Women's Activism in Pakistan

October 17, 2018: The IBA hosted a guest lecture on Women's Activism and New Directions in Pakistan, delivered by researcher Ayesha Khan at the IBA main campus.

Representatives from IBA included Chairperson SSLA Dr. Faiza Mushtaq, Dr. Ali Gibran Siddiqui, Mr. Leon Menezes, Dr. Laila Farooq, and students.

Khan is a Senior Researcher at the Collective for Social Science Research, Karachi. She has worked extensively on gender and development, social policy and conflict/refugee issues in the region. During the talk she introduced her new book The Women's Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy that deals with the women's rights movement, its initial struggle against General Zia's Islamization, and subsequent campaigns.

She began the discussion by introducing Women's Action Forum (WAF), which was formed to respond to the implementation of the Hudood Ordinance penal code, and also to strengthen women's position in the society. Women's rights were being increasingly overlooked and it became crucial to change the discourse.

Khan talked about the trajectory that Pakistan took since partition, and the need for women to rearticulate the reasons for their own activism. She said this book was a need of the hour in these trying times to tackle the misogyny prevalent both domestically and internationally. She further said that women have come a long way from the early days of Pakistan, from Mukhtar Mai to Malala Yousafzai, and it's important to bring their struggles into the limelight for the upcoming generation of young women in our country.

She emphasized the efforts of WAF in advocating for women's rights in the wake of Talibanization. In the aftermath of 9/11, our geopolitical context changed and the women's movement was helpless when the Talibanization encroached upon the territory. It was then that women realized that democratic disposition was the only option left to advocate for their rights.

From 2000 onwards, partly because of the mainstream media, women began advocating their own rights without needing an activist to represent them. Khan highlighted successes such as the restoration of reserved seats for women in the parliament, laws against sexual harassment, domestic violence and raising the legal age of marriage, to state a few.

Khan mentioned Dr. Nafisa Shah and Sherry Rehman, who actively worked with WAF and supported its ideology. She ended her discussion on an optimistic note that increasing women's representation in the parliament will prove vital in changing the country's political agenda towards women for the better.

A Q&A session ensued between the speaker and the students. Concluding the event, a token of appreciation was presented to Khan by Dr. Mushtaq.