A Panel Discussion on ‘Faith and Feminism in Pakistan


Past Event

Oct 4, 2018 - 12:00 am |

Oct 4, 2018 - 12:00 am

Dr. Afia Zia

FCC Lahore

Upcoming Event

No Events.

On4th October 2018, The Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) held a seminar on Dr. Afia Zia’s latest book ‘Faith and Feminism in Pakistan: Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy’. Dr. Afia Zia is an activist, writer, teacher and an active member of Women’s Action Forum(WAF), Karachi. Ms. Neelum Hussain and Ms. Sarah Suhail were also part of the panel. Ms. Neelam Hussain is an editor, writer, member WAF and Asian Women’s Human Rights Council and teaches at Kinnaird College for Women. Ms. Sarah Suhailis also a feminist activist and a lawyer, currently doing her PhD on Women and Gender Studies at University of Arizona and is a researcher at the Information Technology University.

Dr. Zia began the discussion by describing the key arguments of her book. She highlighted that female mobility, knowledge of sexuality and economic independence are three powerful and meaningful themes that are predominantly associated with the ‘Women Question’ of the post 9/11 world. In particular South Asian writers living in the West are expected to convey the sociopolitical and religious sentiments of the East and consequently end up acting as the key informants of western knowledge of the Islamic World and Muslim women. In turn, these writers receive international recognition and approval. As a result “politics of location” according to her become a key determinant of how various narratives of feminism are expressed and understood in literature.

Zia explained that the scholarly world post 9/11 had a void in a sense that the validity of secular feminism was being questioned. During this time, Islamic studies schools were opening up, halal vaccines and fatwas were very common and within this context, the question arose whether secular aims, politics and sensibilities were impossible, undesirable and impractical for Muslims and Islamic states? Similarly she felt that a question on whether Muslim women be exempted from feminist attempts at liberation from patriarchy and its various expressions under Islamic laws and customs became relevant. There’s a perpetual criticism, according to her on ‘the secular’ and ‘western feminism’ in Muslim countries during the War on Terror.

Zia made a case for the relevance of secular feminist activism as it has been illustrated through some nation-wide, working-class women’s movements that have surged throughout Pakistan. These include the Lady Health Workers and polio vaccinators, politicians, farmers and artists that have fought for basic human needs and that have been directly targeted, even killed, for their service and commitment to liberal ideals. To the author, secular feminism can help achieve transformative change in society more than any other form or category of feminist ideologies.

Ms. Sarah also highlighted the significance of timing and location on how feminism is perceived locally and internationally. She also argued that a strong feminist movement is needed that transcends all categories of feminist organizations and fights for the common cause of equality and freedom.

Ms. Neelum added that the economic survival needs of women were greater motivators in their fight for empowerment than women’s religious duties or aspirations for Islamic virtues. This was true in particular for working class women. She added that it was easy to observe the division of feminism across these themes. The first in which piteousness and Islamic virtuosity become a way to express your feminist liberalization while, in the second, feminism manifested itself through a fight for economic rights and basic material needs. She also added that living in South Asia, one had to adopt a balancing act between choosing to remain silent on the ills of society in order to defend our culture and reputation and to stand up against these issues and address these problems at home.

The presentation was followed by a vibrant discussion in the audience where it was acknowledged that there is a need to sustain the debate on Muslim women and feminism in Pakistan with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of the most marginalized women of society.