Feminism will never work in Pakistan

Published: May 5, 2014

Feminism is a concept that sits at odds with a fiercely patriarchal, deeply religious and culture-obsessed society like Pakistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

Rebecca West, a famous author, once said,

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

These are powerful words, indeed.

Everyone has a different perception of what feminism entails but, universally, it espouses equality and freedom from discrimination, degradation and sexual violence. However, feminism is a concept that sits at odds with a fiercely patriarchal, deeply religious and culture-obsessed society like Pakistan. This is not to say that feminism doesn’t exist in Pakistan; it’s just not given much emphasis or is twisted to suit a man’s needs.

From birth onwards, a woman is taught to behave with the utmost poise, manners and good grace in order to secure a rishta (marriage proposal) with a man who has a good job or prospects of moving abroad. No such pressure or emphasis on behaviour is placed on a man. Instead, the man is often brought up in an environment where the females of his house wait on him hand and foot; therefore, naturally, he would expect the woman he marries to do the same.

Introducing a woman who has fiercely feminist views, one who believes that a man should wash dishes and cook as well, will only be a source for more problems and disagreements for both parties.  Additionally, if the in-laws get involved, the whole fiasco can escalate into an all-out war with the poor husband stuck in the middle, trying to remain neutral and calm.

Women should realise that the perception men have of women in their minds is usually a result of how their mothers have conditioned them to behave. For example, if a boy sees his mother being beaten or getting physically abused by his father, he will grow up and do exactly the same with his own wife. This has been proven time and time again to be true. Additionally, if a man sees that his mother doesn’t expect him to make an effort at home, then he will definitely grow up expecting his wife not to care about his callous disregard for household chores either.

The point is that one shouldn’t be afraid to introduce their children to what might be considered as gender-specific roles. So, boys should be asked to cook and clean the house and girls should be taught how to change a tire and do other outdoor chores. There is no shame or humiliation in this. We are no longer growing up in a world where male and female roles are clearly defined; the lines started blurring a while ago and the notion that a man’s macho image will be tarnished if he dons an apron is just ridiculous.

Doing this from a young age will help a man appreciate the efforts his wife takes upon herself to manage his home. Besides, I’m not saying anything blasphemous or against our religion. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been reported to cook, clean, sew and manage his household affairs 1400 years before our men did. It seems as if Islamic Arabia was far more open-minded all those years ago than the 21st century Pakistan.

It will be wishful thinking to see such changes happening in Pakistan anytime soon, as it is still a very male-driven society. However, we do have some incredible women in Pakistan who are shining a beacon of hope and bringing about change in mainstream ideas, like Sharmeen ObaidSamina Baig and Ayesha Farooq.

I am proud of these women and I feel that they deserve the same respect and recognition that their male counterparts would receive. Our whole life should not have to revolve around marriage proposals and weddings because, as women, we have a lot more to offer to this world.

Ardent feminists should also realise that men are not the enemy. Not every man is a bigot or a misogynist or out to attack our individuality or creativity. Sometimes men are able to look at a situation from an objective standpoint and determine a course of action which will, ultimately, be beneficial for all parties. Also, constantly telling a man that he doesn’t help out at home will only have the opposite effect. As long as there is no violence involved, compromising goes a very long way.

Feminism cannot be shoved down a man’s throat because he will never consider himself to be a bigot or misogynist. Instead, we should consider feminism with Pakistani-tinted glasses – your husband might not help you in the kitchen but try and ensure that your son does!

Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Malefeminist

    Great read. Feminism as in equal rights in Pakistan is a VERY distant dream, but all the bits help.

    Now prepare yourself for the backlash of the anti-liberal extremists and the bearded guys beneath my comment.Recommend

  • Malefeminist

    Great read. Feminism as in equal rights in Pakistan is a VERY distant dream, but all the bits help.

