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The past, present and future of feminist activism in Pakistan

Updated Jul 15, 2019 04:52pm
The Aurat March slogans have been a subject of a big controversy | Aun jafri, White Star
The Aurat March slogans have been a subject of a big controversy | Aun jafri, White Star

Interviews conducted by Manal Khan and Sameen Hayat.

Aurat March 2019 was one of the most exciting feminist events in recent years. Its sheer scale, magnitude, diversity and inclusivity were unprecedented. Women belonging to different social classes, regions, religions, ethnicities and sects came together on a common platform to protest the multiple patriarchies that control, limit and constrain their self-expression and basic rights. From home-based workers to teachers, from transgender to queer — all protested in their unique and innovative ways. Men and boys in tow, carrying supportive placards, the marchers reflected unity within diversity, seldom seen in Pakistan’s polarised and divisive social landscape.

Carried out in many cities across Pakistan, the march took both its supporters and detractors by surprise. No one expected such a big turnout and in so many cities with truth-laden and daring placards. The intensity of the vitriol seen in the backlash to the march testifies to its enormous success — it certainly managed to hit patriarchy where it hurts.

Aurat March 2019 also marks a tectonic shift from the previous articulations of feminism in Pakistan. It would not be far-fetched to say that it has inaugurated a new phase in feminism, qualitatively different from the earlier movements for women rights. While the past expressions of feminism laid the foundation for what we see today, the radical shift of feminist politics from a focus on the public sphere to the private one – from the state and the society to home and family – manifests nothing short of a revolutionary impulse. Feminism in Pakistan has come of age as it unabashedly asserts that the personal is political and that the patriarchal divide between the public and the private is ultimately false.

The social, political and historical context of each previous form of feminism was different and the feminist issues of each era arose from particular moments in national and global histories. In the early years of Pakistan’s formation, the wounds inflicted by the bloodstained Partition were fresh. Women activists were focused on welfare issues, such as the rehabilitation of refugees, because that kind of work had social respectability within the traditional cultural milieu.

Pakistan also inherited many social issues – such as polygamy, purdah, child marriage, inheritance, divorce and the right to education – from the pre-Partition times. Many of the demands for social and legal reforms on these issues were acceptable even within the bounds of religion. So, there was no fear of women upsetting the applecart when they asked for these reforms.

Participants of Aurat March in Karachi holding a symbolic funeral of patriarchy | Shakil Adil, White Star
Participants of Aurat March in Karachi holding a symbolic funeral of patriarchy | Shakil Adil, White Star

The 1960s saw the proliferation of women’s welfare and development organisations but it was the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) that became the face of the women’s movement in the country in that decade. The passage of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, pushed by APWA, reflected a minor ingress by the state in the private sphere as it placed certain procedural limits on the men’s arbitrary right of divorce and gave women some rights regarding child custody and maintenance. Even the small changes repeatedly stirred public controversy with clerics clamouring for the reversal of the ordinance.

APWA’s approach was characterised by two salient features: one, the focus on social welfare and development work involving girls’ education and income-generation activities; two, the collaboration with the state to achieve its aims. APWA shied away from an overtly political position in that it did not contest dictatorship. It did not ruffle any religious or political feathers and preferred to play it safe even when Fatima Jinnah, a woman, remained the sole campaigner against dictatorship. The cooperation and collaboration of women leaders with the state to attain women’s rights continued during the civilian rule of the Pakistan Peoples Party (1971-1977).

The feminist movement and the women’s rights struggle that arose in the 1980s, spearheaded by Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in the urban areas and Sindhiani Tehreek in rural Sindh, were significant for their overtly political stance. As both these movements were formed in the context of a hypernationalist absolute dictatorship that relied on a particular version of religion for legitimacy, they consistently challenged both the military rule and the incursion of religion in politics. WAF struggled for a democratic, inclusive, plural and secular state while Sindhiani Tehreek strove for an end to feudalism and patriarchy, sought the restoration of democracy and championed the principle of federalism and provincial autonomy.

These movements represent a significant break from the former paradigm of collaboration and cooperation with the state. They challenged patriarchal power in every domain — political, religious and legal. Unlike the welfare and social uplift-oriented movements of the 1960s, the struggles launched by women in the 1980s were essentially political movements anchored in the ideas of democracy, basic rights and sociopolitical change. As they confronted the authoritarian state, women in these movements could ill-afford to play it safe like their predecessors. They, therefore, engaged in frequent street protests and demonstrations. They took risks and were occasionally beaten, jailed, baton-charged and otherwise threatened by the dominant religious-military patriarchies of the time.

