Feminism in Pakistan

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Feminism in Pakistan is a set of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women in Pakistan.[1] It is the pursuit of women's rights within the society of Pakistan.[2] Like their feminist counterparts all over the world, feminists in Pakistan are supposed to seek gender equality: the right to work for equal wages, the right to equal access to health and education, and equal political rights.[3] Feminist and women's rights consciousness in Pakistan has historically been shaped in response to national and global reconfiguration of power including colonialism, nationalism, dictatorship, democracy and the Global War on Terror.[4] The relationship between the women's movement and the Pakistani state has undergone significant shifts, from mutual accommodation and a complementary ethos to confrontation and conflict.


After independence, elite Muslim women in Pakistan continued to advocate women's political empowerment through legal reforms. They mobilized support that led to passage of the Muslim Personal Law of Sharia in 1948, which recognized a woman's right to inherit all forms of property. They were also behind the futile attempt to have the government include a Charter of Women's Rights in the 1956 constitution. The 1961 Muslim Family Laws Ordinance covering marriage and divorce, the most important sociolegal reform that they supported, is still widely regarded as empowering to women.[5][6]

First phase 1947–1952[edit]

In 1947, Muslim women did not have it easy; they were some of the worst victims of the traumatic events that took place in the South Asian region in the mid-20th century. It's reported that 75,000 women were abducted and raped during the partition, sooner after Pakistan's Independence Fatima Jinnah took part in refugee relief work and formed the Women's Relief Committee during the transfer of power, which evolved into the All Pakistan Women s Association. Later on Fatima Jinnah set up a secret radio station to running for president when it was perceived to be a man's role. These are some of the empowering stories that are often left untold and very few people talk about this effort of empowering women in Pakistan.

Begum Ra'na Liaquat Ali Khan helped the refugees who fled India during partition and also organized the All Pakistan Women's Association in 1949,[7] two years after the creation of her country. Noticing that there were not many nurses in Karachi, Khan requested the army to train women to give injections and first aid. This resulted in the para-military forces for women. Nursing also became a career path for many girls. She continued her mission, even after her husband was assassinated in 1951, and became the first Muslim woman delegate to the United Nations in 1952.

Second phase 1980s[edit]

End of 1970's started a new wave of political Islamization in many Muslim majority countries. In Pakistan a military dictatorial regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq came into power & introduced several laws for more Islamization of Pakistan called Hudood Ordinances It replaced parts of the British-era Pakistan Penal Code, adding new criminal offences of adultery and fornication, and new punishments of whipping, amputation, and stoning to death. (After much controversy and criticism only parts of the law were considerably revised in 2006 by the Women's Protection Bill.)

on backdrop of this General Zia's more Islamization of Pakistan called Hudood Ordinances, A more vocal Women's Action Forum (WAF) got formed in 1981[7][8] According to Madihah Akhter General Zia ultimately sought to moral police women role in public sphere with his Islamization plans, which brought unexpected pressure on Pakistani women taking them back suddenly in medieval times. As a reaction to patriarchal rigid form of Zia's Islamization, many Pakistani women from diverse fields like writers, academics, performers became active to oppose women denigrating policies of General Zia. Madihah Akhter further says younger generation of 1980's women activist were more feminist in their outlook and approach on one hand; Women's Action Forum used "progressive interpretations of Islam" to counter the state's patriarchal version of religion and morality, and in doing so, succeeded in getting unexpected support of right wing Islamic women's organizations, too. The WAF and its associates mass demonstrated against a number of laws and issues throughout the early 1980s. They campaigned through various outreach approaches like newspaper articles, art, poetry, and songs in schools and universities.[9]

Feminist work in Pakistan cuts across all sectors of civil society: education, health, poverty, domestic violence, rape, denial of rights and legal/ political reform through range of women's movements[7]


Post General Zia period, While Pakistan got its first woman prime minister in form Benazir Bhutto, that helped create some positive image for Pakistan, and she made some small efforts here & there like all women police station & appointing women judges first time; she could not succeed in repealing anti women laws of General Zia era.