    Now prepare yourself for the backlash of the anti-liberal extremists and the bearded guys beneath my comment.Recommend

  • Miss Syed

    A surge of feminism…. *Yawwwwwnsss* you’re so 50’s
    Come up with some thing better and productive!Recommend

  • unbelievable

    Never say never. Wasn’t that long ago that Women in the West couldn’t vote and were considered second class citizens.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Cliched .Recommend

  • abubakar

    All of this is non sense. Because first you have to have human rights then comes this feminism. All the elites shouting feminism, should first have a look at what is llight of human rights for an average pakistani.Recommend

  • Don’tGetCockyKid

    What you and many others fail to realize is that equality for both sexes is a basic human right.Recommend

  • gummmy bear

    When women have to stand in queues, the demand priority service as if it were their birth right. Dear author, tell me honestly whether you wait for your turn or ever refused to stand in a queue dedicated to women?Recommend

  • Zohaib

    “No such pressure or emphasis on behaviour is placed on a man”
    Seriously?Recommend

  • Alina Javed Siddiqui

    What the? o_O
    First you go on and write a biased argument against males that men who are raised in an abusive environment will turn out to be abusive themselves, which is a ridiculous argument and not true.
    Then you go on and say that we shouldn’t be afraid to teach our children gender specific roles and then explain how girls and boys should be taught each other’s stereotypical roles. THAT is NOT being gender specific. What?
    Lastly, who in the world told you that feminists take men as the enemy? Excuse me? That is the most ridiculous thing ever! Feminists do not take men as the enemy, they don’t shove anything down their thoughts. They do not consider men bigoted or misogynists.
    What are you even writing about? Feminism is just gender equality. No one is anyone’s enemy. Feminism is for males and females both. Feminism will definitely not work in Pakistan if this is how you put it out.
    Again, what?Recommend

  • Male Paki Feminist

    The article is incoherent and lacks a clear agenda. The writer is confused whether to go for feminism or Eastern style.
    The bit that bothers me when she tries to justify abusive men because they have been raised in an abusive family. It is not a good enough excuse. NOT AT ALL.
    So you are saying that feminists, who are already heavily outnumbered, should do nothing, wait for rishta, stay silent and keep their calm in abusive sasurals and husbands, and just try to raise their sons right? Would that be enough?
    Jeez. I can’t even begin to explain how twisted and confusing this article is, which clearly depitcs the double-mindedness of the writer.Recommend

  • Tracheal

    I’m either anti-liberal or a faux-liberal (feminist) but I can assure traitorous male feminist monkeys that anti-male bigotry, reverse-sexism, and female supremacism definitely deserve a to be destroyed. Feminism is a fascist outrage which violates every fine ‘patriarchal’ standard of Western civilization. It also has nothing whatever to do with ‘equal rights.Recommend

  • Hopefull

    @author: Can you please explain to me why a woman who is asking for help in the household is fiercly feminist? It’s not like the woman is saying she will completely let go of her own responsability of taking care of a household in which she also participates. She just wants some support.

    I understand that compromise is essential for a marriage to work and that every marriage is different, but in Pakistan it’s women who already compromise a lot more than men, which is considered normal. Should a woman then not even try to ask for some understanding from her husband or her in-laws? Obviously continiously asking for that help (or yelling about it) would annoy anybody, but I definitely think that every woman has the right to speak her mind at the right time.

    Think about it: men have no issue asking for chores to be done, but women should be coy and shy about it? (I am obviously talking about women who are secure enough to do that and don’t fear being beaten up or divorced soon if they speak their mind).

    Besides, I think you underestimate the man’s ability to compromise as well. For example, my 57-year old father is helping more around the house than he ever did and that is only because my mother decided to speak up. Even though he does not like it all the time, he has come to understand my mother’s point of view. So not all men are bigots or misogynists, but also do not represent men as beings that can never change once they get married.Recommend

  • Qari_sahab

    We need another century to recover the wounds of that moron.Recommend

  • Adpran

    In an Islamic lecture which I attended, the lecturer said “In ideal Muslim family, the wife never demand her rights”. Silent for a moment, then he continued with “It’s because ideal Muslim husband always give his wife her rights without his wife ask for it!”.

    This is what I’ve heard in an Islamic lecture in my place, Indonesia. Yes, not Pakistan, but Indonesia, a Muslim majority country where the ulama are active to remind the men to respect women and treat women well. And how about Pakistan?.

    Just want to say, life of Pakistani women would be better if Pakistani mullah could stand with women and defend the women rights.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Wow. Of COURSE you MUST be right. Cuz a posh burger family female who has spent all her life being molly-cuddled by her rich family knows ALL ABOUT the plight of females. PLEASE don’t use this serious issue just to grab some attention. Go out do sth productive .Recommend

  • Fem

    ummm.. feminism is part of human rights …. U know give a read.. Just google ‘feminism’Recommend

  • feminism ki jai ho!

    lets concentrate on bijli and pani for now!
    feminism an go take a back seat please!Recommend

  • Necromancer

    I don’t know but I have seen a lot of women beating their husband in public and that is feminismRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    I consider myself a feminist. Yes, men can be feminists too.