WAF had to respond quickly and frequently because of the rapid pace at which the regime was promulgating discriminatory laws and taking anti-women measures. The focus of the WAF members was squarely on the public sphere where the state machinery was utilised to brutally repress anyone who dared to stand up to the dictatorship. The aggressive and intrusive reconstitution of the private sphere, through instruments such as the Hudood Ordinances, had to be resisted at the public level by fighting legal cases, speaking up and protesting on the street.

Given the dizzying pace at which the regime and its religious allies had to be countered, there was little room for internal reflection in WAF. Although most of its founders had a strong feminist background and a feminist lens for unpacking the dominant narratives, the space for interrogating private life had shrunk. WAF members knew that patriarchies work through the bodies of women and write their strictures on those bodies. They also understood that the traditional family, which controls and organises the human body and sexuality, is the mainstay of patriarchies. Yet they were constantly occupied with contesting the state’s laws being drawn from a singular interpretation of religion. In private conversations, the politics of the body in the body politic were often discussed but, publicly, WAF was only engaged in countering the imperious state.

Some of the reasons for the reticence were internal. WAF was composed of a diverse set of organisations and individuals with differing perspectives on religion, culture and tradition. This diversity grew out of the necessity to have maximum numbers to confront a heavy-handed regime. WAF was reluctant to take too radical a stand on the body, sexuality and the family as many of its members were religious, conservative and deeply embedded in traditional family systems. The conversations on the body, sexuality and the freedom to express oneself in one’s own way did not become a part of the official public agenda of WAF.

Ironically, while WAF members avoided public discussions on the body and sexuality, the state and religious clerics had no such qualms; their focus was squarely on the woman’s body — the need to conceal it, cover it, protect it and preserve it for its rightful ‘owner’. The state was consistently referring to sexuality (for example, in laws on fornication, zina), the veil and the four walls of the house — all designed to control the rebellious and potentially dangerous female body capable of irredeemable transgression.

This is where the new feminists break from the older generation and mark a powerful shift in the feminist landscape. Even as new feminism retains many of the older critiques of the state, fundamentalism and militarism and reflects the desire for equality and democracy, it reaffirms the personal and injects it right into the heart of the political. ‘My body, my will’, it tells patriarchy to its crestfallen face. ‘Warm your own food’, ‘I don’t have to warm your bed’, ‘don’t send me dick pics’ — in curt one-liners, the new young feminists reclaim their bodies, denounce sexual harassment, stake a claim to public space and challenge the gender division of labour on which rests the entire edifice of patriarchy.

The new wave of feminism includes people from all classes, genders, religions, cultures and sects without any discrimination or prejudice. The young feminists are diverse, yet inclusive, multiple yet one. There are no leaders or followers — they are all leaders and followers. The collective non-hierarchical manner of working and the refusal to take any funding is similar to the functioning practised by WAF and represents continuity with the past. But the entire framing of the narrative around the body, sexuality, personal choices and rights is new. The young groups of women say openly what their grandmothers could not dare to think and their mothers could not dare to speak.

They say what women have known for centuries but have not been able to voice. They have broken the silences imposed by various patriarchies in the name of religion, tradition and culture. They have torn down so many false barriers including the four walls of morality built to stifle their selves and curb their expression.

The backlash has been swift, fierce and expected. Patriarchy began to shake in its boots and masculine anxiety reached a peak as women hit it where it hurt. The self-appointed guardians of morality, who in the past never touched the issues of violence and inequality, have been quick to condemn the marching women in their television chatter shows, puny little newspaper columns and silly tweets. The blowback from little people is not new for feminists.

The critics certainly cannot stop the marchers. Will money hinder their path? There are questions about the sustainability of the feminist movement given that the young feminists do not take any funding from corporate, government or foreign donors. The tremendous energy and passion generated by the march, however, are enough to ensure that these activists will continue marching into unknown but exciting futures.

Reactions to Aurat March, held on the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, ranged from supportive to condemnatory and everything in between. The national conversation that followed raised some important questions not only about the role and status of women in the Pakistani society but also the significance of the issues highlighted by the marchers.

Partaking in this conversation, we devised a set of questions and sent them to different feminist activists, all aged below 30, who had taken part in the march. Our endeavour is aimed at finding – as well as recording – their responses to the criticism of the issues raised by the marchers. It is also an attempt to explore their personal and ideological reasons for joining feminist activism.

