The reactions to Qandeel’s death reveal no understanding of feminism in Pakistan

Published: July 23, 2016
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I am consistently asked why I am taking this issue so personally. This is personal. Qandeel’s death is an attack and an insult to all Pakistani women. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

They call her a prostitute, a sex object, a joke and other degrading insults in an attempt to discredit her. They assume that because they deem her to be all of the above, she cannot at the same time be empowering women and/or herself. A fatal flaw is, thus, exposed in their argument in that she is struck down for what women (and men) across the world celebrate her for: her courage, tenacity and fire to be whoever she chose to be in a society that (literally) stifles freedom—especially freedom of expression.

As I reflect upon this week, many voices leave me heavily conflicted. I cannot begin to comprehend one deafening view that has overpowered the narrative surrounding Qandeel Baloch’s death: misguided male privilege ruling freely on her “feminist” status.

An essential part of the feminist movement that most in Pakistan are unaware of and what Qandeel embodied is sex-positive feminism.

I call, you, males privileged because you are lucky to be born a man in Pakistan. You can walk around in markets in any attire you please, roam the streets without being touched and cat-called at, speak freely on social media platforms without fear of physical attack based on your body and appearance.

You do not recognise that these “small” freedoms are in fact privileges, as you have been born, entitled with them. Alas, the woman, the bearer of the entire male population’s (about 100 million people) honour: she must not speak too loudly, she must not dress too immodestly, she must act with care and due caution. She is a stranger to these freedoms—they are a luxury for her. It is a good day for a woman in Pakistan, if she can walk the streets without being touched or gawked at. Unfortunately, nearly all in Pakistan have forgotten to remember this basic disparity of freedoms plagues the nation.

You, men, are privileged because you can breathe, dress and walk freely but most importantly the entire nations’ honour does not rest upon your shoulders—you have shirked that onto us. Why must I carry this hefty burden without consent? Why is my entire life contingent upon your honour? My honour is my own, and you threaten it daily by reducing me to just a physical object. Your burden is not my weight to carry, nor was it Qandeel’s.

Sex positive feminism

I wake up to men debating Qandeel’s feminist status rather than speaking out to say that she should not have been the bearer of her brother’s or for that matter their own honour (I am making the assumption that a large proportion of them have at least seen one of her videos). You compromised your own honour by following her pages, by mocking her existence.

Those who do not understand the feminist movement do not have the authority or right to decide whether or not Qandeel was a feminist. What her death has made very clear is that even the most educated in Pakistan have a very myopic understanding of feminism.

The feminist movement is not limited to women protesting on streets with placards, fighting to alleviate the plight of other oppressed women. To shed some light on one aspect of the movement, sex-positive feminism centres on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of a woman’s freedom. In this vein, Qandeel was a feminist in her own right, expressing herself freely. The irony is that the very people that blamed her for being sexual take no issue in trading her sexual videos, essentially sexualising her in their own contexts.

On a broader level, if socially or culturally understood, the feminist movement seeks to eradicate the treatment that affords discrimination to the “female” gender binary. The social meaning of gender, according to one school of thought is created by the sexual objectification of women, whereby women are viewed and treated as objects for satisfying men’s desires. Society, thus, creates a hierarchy where women are dominated through gender (which is, undoubtedly, the case in Pakistan). And who can argue that Qandeel was not attacked based on her gender, based on her curves, based on her lips and her body?

Many have said she deserved the attacks for putting up seductive pictures on social media in a country where she should have known the outcome, but I fail to understand how we have absorbed the role of god’s moral police, to judge her actions. Whatever her motivations were, (assuming you do not understand the true aims of the feminist movement) can any of us truly deny that a village girl, posting as she did, putting a maulvi to shame on social media, was extremely brave and daring? It takes courage to, in the face of such a bigoted, biased and hating population, act as you please. And she did—she defied the norm.

I am consistently asked why I am taking this issue so personally. This is personal. Qandeel’s death is an attack and an insult to all Pakistani women. Whatever the status quo or culture may be, why should we be too afraid to express ourselves? No matter how outrageous the entire male population thinks our expression is (deconstruct my expression logically). Do not reduce me to my body, my motivations or my honour. Those are my own. Do not mock me in my death. And do not, place your honour on my shoulders—I don’t want it.

Aaminah Qadir

Aaminah Qadir

The author is an aspiring politician. She attained her undergraduate degree in Global Affairs at Yale and studied Law from the University of Cambridge. She tweets as @AaminahQ

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

  • Xyz

    Shows where the deficiency in muslim world comes from when it comes to treatment of women. And how women are manipulated to think less of themselves just to keep in line with patriarchal ways of society. Disgusted to read the above. How can a man think of his mother to be how women are portrayed here. Recommend

  • Taz

    never accept haram money. NEVER.Recommend

  • Taz

    I know you hasbara trolls like the back of my hand….Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    Then the enlightened authoress and Desi liberal feminists should not portray every low character woman as a hero.
    Tell me when did she say she was fighting for womens right.
    If the right to strip is considered a right , then most women don’t want it.
    I doubt you would allow your family women to do the same.
    Tell me what did she do for woman?
    A mother who works day and night to educate her children is more respectable than Qandeel.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    A few days ago , a video went viral of a woman walking in NYC.
    I suggest you watch it.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    Well actually she was fighting for her fame in Big Boss by doing all these cheap tactics.
    There is nothing new under the sun.
    Meera, Veenna and Mathira.
    Sounds Familiar.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    No , a woman who works day and night to feed and raise her children is superior.
    A woman who works in peoples homes instead of making vulgar videos is far superior.
    A father who teaches his children right and wrong is far superior.
    Qandeel was nothing of the sort.

    Get your facts straight and get out of your little bubble.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    Provide a better one then.
    Anyway where are the so called feminist movements when black women are accosted by white police ?Recommend

  • Agha

    Those are no doubt the objectives you listed. But you must be very ignorant to suggest that feminism does not have the goal of women’s sexual freedom as well. Sexual freedom is a very important part of the movement. Yes you need to brush up on feminismRecommend

  • Wajia Zara

    Yes we are proud to be mothers, sisters and wife but we also want to be treated as equals. We want freedom Recommend