    Anyone standing up for their rights and treats them as equals is I think the definition of a feminist.Recommend

  • MHZ

    Haha..Recommend

  • TSil

    feminism is female privilege…and male discrimination and it has managed to destroy family, created fatherless children and that’s no mean achievementRecommend

  • mshaiq

    Okay although I agree with certain parts of the article, I think you need to correct one thing. “Ardent feminists” don’t think men are the enemy. Misandrists do. Whole other philosophy altogether.
    Oh and no, not all children coming from backgrounds of domestic abuse go on to commit domestic abuse. We are not our parents. We grow and we learn from their mistakes and our own mistakes. The point is to always learn and progress.Recommend

  • mshaiq

    Well said, Anoop.Recommend

  • Qazi

    A woman can call you names but you can not slap her, because shes a woman. Precisely feminism -.-Recommend

  • Parvez

    I live in Pakistan….and what I see is that if a woman makes an effort to make ‘ space ‘ for herself, she is usually successful in doing so. The onus rests on the woman. There will be sympathetic men but they really don’t count.Recommend

  • abubakar

    You know what should be considered the basic human rights in this country? Have you ever lived in balochistan where you get out of your home not knowing whether you’ll go missing, whether you’ll get target killed? Do you know how it feels to be in a bomb blasts that happen on regular basis in karachi and quetta? Those are basic rights, the right to stay alive, not to go missing, the right to have feelings of certainty about from where the next meal is gonna come!Recommend

  • Malik Abdul Rehman

    Oh no!!! another feminist …………….whoop psshsshh……..seeks protection of a blanketRecommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Subtext:
    I’m a male. And like all my male friends, I have no clue what the world is like for women.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    The best compliment I can give this blog, is that nearly all the commas are in their right places. And I don’t know if that credit goes to the author, or is shared with the editor.

    It’s a horribly confused piece. It encourages men to work in the kitchen or women to get jobs; discourages women from being their own enemies; criticizes the patriarchal culture…all perfectly in line with liberal feminism!

    But then says we don’t need feminism? I think the implication here is that Pakistan needs feminists, but they shouldn’t CALL themselves feminists, because that somehow evokes the idea of misandry among the ignorant.Recommend

  • Yumna

    What a poorly written article. The content doesn’t do justice to the TITLE at all!!
    The author seems to have no idea what feminism is to begin with.
    *disappointed*Recommend

  • Nobody

    If a woman calls you names, the equivalent would be calling her names, not slapping her. Verbal attack for a verbal attack. Eye for an eye. Punch for a punch.
    Using that logic, every wife who is beaten by her husband should beat him right back. Equal rights for all, hai na?
    Not condoning any sort of ‘attack’ with my comment, just saying.
    Cheers.Recommend

  • MarahaK

    So basically what you’re saying is that we cant care about 2 or more issues at once. If we actively try to combat, say child abuse we cant try and fight racial discrimination at the same time? Humans have multi-faceted complex minds.
    Also, do you actively work against all of the issues described in your comment? Do you think about them every day and dedicate your life to finding solutions for them? Or do you only bring them up when it serves your purpose of derailing a conversation about womens rights?Recommend

  • Don’tGetCockyKid

    Women are physically and mentally abused every day in Pakistan. Girls are forced into marriage, killed because they try to escape their oppressive lives. Women are forced to wear clothes they don’t feel comfortable in. A wife is expected to bend backwards to cater to the needs of her husband and her in laws. Women are married to the Quran in Sindh, so their fathers don’t have to give land to their sons-in-laws. Women in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa are not allowed to work, in fear of bringing “dishonour” to the family.
    The rights you stated are basic human rights, yes, but you aren’t paying attention to the tyranny women have to face. And, I ask you, have YOU ever lived in Balachistan, but as a woman?Recommend