The questions follow:

Q1. How and when did feminist activism become relevant to you and why?

Q2. How do you view the evolution of feminism in Pakistan? Do you see any difference between the movement launched for women’s rights during the era of General Ziaul Haq and the contemporary feminist activism?

Q3. There are always social, cultural, religious and even economic costs of being a feminist in Pakistan. How do these challenges impact your activism?

Q4. What else, besides Aurat March, should women activists in Pakistan do to make themselves heard?

Q5. Do you think feminist activism in Pakistan can succeed in securing women’s rights without addressing the divisions caused by class, caste, ethnicity and religion?

Atiya Abbas

A 29-year-old communications expert based in Karachi; a member of Girls at Dhabas, a feminist initiative aimed at claiming public spaces for women

A1. Feminist activism became relevant to me in 2015 when I joined Girls at Dhabas. What became central to my understanding of feminism was the basic and the most tenuous idea that even the ability to breathe freely in a city that has very little space for solitude is a radical act.

A2. Zia-era feminists launched movements to bring changes in laws and policies. Many of those changes were subsequently implemented which is why we enjoy some freedoms. Even asking questions about these freedoms was not easy 30 years ago. Younger feminists are asking such questions everyday — whether these are about unpaid domestic labour, inequality in marriage, sexual harassment at workplace or the right to access the streets without fearing for safety. The tool they wield is social media which is a quick way to disseminate information. That is why conversations around feminism and equality have mushroomed so quickly in our cultural conscience.

A3. I am speaking from a perspective of immense privilege when I say that my father is a feminist and I have a circle of feminist friends who are my source of solace and comfort. Ultimately, I go back to a loving home where I feel safe.

A4. Taking to the streets, marching, protesting, going to talk shows, writing columns, sharing thoughts on social media — women activists are doing a lot to form a feminist discourse in Pakistan. From taking former minister Kashmala Tariq’s tweet that “Good morning messages are also harassment” out of context, to calling women names in the legislative assemblies, to the structure of our courts having misogyny built right into them — it is the male and patriarchal detractors of equality that keep hindering progress. Maybe they should start listening and lean in.

A5. A feminism that is not intersectional is no feminism at all. Aurat March was one way of bringing women from all backgrounds on one platform. There, however, is an unnecessary burden on middle class women to also ensure the empowerment of women from other disenfranchised groups as nothing is being done at the institutional level in this regard. As feminist academic Tooba Syed wrote: “It has been particularly interesting to witness bourgeoisie men engage in an entirely selective class critique when it comes to women — an intellectual inconsistency that has never been more transparent. The critique is particularly insincere because it puts the entire burden of working-class representation on the shoulders of middle-class women [activists] instead of having a nuanced debate about concerted efforts to weaken the left [in] the country’s wider political spectrum.”

Huda Bhurgri

A 26-year-old academic based in Islamabad; a member of the Women Democratic Front, a political association

A1. I was born in a feudal family where men held all the sociopolitical and economic power and privilege. In a way, I myself was privileged — not because who I was or what I had done but only because I was the daughter of someone and belonged to a specific class. This class structure is deeply rooted in patriarchy but I realised that, no matter where a woman is born, she does not exist in a society as a free human being. Her existence is a mere shadow which is directed and cast by men who control her life either as her father, brother, husband or son. Feminist activism became relevant to me after my exposure to experiential reality as a woman born and raised in a patriarchal society.

A2. Feminist movement during Zia’s era focused on resistance politics against tyrannical rule of a despot who tried to control the conduct of women. It helped to awaken collective consciousness about patriarchy and also helped to create debates against the draconian [anti-women] law of evidence [promulgated by Zia]. The contemporary feminist movement, on the other hand, is demanding social, political and economic justice from the society, the state and the judiciary. This home grown feminism is no more for the rights of women alone. It also focuses on the right to self-determination of transgender and non-binary people. The contemporary feminist movement of Pakistan is very inclusive and speaks against both patriarchy and capitalism.

A3. Most of the people are not ready to listen to a woman who speaks for equality so, usually, we have been labelled with derogatory names. But we know that ours is a resistance politics and it can never be easy. No matter what it costs, this resistance against patriarchy is a worthy cause. Obstacles cannot deter the true consciousness of women.

A4. Other than Aurat March, women from the legal fraternity, political parties, academia and media should work on politicising women folk across Pakistan through different channels. There is a dire need for an alternative discourse which supports laws and social and economic policies that are women-friendly. This is not possible if women are not given positions where power resides; women, therefore, have to step outside domestic roles to attain their human rights.