Post-Zia era (1988-1999), activists produced research that focused on increasing women's political voice and strengthening inclusive democratic governance (Shaheed et al., 2009; Zia, 2005; Bari, 2015). They have also produced some of the first research and awareness-raising material on sexual and reproductive rights (Saeed, 1994),5 environmental issues (Sadeque, 2012; Hanif, 2011), and citizen-based initiatives for peace between India and Pakistan (Sarwar, 2007).[10]


While it is still more time i.e. 2006 to water down General Zia's some of ordinances and quite a long time to effect any social change; after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in USA & subsequent global war on terrorism, obviously along with global political Islam, Afghanistan, Pakistan's socio-political structures also came under global attention.[11]

Feminism through art and literature[edit]

Some of early twentieth century Urdu feminist writer were common to south asia i.e. India & Pakistan

Rashid Jahan (1905–1952) was an Indian writer who inaugurated a new era of Urdu literature written by women with her short-stories and plays specially she was well remembered for her groundbreaking and unconventional short stories depicting sextual agency of women[12] in collection Angaaray (1931). The book railed against social inequity, hypocritical maulvis and the exploitation of women in a deeply patriarchal society. Of the two pieces that Jahan contributed to Angaaray, one was a short story barely three pages long Dilli ki Sair is a little narrative about a burqa-clad women watching life on a railway platform waiting for her husband to turn up and take her home. The story is a brief but penetrating meditation on life behind the 'veil' and the blindness of male privilege towards the experience of women behind the purdah. The other piece, Parde Ke Peeche, is a conversation between two women from affluent, sharif (respectable) families. Since then Muslim orthodox clergy in then united India opposed publishers had to withdraw the book & then British government too preferred to ban for its own political convenience.

Ismat Chughtai Beginning in the 1930s, she wrote extensively on themes including female sexuality and femininity, middle-class gentility, and class conflict, often from a Marxist perspective.

According to S.S.Sirajuddin in Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English expresses reservations about availability of free space for feminism in Pakistan & feels that nation space is much affected by religious fervor. Still it admits that awareness of feminist concerns & changing role of women & their identity do exist in Pakistan, and these concerns get reflected in Pakistan's English literature.[13]

Perception & intervention of major female character can be observed in novels like Bapsi Sidhwa, Sara Suleri's Meatless Days. Where as Pakistani poets like Maki Kureishi, Hina Imam, Alamgir Hashmi, Taufiq Rafat are sensitive but restrained in their portrayal.[13]

One of the pioneers of women's liberation in Pakistan was actually a man from Lollywood (Pakistan's film industry). The first feminist film was called Aurat Raj (Women's Rule).[14] It was released in 1979. It was a huge droop at the box-office despite the fact that it was made and released in an era when the Pakistan film industry was dotted by thousands of cinemas and a huge cinema-going audience.

Psychological Impact[edit]

The psychological development is reflected in the portrayals of fiction women characters in Pakistan's Movies, Dramas, Novels and Poetry. The fiction writers of Pakistan have tried a lot to portray an ideal picture of women enjoying equal rights with men. While doing so, they indicate the psychological development of women which can be traced in the development of various women characters.[15] Psychological development of women character in Pakistani fiction creates a source for the empowerment of women in Pakistani society. Pakistani women writers have done this more vigorously as compared to the counterpart. However, these writers have not succeed to change the mindset of majority men and women (both).[16] In the cities, Majority still think that the women dominate the money rather she earns or not; she will spend all on shopping and it is the only and utter right of her and this is sole definition of feminism in Pakistan.[17]


Year Film Director / Producer Notes
1979 Aurat Raj Rangela
2012 Saving Face Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy Academy Award for Best Short Subject Documentary
2013 Humaira: The Dream Catcher Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
2015 A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy Academy Award for Best Short Subject Documentary


Year Drama Channel Genre Notes
1994 Pas-e-Aaina NTM
2012 Zindagi Gulzar Hai Hum TV Romance Lux Style Awards , Hum Awards , Pakistan Media Awards
2016 Udaari Hum TV Girl Rape Lux Style Awards
2017 Sammi Hum TV Vani


Year Magazine Language Genre
Aanchal Novel
Paperazzi Magazine Lifestyle
2017 Muslim Business Women [18] English Business, Feminism
Women's Own English Lifestyle