  • Alizeh

    of all the things in the world, Pakistan needs feminism. I get the author is trying to be cautious and trying not to offend the male populace, but let’s stop being apologists. Women must be free to do what they want. They are human beings. They do not deserve to be raped, thrown acid on, abused by sexist douches. I’m not only talking about men, but even sexist women, esp. in rural areas get abusive and sexism is a large factor in this. Please stop justifying abusive men. It’s like justifying serial killers because they had a tormented childhood. I find it incredibly odd that you only mentioned a mother beating up a child and not a father.

    to sum it up this ignorant article is why Pakistan needs feminism.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad Khattak

    Feminism is an overly western ideal and is simply not compatible with society as it exists in Pakistan. Not yet, anyway.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Hear Hear. A balanced, well-thought and versed argument.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Yes, and then look what an average Pakistani women must go through please. Its not about the classes. I don’t understand why you made it about the classes? Women in even elite class get beaten by their husabnds, their properties usurped etc. Its about the general state of women in countries like Pakistan.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    You turned all her exellent points in to a haze of confused idiocy. Her article makes perfect sense but you don’t sadly. Get your head in place please.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Wow. Ignorance is abundant.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Well no point in denying that parents leave a huge influence on their children and there’s a very high chance that children turn out like their parents, whether good or bad. Exceptions are always there.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Ghastly? People find the weirdest of things to say to common sense.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    You are equating all the other injustice with standing in a queue? This is what plight is really. I will break all the male queues from now on just to piss men off :)Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Yes. Parents raise thier sons like princes generally. Gives them a false sense of complacency and superiority and that in turn leads to irresponsible grown men.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Because calling names and hitting is the same? Wow ignorance again.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Western ideal really? Asking for equal rights for women is western? I suppose a fatwa against this blasphemous notion would be next?Recommend

  • Mir

    Yes, of course, males live their lives being pampered and well-fed, don’t they. It doesn’t matter that in the end they have to have a good job, good status, good credentials and be able to support a family. Nope. Nope. Nope. Lets just bleat
    “Patriarchy! Misogynist! Oppressive!” wherever we go.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad Khattak

    No, I think women in Islam are just as empowered and free as women in any western society, religion or civilization. The values and ideals associated with feminism are inherently western, you can’t argue against that even if you want. The event that has championed feminism for decades through stories, lore and imagery is women burning their bras. Can you relate freedom to burning your bra, as a woman born to this part of the world? So spare me your vitriolic attempts at sarcasm. Feminism if it is to thrive and survive in Pakistan will need to adapt itself to the culture or else it will work just as well as democracy does in this country.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Who said anything about how the western society portrays it? I think feminism has already adapted itself to our society incase that sense was lost on you. Feminism in Pakistan is about equal status and equal rights for women of all backgrounds. Protection from exploitation, physical and emotional abuse, harassment. Also provision of education, career, independence, right to personal possessions, freedom to live their lives according totheir own aspirations etc. And Islam gives women all that, who says it doesn’t? Its the men in this society who have twisted everything about Islam to their own advantage. A woman must be paid for feeding her child if she demands it, in case you did not know, let alone work like slave labor in households all their lives without any acknowledgement or appreciation. Honestly, some people say anything at all to prove their non-sensical point of view.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad Khattak

    Your problem is myopia. You think your life is the life of the average Pakistani. It is not. You and I, the rest of these armchair critics, we’re not average Pakistanis.

    Feminism has adapted itself to the country? I, along with millions of rural Pakistanis beg to differ. Feminism in Pakistan has not even begun to feel the wind in its sails. Ever since you and others like you took up the cause, little girls all over the country have been going to sleep peacefully at night because they’re protected from exploitation, physical and emotional abuse and harassment? I think not.

    Feminism in Pakistan is about equal status and equal rights for women of all backgrounds as well as certain provisions according to you? What’s so different about feminism in the rest of the world? Where is this magical adaptation to culture, norms and mores that you are talking about? You think feminism is some wonderful concept that all women in the world aspire to, but its not. It’s not the key that will turn in the lock and women will suddenly be free. It’s a human construct and therefore it is fallible. It has critics and detractors. Like your argument and like mine.

    What you mean to say is feminism is a much more visible movement in Pakistan than it was last year, or two years ago or a decade ago. What has it accomplished in that time? Almost next to nothing. We need an educated population to understand feminism, a concept that involves philosophical elements like freedom of choice, action and thought. What we don’t need is people like you airing their views like they are the end-all and be-all of every topic they ever discuss. Who cannot stomach opinions that differ from theirs but somehow want the world to subvert to their mindset. Who will cherry pick aspects of Islam that coincide with what they’re saying and will conveniently ignore the parts that don’t.

