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.

  • Kashif Riaz

    Dear Miss Amina I don’t know from where to start because you do really have mixed a lot of ideologies but so as it is;
    • Firstly and most importantly Qandeel death isn’t an insult for Pakistani women as you had also mentioned she is not champion of human rights for the women of this country
    • Secondly you have mention a point that she had and you many other have the right in terms sexual freedom but before going into detail I want to tell you that as far I know Qandeel is muslim and majority of women are muslim so in this case all of you and we are bound to remain within the limits that has predetermined by Islam in terms of sexual freedom
    • Thirdly you don’t have any right to insult all men because of some parasites with faulty minds who don’t have any respect for women at all
    • Fourth thing is it is your own point of view that following the traditional customs set up for women is like imprisonment go and ask and see how proud a eastern women feel to be a mother, to be a sister and to be a wife.Recommend

  • abdulazizansari

    What-so-ever people say, Qandeel Balouch was far superior with all required moral courage to speak upon prevailing stagnation and taboos in society.
    I appreciate her in all forms of human relations Mother, sister, daughter, Unfortunately she didn’t got all she deserved. I appreciate her for fulfilling all of her obligation, arranged a house and decent living to her parents and siblings, a yarning to get custody of her child, and to expose hideous character of society like Mufti Qavi.
    This all must have been no simple task on face of existing mode and nature of culture and society she was brought up and was living in.Recommend

  • http://futurecmo.org/ Babar Khan

    I stopped reading after this paragraph, that is telling of the author’s one sided ignorance: “You can walk around in markets in any attire you please, roam the streets without being touched and cat-called at, and speak freely on social media platforms without fear of physical attack based on your body and appearance.”Recommend

  • Waleed

    Its true that we don’t get to judge anyone’s motives because God is the best judge of them. It’s just that we can’t stand the sight of anyone doing an ything which is different from the culture or norm.Recommend

  • vinsin

    What was the point of partition then? Subcontinent Muslims sacrificed their life for Pakistan so that they dont have women right and you are talking about feminism.Recommend

  • siesmann

    A mullah-besieged country can not be but misogynist.Recommend

  • Fahim

    Author is from same country & society who is enjoying freedom to do whatever she wants. OLD way to publish a blog in tribune

    Author seems to be a die hard fan of QB and on footstep for role model we could see some videos too from her.

    Additionally it is hypocrisy to say putting Maulvi to shame from author like AQ? He did nothing wrong with respect to liberals values like yours.Recommend

  • Saakshi Chadha

    Great read, Aaminah. Your article resonates the feeling of a lot of women. I hope this article has the impact that it deserves. Recommend

  • MR.X

    Feminism in not a part of islam, how hypocrite some muslim women are read Sahih Bukhari and quran and you will know as i have read. Sahih Bukhari:”Once Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of `Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.”
    http://sunnah.com/bukhari/6, read hadith number 304Recommend

  • Akbar

    So being a cheapskate on social media makes one a feminist these days?Recommend

  • asma siddiqi

    Ironically, it is not just sexist men who are shaming Qandeel, it is also women who portray themselves as progressive rights activists who cannot refrain from referring to Qandeel’s past while commenting on her death. PPP senator Sherry Rehman, who claims to have fought for women’s rights, is an example of how not to discuss Qandeel’s life and death. Sherry tweeted that Qandeel was not a role model but she deserved better… Some one should tell Sherry that she should not judge and mourn Qandeel in the same breath! Had an upper class woman followed Qandeel’s path, Sherry would definitely have considered her a role model. Sherry’s tweet has shown us that she is anything but a feminist, especially because she did not reach out to Qandeel when she was asking for protection, and when the media was manipulating her. Unfortunately, WAF, WAR, AASHA and prominent feminists and journalists have not bothered to condemn Sherry’s tweet. Instead of fighting for women’s rights, feminist organisations and leaders such as Sherry Rehman, have usurped ordinary women’s voices. Just because they belong to the female gender does not mean that they will work in solidarity with disadvantaged women. They pretend to fight for women’s rights because this pretense advances their personal careers and strengthens their status as prominent members of the elite segment of society. –Asma SiddiqiRecommend

