Stories about gender

The Birdcage, distorted in Pakistan

Having first learned of the theatrical debut of ‘BirdCage’ in Lahore, I could not help but feel jubilation and mirth. A gay-themed play? I almost fainted with anticipation. This was something I was definitely going to watch. First things first. The producer Dawar Lashari, co-producers Waleed Zafar and Shaheryar Khan and director Ijlal Khan must not only be thanked for bringing us this light-hearted comedy amidst these insane times to our country, where one cannot switch to news channels without expecting another macabre breaking news, but also they should be lauded for their courage to even think of staging a gay-themed play. However, ...

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Boys want to have fun too

What comes to your mind when you think of Karachi? The magnificent sea , ever-glowing lights , loadshedding, paan gutka and for me – gender discrimination. Yup. life is so not fair for the unfair sex in the capital of Sindh. I would have never noticed such discrimination had I been living in Karachi with my family. It was only when I came back to the city to pursue higher studies that I perceived the stark discrimination. The practice here is that all the trendy hang outs, parks, recreational spots are restricted to families only. As harsh as it seems this would still ...

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Confessions of a flawed feminist

“Should they be like us? Or should they be allowed to be different from us? This has been called an impossible choice.” – Leti Volpp I recall tumbling upon Volpp’s particular conundrum while I was working on my Master’s degree at Oxford. My preconceived notions regarding ‘feminism’ had hitherto been limited to the patrician suffrage struggles of Virginia Woolf’s essays, a bit of De Beauvoir and the provocative poetry of Urdu poet Parveen Shakir. At the time I still harboured the naïve impression that merely supporting women’s equality against all those that opposed it made me a feminist, until I ...

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Don’t chew on this

There are many forms of Smokeless Tobacco (ST) available in the Pakistani market, the most common ones being ‘naswar’, ‘gutka’, ‘mainpuri’ and crushed tobacco taken with paan. Harmful effects of using ST include mouth and throat cancer, cancer of the food pipe, cancer of the stomach and pancreas, increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, as well as several gum and tooth diseases. It is a common perception  that smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than cigarettes. The fact is that the type of smokeless tobacco available in Southeast Asia is far more dangerous than smoking. An average dose of nicotine from chewing tobacco ...

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T2F: A pursuit of the heart

I first saw Sabeen Mahmud in 2000 at the TIE-Indus seminar, their first in Pakistan at the Sheraton, Karachi. She was bubbling with enthusiasm. Dressed in trousers with short cropped hair and holding a folder in her arms she had struck me as the “yuppie” breed, a fashionable term used to define young people who were entering the work force. Ten years later, she is the president of TIE and her heart’s endeavour,  The Second Floor cafe (T2F) is booming. She seats herself in the cafe’s tiny but cosy balcony for a very brief interview – a look into her heart. Sabeen’s inspiration was ...

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Men love to hate women drivers

When I learned to ride a bicycle I was told to be aware of kids playing in the street or the roadside, old men on bikes and cars with female drivers. There is certain logic behind the three precautions and after almost seven years, I still follow these rules on the road. Yesterday, the topic of women drivers popped up, while some of my friends and I were having a chat. I do not know why but we men really enjoy talking about accidents or mishaps that take place on the roads because of female drivers. For the first time ...

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Where eunuchs aren’t allowed to party

History – or Pakistan Studies – has taught us many things; most of which we know because it was stuffed down our throats. While retaining only the fourth of the founding father’s fourteen points is no profound achievement, it is a rejoinder that the mainstream education system still thrives on rote. And for that, it deservedly gets thrashed. Alas, not all the thrashing handed out in this land of the pure tends to be deserved. Corporal punishment is still a murky subject; not even considering gas stoves that continue to blow up – fatally – in the faces of unsuspecting ...

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The case of the third gender

The incidence of the third gender or transgender is not known in Pakistan. An estimate of transgender persons in India is around 1:400. Pakistan being in the same ethno-geographical class may have parallel results. The discriminatory attitude is even shown in statistical divisions as reported in population reports, 51% females and 49% males. As if the transgender persons do not exist. According to Madeline H Wyndzen, PhD, a transgendered professor of psychology, “there is similarity in expressed insensitivity to this issue both in psychopathology and the lay man’s attitude. It comes in the form of value judgments as the assumption ...

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Silence on the transgender issue

A recent report by Gallup Pakistan on the attitudes of Pakistanis uncovered that 55% of the population believes transgendered persons should have a special quota in educational institutes and offices,  while at the same time, 60% would not like to be friends with them. The Express Tribune ran a similar online poll as a follow-up to the report with the question: “Would you be friends with a transgender person?” The result at the closing of the poll was an even 50 per cent in favour of befriending a transgender person, and 50 per cent against. Keeping in mind the Tribune’s audience, it ...

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When you’re a woman

Gender differences in occupational employment are a reality and in Pakistan, a very small number of women are employed in the formal sector. But in the informal sector, the economic contribution of women is huge. Development economics teaches us that women subsidise the economic activities of men. In their role as caregivers and homemakers, they are performing work that makes it easier for men to perform theirs, but there is an important distinction. Men are by and large the breadwinners, the ones with access to financial resources while women are financially dependent – their work leads to no financial remuneration ...

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