A5. The present feminist movement in Pakistan is not ignoring other contradictions such as the class conflict, casteism, religious extremism and racial differences. Patriarchy draws its power from all these sources, therefore the fight for women’s rights is also a fight against every type of discrimination at all levels of society.

Sidra Amin

A 24-year-old based in Peshawar; co-founder of Daastan.com, an initiative to promote literary activities

A1. I had just moved out of an all-girls school and shifted to an all-girls college which meant I had more freedom than before to go out, explore and learn about the world. It was during this time that I often saw catcalling, stalking and a lack of opportunities for girls. My rebellion against such behaviour started when I began writing small poems and stories about hypocrisy in our society. Later on, after I had more exposure towards social problems, I came to realise that these had been rooted in our history and I had to fight against them come what may.

A2.I believe social media has helped us come a long way. We have started to speak about personal autonomy, class differences, a more transparent political presentation, equal wages and much more. While feminism in Zia’s era was political, today it is becoming intersectional due to its development both globally and nationally. We have more freedom of speech than the past and the moment is, slowly and gradually, becoming inclusive. It is addressing the rights of all genders.

A3. Life is difficult for feminists in our society. One of the major reasons for this is a lack of awareness in our society. We do not see feminism as a movement that ensures equality but one that will provoke conflict among genders. At Daastan.com, we frequently face backlash for bringing marginalised voices forward. We faced massive threats when we published an e-zine called Outcast. We had to seek legal support against those threats.

At the Peshawar Book Club, we faced heated arguments for presenting a selection of books written by feminists. Those books were disliked. The society had a negative perception about them regardless of their brilliance. Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, made us face the wrath of some members of the club. They called feminists as delusional for believing that women are oppressed

A4. Aurat March is a brilliant initiative. It should be followed by monthly dialogues, workshops as well as political movements. We need more women in the legislature who are responsive to our demands for gender equality. We need to rally support for all those women who came forward to raise their voices during the march so that they continue doing so all year around. This can help us in building a curriculum for consciousness raising and awareness on a deeply rooted misogyny and its implications.

A5. Pakistan has a pluralistic but a highly stratified society. The problems of every class, caste, ethnicity and gender vary and cannot be seen through a single lens. A more diverse representation of women is needed in the feminist movement to have a better understanding of their problems. We cannot only be the voice of young upper middle class women. We need to expand our activism. Aurat March 2019 has improved on the previous edition of the march by integrating voices of women from all ethnicities, religions and classes but we still have a long way to go. Such an integration can play an enormous role in the growth of the movement and eventually in its impact.

Minahil Baloch

A 19-year-old aspiring film-maker born in Khairpur but studying in Karachi

A1. Two years ago, I did not take much interest in feminist activism or feminism in general but, with time, I realised how I had been conditioned into thinking that it was okay for the society to work in a certain way. When I unlearned this and learnt about how a patriarchal system works, I could see how relevant activism was to my life. I started analysing my life and noticed how a patriarchal system has normalised sexist behaviour in our daily lives. What I heard a lot was: tum baiti naheen ho, baita ho hamara (you are not our daughter but our son). According to parents, this is a very progressive thing to say but it is not. It is not their fault though. They have been conditioned into thinking that way.

The other reason why my interest increased in feminism is that I want to reclaim the freedom Baloch woman have enjoyed historically. There is this stereotypical perception that Baloch women are not independent and free but this is not true. If we see historically, Baloch women have always been free women.

A2. We have evolved a lot [since Zia’s time]. We have become clearer about the problems we face in a typically patriarchal Pakistani society. Feminists under the Zia regime were fighting a battle against the man himself but the contemporary feminist movement is fighting against the mindset that he has left behind. This mindset is now more intense and extreme than what feminists faced then.

Also, opportunities for online activism were not available back then but these are a [big thing] now, making it easier for feminists to educate themselves through the internet — something that itself comes with a lot of cyber bullying, harassment, rape/death threats. The contemporary feminists have to fight online harassment as well along with harassment on the ground.

A3. Why people around us have issues with feminism and feminists is because they have been conditioned into believing that feminism is a ‘western’ concept. We need to understand their mindset in order to change them. That in itself is a fight and a half, and requires a lot of emotional labour to fight. So, yes, there are some challenges but if we understand that people are conditioned to see feminists in a particular way and that we are here to change that mindset, that will make things a lot easier.