  • Iguanadost

    Depressingly familiar. Saw these kinds of comments from guys all over Facebook. Articles like this really are the only appropriate response I can think of. A form of public shaming that really goes to what these guys care about most – how they look amongst their own friends, and to the women who determine their social value. Good on you, and good luck.Recommend

  • sid

    Walking freely and wearing anything you want in streets is one thing and strip teasing on social media is other. Even men doing same “bazari” activities won’t get away of facing backlash from their families in our society. Men posting suggestive pictures and videos are not fighting for men rights and same goes for women. She never said she was feminist nor endorsed feminism movement. Not every woman who is fighting for her rights is feminist by default. Modern feminism is cancer.Recommend

  • 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

  • MR.X

    The Prophet(SA) said it. It includes all women including my mother. deal with it. If you are not muslim it dosent matter what you thinkRecommend

  • Taz

    Actually YOU have no idea about feminism. Feminism started in Europe and America a few things:

    1. Equal pay for equal work
    2. the right to work
    3. the right to equal protection when at work

    an offshoot of feminism was the temperance movement, which was started by women who were beaten by their drunk husbands.
    Now all that is well and good. However feminism had its dark side as well. From the outset feminists were a racist to the core. Early feminist literature was not just about earning the same as men, but it was filled with “documentation” about how black women were inferior to white women. Margaret Sanger (the woman who fought for the “right” to murder unborn children) was a regular feature at KKK rallies. There is your origins of feminism.Recommend

  • Taz

    never accept haram money. NEVER.Recommend

  • Taz

    @disqus_M3H2KyIDhO:disqus – I can sum it up in a few phrases.
    ABCD
    BBCD
    CBCD
    DBCD
    with emphasis on the “CD”. I spent most of my life in the west.Recommend

  • siesmann

    So Mullah was with her in a hotel room alone,and you think he should not be shamed.What a misogynist attitude.Mullah is cancer in the Muslim world.All he cares about is women and sex.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Majority Pakistanis live on Haraam money.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Your attitude has not changed living in West.Tou remain a misogynist Pakistani.Recommend

  • MR.X

    thats what these hypocrits do my friend blame every Mullah(steroetyping) them because they dont want to isten to what islam says.Recommend

  • Fahim

    Again I am responsible to what I have said not what you have stereotyped.
    Yes Abdul Qavi was put to shame in front of Muslims but in front for this feminist secular writer why mullah is ashamed ? What he did wrong with respect to secular values ?
    If girl is not ashamed but Mullah is ashamed in front of this author, why ?Recommend

  • SNQ

    You better brush up on your history of feminism Taz. Recommend

  • Taz

    Nope it is YOU that better….Recommend

  • Taz

    so what if they do? I told you what should be. if they are doing the wrong thing, let them suffer.Recommend

  • Taz

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

  • Alter Ego

    Women work in all posts of Pakistani society except those that objectifies them , deal with it.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    Strange Comment.
    Yes the mullah was at fault.
    Qandeel was at fault too.
    She broke the agreement so to speak.
    She posted strange videos , not the mullah.
    If mullah should be ashamed then so should be Qandeel , the Mullah has suffered enough.

    Talk some sense.
    Don’t let your personal grudges drive you into senseless talk.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

  • Kashif Riaz

    would you explain what you meant by the word “freedom”?
    besides we muslims are free and have freedom but as long as it remains according to bounds pre-described by almighty Allah and the Prophet (SAW)Recommend

  • Ben Youssef

    Why you guy’s are so insecure about strong women. Islam is becoming a tool for many men sadly, to control and in some cases hurt so many women in Pakistan. Please tell me where can you find a murder in the name of honor or acid attack on defenseless women. Recommend