Year Book Author Language Genre Notes
1968 Lab-i goya Kishwar Naheed Urdu Novel Adamjee Prize of Literature
---- Pathar ki Zaban Fahmida Riaz Urdu Poetry
1985 Kunj Peeleh Poolon Ka Ishrat Afreen Urdu Poetry
1990 The Pakistani Bride Bapsi Sidhwa English Novel Sitara-i-Imtiaz
2001 The Holy Woman Qaisra Shahraz English Novel
2009 Broken women of the Mountains Nida Mahmoed English Poetry Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism
2016 Navigating Pakistani Feminism: Fight by Fight Aisha Sarwari English Research

Feminist organisations of Pakistan[edit]

  • Alliance Against Sexual Harassment at Work place (AASHA) [19]
  • All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA) [20]
  • Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  • Democratic Women's Association (DWA)
  • Gender and Development
  • National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW)
  • United Front for Women's Rights (UFWA)
  • Women's Political Participation Project
  • Women Action Forum
  • Tehrik-e-Niswan (The Women's Movement)
  • Sindhiani Tahreek (Sindhi women's movement)
  • Blue Veins
  • Aurat Foundation
  • Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA) [21]
  • Acid Survivors Trust International
  • Pakistan Federation of Business and Professional Women
  • Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)
  • Pakistan Women Lawyers' Association [22]
  • Women's Action Forum (WAF) [23]
  • Pax Femina

Pakistani feminists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff, Images (2019-03-07). "The Aurat March challenges misogyny in our homes, workplaces and society, say organisers ahead of Women's Day". Images. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  2. ^ "Feminism and the Women Movement in Pakistan". www.fes-asia.org. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  3. ^ "Pakistani women hold 'aurat march' for equality, gender justice". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  4. ^ "Feminism in Pakistan: A brief history - The Express Tribune". The Express Tribune. 2014-09-23. Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  5. ^ Zia, Afiya S. (30 November 2017). Faith and Feminism in Pakistan: Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy?. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1845199166.
  6. ^ Shah, Bina (2014-08-20). "Opinion | The Fate of Feminism in Pakistan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  7. ^ a b c "Feminism, sexuality and the rhetoric of Westernization in Pakistan: precarious citizenship ByMoon Charania". www.taylorfrancis.com. doi:10.4324/9781315848501-34 (inactive 2019-08-18). Retrieved 2019-04-04.
  8. ^ Zia, Afiya Shehrbano (February 2009). "the reinvention of feminism in Pakistan". Feminist Review. 91 (1): 29–46. doi:10.1057/fr.2008.48. ISSN 0141-7789.
  9. ^ "Feminists…in Pakistan?". The Feminist Wire. 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  10. ^ Khan Ayesha, Kirmani Nida (2018 (3)). "Moving Beyond the Binary: Gender-based Activism in Pakistan" (PDF). Feminist Dissent. 3 of 2018: 151 191 – via researchcollective.org. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ Critelli, Filomena M. (2010-07-10). "Beyond the Veil in Pakistan". Affilia. 25 (3): 236–249. doi:10.1177/0886109910375204. ISSN 0886-1099.
  12. ^ The Second Floor (2018-06-14), Faith and Feminism in Pakistan; Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy? Talk by Afiya S Zia, retrieved 2019-04-14
  13. ^ a b Benson, Eugene; Conolly, L. W. (2004-11-30). Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. Routledge. ISBN 9781134468485.
  14. ^ Aurat Raj (1979), retrieved 2017-08-20
  15. ^ Ahmed, Zia (2009-09-01). "Pakistani Feminist Fiction and the Empowerment of Women". Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. 1 (2): 90–102. ISSN 1946-5343.
  16. ^ "Here's Everything That's Wrong With Feminism In Pakistan". MangoBaaz. 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  17. ^ Rashid, Ammar (2016-08-08). "Feminism is breaking through the rigid patriarchy in Pakistan". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  18. ^ Peracha, Sarah (2017-06-12). "A talk with Zainab Salbi". Muslim Business Women. Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  19. ^ "A tale of twisted harassment - The Express Tribune". The Express Tribune. 2017-08-11. Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  20. ^ Staff, Images (2017-08-09). "How Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan helped empower Pakistani women". Images. Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  21. ^ Leiby, Michele Langevine (2012-07-15). "Women's rights become a fight to the death in Pakistan". The Age. Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  22. ^ "One UN - Pakistan Annual Report 2016". ReliefWeb. 2017-07-28. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  23. ^ Inam, Moniza (2016-02-14). "Women empowerment: The spring of hope". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2017-08-21.

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