A4. As a film student, I feel like films have a huge impact on the minds of their audiences. More films, therefore, should be made that revolve around women’s issues. This will help film audiences change their perspectives on these issues. At the very least, this will help them have a rethink.

A5. A feminist movement cannot succeed without including a struggle against class, caste, ethnicity and religion because these are the ingredients of a typical patriarchal system. For example, religion is often rubbed into our face when we put forward a valid feminism argument. People belonging to the elite class are privileged enough to not have the same problems as those belonging to the middle class have, so I have seen them invalidate the problems of the lower classes. Feminism cannot work without bringing these issues into its framework.

Sana Lokhandwala

A 27-year-old based in Karachi; co-founder of HER Pakistan, a charity working on improving menstrual hygiene awareness

A1. I have always been aware of the strict gender roles and gender bias around me but I have been more a passive feminist than being a ‘feminist activist’. I was never out there fighting for it like a lot of other strong women but I was doing my part quietly in my own way. It was only when HER Pakistan came into being that I realised that there is a need to actively fight against the oppression. Women in Pakistan do not even have the right to make decisions about their own bodies and health. They have to rely on men in their households to procure something as basic as a sanitary pad. Menstruation, which is a natural process, is termed ‘dirty’ and ‘disgusting’ only because it is about a woman’s body.  

A2. Feminism has been very much a part of Pakistan since the independence. Fatima Jinnah and Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan struggled for the rights of women in the earliest times. Zia’s era was more challenging. Parts of Hudood Ordinances that pertain to rape and adultery and the impact these had on female rape victims forced feminists of the time to step up and protest for their rights. Present-day feminism, however, is more pluralistic and accepting in terms of gender, sexuality, race, class and religion than its past editions. But, although a number of laws on women’s empowerment, sexual harassment at the workplace, honour killings and even domestic violence have been passed in recent times, Pakistani feminists still need to continue to protest over violence against women, raise awareness about women’s education, work for political, legal and health rights of women and struggle for more women-friendly laws.

A3. The negativity around feminism in Pakistan is frustrating. It takes an emotional toll on everyone who is struggling to create a better society for women, but good things do not come easy. It is a fight worth fighting. Personally, negativity and backlash just give me more strength to keep going. When people tell me there is no need to talk about menstruation in public, I go on and educate 100 more people about it.

A4. Although Aurat March is a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan, women have always done one thing or the other to get their voices heard. Be it through art or dance or poetry or social media, Pakistani women have never shied away from standing up for their rights. Although a lot of women are doing amazing work in order to create a more balanced Pakistan, I believe all activists should join forces every now and then to create a powerful statement — just like Aurat March did.

A5. Feminism is not only a movement, it is also a way of life. It cannot work in isolation. You cannot solve the problem of gender bias without solving the problems of class, caste, ethnicity and religion. Women of colour and those who come from underprivileged backgrounds have always been exploited. Gender equality is for everyone regardless of their class and race.

Sadia Baloch

A 19-year-old studying at the University of Balochistan, Quetta

A1. I was raised in a society where women are used to being manipulated, exploited and violated. They are considered the property of males in their families, irrespective of which class, ethnicity or religious group they come from. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. This concept of men owning women has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold. In a tribal society like Balochistan’s, a woman’s shame is the shame of her husband; her honour is her man’s honour. A man can do anything and go anywhere but a woman’s leg is broken if she breaks the society’s laws. She is not free to go where she wants. A man can be bad and no one will say anything but everyone knows when a woman is bad. This is what urged me to fight against patriarchy in Balochistan.

A2. There was a time when we had WAF which encouraged feminist activists of a whole generation. On the contrary, in contemporary times, one can see movements in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi which have a bit of elitist notions of freedom and equality. The sufferings of being a feminist, especially in Balochistan, are still beyond [the pale of the current movement]. There is a need to expose different facets of oppression which women of different classes and oppressed nationalities face on daily basis. Still, I see an umbrella of sisterhood as the only way out.

A3. Women’s freedom is often considered as being against the teachings of Islam as well as against many cultural norms. This is especially so when one is fighting against strict patriarchal norms in a tribal society. The mullahs, the deciders of the fate of women and the self-proclaimed guardians of Islam, have lynched women in order to save Islam. Religion and patriarchy are the toughest enemies of women. They both place women in a subordinate position, allowing men to control their access to material resources as well as to their own sexuality. So, definitely, fighting against such suppression is tough and there are challenges.

