author and feminist, in her book “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” calls feminism “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
However, due to incognizance with real purport of the term, feminism had been misinterpreted in its very context across the world in general and in Pakistan in particular. Thus, in this regard, here are some common misperceptions about feminism in Pakistan and their clarification, as well.
- Feminism has overachieved
The conception that feminism has overachieved its objectives is a dangerous myth. Opponents of the movement allege that feminism, while completely running its course, has now become redundant. They allege that women are now preferred in almost every sector of life; in fact, innocent men are now victims of gender discrimination. Even mediocre women are now favoured over the most deserving men in jobs, admissions and other career opportunities. Women can now easily blackmail, they argue, men by using sexual harassment as a tool.
Suffering from an inferiority complex, the devotees of masculinism often use such assertions, ignoring completely the fact that women get jobs and admissions on the basis of their abilities. However, they are still paid less than what their male counterparts get. Their ratio to men in jobs, as well as in other sectors, is still meagre. Besides, women are still subjected to sexual harassment at public places and offices. Those who opine that women use sexual harassment as a tool, are totally ignoring the fact that innocent women, if harassed, cannot even register their complaint because of the social stigma attached to it. Although feminism has, up to some extent, achieved its objectives, it still has a long way to go.
Therefore, the myth that feminism has overachieved is no less than propaganda to slow the speed feminism has gained.
- Feminism is anti-Islamic
Another misconception about feminism among Pakistani populace is that it is an anti-Islamic movement. They argue that women should only obey their male guardians. Women have no need to come out of their houses because their needs—from food to shelter to clothing—are fulfilled by their guardians. They are staunch believers in Tennyson’s words, “Man for the field and women for the hearth.”
They stick to such stereotypical narratives because they are unaware of the fact that Islam does not prohibit women from working outside homes. Likewise, participation of early Muslim women in various activities depicts that Islam does not discriminate against them. For instance, the courageous act of taking active part, along with other Muslim women, as a warrior in Battle of Uhud by Nusaybah bint Ka’ab (RA); the appointment of Shifa Abdullah in Madina, the capital of first Islamic empire, and Samra Nuhayak (RA) in Makkah as market controller, by Hazrat Umar (RA), the second Rashidun caliph; acting of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) upon the advice given by Hazrat Umme Salma (RA), mother of the faithful, by shaving head on the occasion of Treaty of Hudaibiya. These examples reveal the active engagement of Muslim women in state matters, community affairs and decision-making.
- Feminism is Westernism
Some conservatives have misconceived feminism as Westernism. They have been accusing feminists as foreign-funded agents who are out to inculcate Western ideals in Muslim women. Furthermore, they think of feminism as conspiracy by Jewish lobby against Muslims and believe that it will wreak havoc in Muslim world in the garb of human rights.
Those sceptics, who claim that feminism is a mantra of Westernization and Americanization, should bear in mind that, first and foremost, it is not so. Even if it is so, why not talk about women’s rights in Pakistan where everything—from dress to fashion to lifestyle to eating habits—is under the Western influence?
- Feminism propagates obscenity and vulgarity
Orthodox sects think of feminists as a cult that aims to spread liberal culture and vulgarity in Muslim women. It promotes bold culture and skimpier fashions, as it has exited the sphere of respectability, in our women, they believe. Such allegations were recently observed when women conducted the Aurat March, a movement for women’s rights, on 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, demanding for their legitimate rights. The participants held banners with various slogans written on them. One slogan ‘my body, my will’, among others, was overwhelmingly misperceived by the misogynists lobby and was equated with vulgarity. However, it means to refuse to surrender her body to a rapist. They want control over their own body and reproductive functions, and over their lives, both within and outside homes. That’s all.
In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, women are easily exploited, and are more prone to acid throwing, honour killing, forced marriage, forced conversion, marital rape, denial of social rights and right to inheritance and such other horrendous acts.
Recently, the cascade of rape and killing of minor girls in the country; forced prostitution of a fourteen-year-old girl by her uncle and brother; killing of a wife by her own husband because the food she served was not ‘hot enough’; killing of a seven-year-old niece by her uncle for ‘making noise’ at home, and other such incidences show how prone to man’s wrath this oppressed creature is. The feminists only raise their voice for getting justice for female victims. Does it amount to obscenity and vulgarity?
- Feminism is against homemaking
Anti-feminists misinterpret feminism by saying that it is against homemaking. They argue if women, like men, come out form the domestic to public sphere, who would then look after home and the children? A woman, according to these people, is supposed to live only inside her home, perform reproductive labour and serve other members of the family. They fell that if woman works outside her home, the social edifice of the family system will collapse.
Though working of a woman outside her home somehow affects homemaking, it does not mean she cannot, at all, work. Many women have been showing their talent by managing well their household and professional lives, simultaneously.
Women have full right to choose whether to be a housewife or work outside to earn a respectable living and to be financially independent. Many mothers, being helpless and without any patron, have to work to support their families, and for that, they must be respected and appreciated.
Therefore, feminism does not make woman anti-homemaking, but it gives her choice of being a stay-at-home mom or finding opportunities outside, or simultaneously both.
- Feminism is to make woman dominant
Many sceptics have portrayed feminism as a tool to make woman dominant over man. They assert that feminism will make man lose power, influence, authority, control, opportunities, and will give these things to women only. They fear women would override men, and thus their dominancy, which they have sustained over the years, would perish.
Moreover, these sceptics oppose any attempt of bringing women to the mainstream, and allege that doing so will disturb the well-established social edifice. However, women, in many cases, have outperformed men, without any disturbance in the social framework.
In the contemporary times, we have the examples of prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern; Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel; and President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen in handling the current crisis of Covid-19. Being women, these leaders have outperformed the well-known populist leaders of the world like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi.
This shows that women are not, in any case, inferior to and weaker than men. They are equally competent and are sometimes even ahead of men in socioeconomic activities. Modern woman is intelligent, free human being able to take care of herself and much interested in the events of the world.
Thus, the above discussion has made clear that women are no less than men, and feminism is not about to make woman superior to man, rather it is to eradicate oppression they are subjected to.
- Feminists are only women
The misperception that feminism is a movement only for women and its activists must only be females depicts, in the first place, an utter lack of understanding of the term. This movement, in fact, not only advocates for women’s rights, but has also been championing for the rights of transgenders, disabled, and other ethnic and racial minorities as well as marginalized men.
Moreover, people of all genders, including men, have been endeavouring to further the gender equality. Men the world over, too, are supporting it through campaigns like ‘Heforshe’, a United Nations initiated campaign for the advancement of gender equality.
Similarly, about the male participants of feminism, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Tradeau, a staunch supporter of feminism, during a conversation with Melinda Gates, said: “It is so important that we all understand … it’s not only that men can be feminists, it is that men should be feminists as well.”
To sum up, feminism is fighting for and demanding of equal rights and opportunities without gender based discrimination. However, due to one reason or another, this term, unfortunately, has been misperceived. It’s not a bad word; one just needs to understand it better. It is only just about the economic, political and social equality of the sexes. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?