    You’re not a part of the solution. You’re a part of the problem and as much as I enjoy your hissy-fits, the truth is, I’m simply not interested in what you think or have to say. Please go your way and I’ll go mine. I’m not saying feminism is a bad thing, only that the population of this country in its current state is not ready for it.Recommend

  • mshaiq

    I’m not saying she should deny that parents leave an influence. I’m saying that writing, “For example, if a boy sees his mother being beaten or getting physically abused by his father, he will grow up and do exactly the same with his own wife. This has been proven time and time again to be true,” seems like giving abusers an excuse which absolves them of their responsibility as adults who make their own moral choices.
    In short, it appears misinformed and tells men who did see domestic abuse in their home that they have no other future than to become their fathers. THAT has NOT been proven time and time again.Recommend

  • M Ali

    There’s a term for that, and it’s called gender equality. A lot of Western feminists (at least the new-age ones) are a confused bunch who want selectively greater rights for women and want women to ascribe to a particular narrative of what empowers them – they’re the ones to blame for giving the term ‘feminist’ a negative connotation.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    Wow just Wow. Your bigoted, puffed up rant is convincing no one and at this point I don’t even know what are you preaching from your high horse, you seem confused and absolutely incoherent. I am honestly at a loss at how people turn the most simple of concepts into obscure, twisted figments of their own imagination. Kudos to ignorance, you rule.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad Khattak

    Alright, go on and point out 2 or 3 concepts that I’ve turned into twisted figments of my imagination? While you’re at it, stop being amazed at what a bigot I am and answer some of the questions I’ve put to you. It’s the harsh truth but if feminism as it exists in your mind was to be implemented tomorrow in Pakistan, this country would burn to the ground faster than you would say, ‘Feminism is the answer’.Recommend

  • NabiaS

    I have answered all the main contention points I had with your argument. Read my replies again if you haven’t seen that. I am not going to change my views because of your half-witted attempts to categorize feminism as a western concept. Bottomline, we can agree to disagree. Cheers.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad Khattak

    Well if your idea of answering a question is by posing your own, then you most definitely have. Bottom line, time will tell, sweetheart, time will tell.Recommend

  • Maria Khan

    A good read. The only reason why
    feminists in Pakistan are so heavily criticized is that the term feminism is
    very misrepresented and misunderstood. Feminism simply means gender equality. Men
    and women are undoubtedly two different entities and also they both might have
    different roles in society as determined by culture or religion, however, this
    does not mean that they both are unequal or men are superior. I believe
    feminism as an ideology is not only advantageous to women but also to men
    because it presents an idea that no person should be judged on the basis of his
    or her gender- though it is female or male. Pakistani feminists should be
    careful in putting up their arguments since the biggest challenge for them is
    to separate “religion” and “culture” and instead of relying upon western
    definitions of feminism, maybe we can better understand from our own context.
    Islam itself promotes gender equality and it in no sense promotes patriarchy. If
    anyone thinks that Islam promotes patriarchy, then he or she must look into
    Quran and Hadith again.Recommend

  • saad

    So it’s better to stand up to injustices and agony inflicted upon you and I, at least, would be supportive in your stance then. But here you are missing gummmy bear’s point!Recommend

  • saad

    It’s the matter of basic human rights then, since everybody’s is born free. “Feminism” seems like some fancy agenda to go against every norm.Recommend

  • Rasim

    Well if all this boils down to men appreciating a woman’s ”tedious” life by swapping jobs, then naturally in reciprocation I’d like to see women dig and pave the Karakoram Highway or combat insurgents while I scrub a pot clean. And I suppose no one would have any problems with a few hundred women dead or crippled by minor avalanches or landmines? It’s all part of the job, isn’t it?Recommend

  • Rasim

    You clearly are not a big fan of plain criticism. While I don’t sport a 2-balisht beard or bear a great resentment for amazingly naive people who paste labels of ”libby” over their foreheads for the sake of giving the impression of being ”enlightened, knowledgeable and wiser-than-thou”, I find your gushing victimization-complex somewhat disturbing. Like screaming ‘help’ minutes before you’re being mugged.Recommend