A4. To make ourselves heard, we must make noise first. Aurat March was that noise. Now our voices can be heard even by the deaf. No matter what platform we use, everyone will have to pay heed. We should, however, realise that a disciplined struggle under an organisational structure has always proven effective so women should start participating in political activities by joining political parties at every level. Instead of joining mainstream and elite-ruled parties, however, they should join leftist student organisations or they should join women-only groups where they can meet like-minded women with common aims. Women who might find it hard to become a part of political organisations should never forget that they can make a difference even individually. One daring girl can change what thousands might fail to change. So, women should start standing up for themselves at their offices, schools, colleges and even at public places that they usually avoid going to.

Women activists should run awareness campaigns. Women who are political activists and who are knowledgeable should teach other women that there is nothing wrong with them but it is the society and its norms that make them think so, and that they need to join hands and start breaking norms. They should continue doing so until breaking norms becomes a new norm.

A5. As long as women do not realise the need for a social revolution, including for the demolition of patriarchal and tribal tyranny, they will not succeed. For feminist activism in Balochistan to succeed, it is a necessary requirement to end violence against women, to empower them, to break the cycle of their oppression and exploitation. Male members of the society must take a step back from their patriarchal mindset in order to give women the space to enjoy their freedom and have agency in their own lives. Feminist activism both has a place and a role to play in national struggles in political and cultural spheres.

Yusra Amjad

A 25-year-old poet and stand-up comedian based in Lahore

A1. I grew up with an abusive father so I have witnessed the ugliness of patriarchy since childhood. I became more and more confident about owning the label of feminist as I grew older. When I was a teenager, it was much less acceptable to call oneself a feminist than it is now but I have always been staunchly passionate about standing up for, and having solidarity with, other women. I grew up in very women-centric spaces and I found them positive and nurturing for me. In college, I started to write about harassment and the patriarchal elements of institutionalised religion. Then I met Sadia Khatri who got me involved with Girls at Dhabas, a collective focused on reclaiming public spaces for women. I started to become more organised in my activism through that. Since then I have also helped organise Aurat March in Lahore both in 2018 and 2019. Activism is important to me because I want to play a part in levelling the playing field for women in whatever way I can. I am incredibly privileged in multiple ways as well and I consider it my responsibility to use my privilege for the benefit of the marginalised communities.

A2. Feminist activism was a very ‘niche’ thing in the 1980s, pursued by committed individuals. It was not the common talking point than it is today. In its own way, it was also a lot more dangerous back then. The focus back then was on challenging misogynist laws and legislation whereas the current wave of feminism is challenging [other] forms of misogyny — such as social attitudes, the policing of women’s bodies, their movement and their sexuality and social evils such as dowry culture. And, of course, feminist activism now has become a ubiquitous conversation because of the social media which was not the case before. 

A3. I really think social media has made life dangerous for feminist activists (though, of course, it is also a great tool for activism). It is a new – and endlessly accessible – platform for violence against women. Think about it: if a dupatta burning protest had happened today, women would have been threatened not just by the state and the police but their social media profiles would have been targeted too. They would have faced a barrage of online rape threats. They would have had their faces photo-shopped onto pornographic images. This, of course, is not to say the challenges the previous generation of feminists faced were any less scary or daunting but, nowadays, the backlash does not end in the physical space. It continues in online spaces. Every feminist I know deals with the backlash in their own unique way. My preferred coping mechanism is wilfully ignoring many of the risks and consequences. Social media is also a democratic space for us to fight back. [Our detractors] can censor print and television media but they cannot, at least so far, stop us from putting up a Facebook status.

A4. Aurat March is aimed purely at women who are socially privileged like myself — who can challenge men in their drawing rooms, who can challenge men in their bedroom and who can challenge men at dinner parties. I am so tired of seeing privileged women sharing #MeToo posts and then inviting harassers to their events and parties just because the said harassers are wealthy, well connected and popular. I am tired of women sharing feminist memes and giggling while their husbands tell women-belong-in-the-kitchen jokes. Listen to working-class women. We are complicit in their oppression. Give them their rights, their minimum wage, their sick leave, their maternity leave. And speak up when someone abuses their servants. 

A5. To quote [Dutch feminist writer] Flavia Dzodan, our feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit. In Pakistan, we especially have to consider our Sunni Muslim privilege. That being said, the most financially privileged men will use their faux concern over ‘class politics’ and ‘the proletariat’ to silence issues of gender politics. It is not for privileged men, however leftist they claim to be, to tell any woman how to address intersectionality. If it comes down to it, giving a platform to a privileged woman is still more subversive than giving a platform to a privileged man.