The Women’s Movement in Pakistan

Mehlab Jameel

The neoliberal Western media loves to play with the stereotype of burqa-clad women surrounded by children when it comes to representing South-Asian Muslim (particularly Pakistani and Afghan) women. Likewise, you have people in South Asia saying that feminism is a ‘Western’ import that has no basis in South-Asian culture. Both set of people are equally unaware of the struggle of South Asian feminists and the entire history of Women’s Movement in South Asia that often does not make it to the mainstream media. One particular chapter of this often-ignored history involves Pakistani women rallying under several organizations, most notably Women’s Action Forum (WAF), and taking to the streets to protest against the state-imposed Islamization by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. A large number of women organizations held protest rallies, especially against Zina and Hudood Ordinance that incriminated any rape victims who were unable to provide four male witnesses and

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Hina Jilani

Women Who Named the Unnamed

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity
Hina Jilani
lawyer/human rights defender/elder

Voice of Resistance and Courage
By Asma Syed

I always had this feeling that if you see injustice,
you have to speak out against it; otherwise, you are not
in a position to complain
.’ – Hina Jilani

Hina Jilani is one of the most noteworthy and globally known activists in the field of human rights and women’s liberation. Born and raised in Pakistan, she has served in many roles and continues to fight for the upliftment of the marginalized and oppressed in Pakistan and elsewhere.

After completing her training as a lawyer in 1974, and after a number of years of legal practice, she was appointed as an Advocate to the High Court of Pakistan in 1981; that year, she also co-instituted Pakistan’s first all-women law firm. In 1986, she established the first legal aid…

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Madeeha Gauhar

Women Who Named the Unnamed

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance
Madeeha Gauhar (1956-2018)
theatre director/producer/actor

By Hina Imam & Saroop Soofi

She did not just swim against the tide, she turned the tide

Born in 1956 in Karachi, Madeeha Gauhar was an actor, director, playwright and women’s rights activist who co-founded Ajoka (present day) Theatre. She studied English Literature from Kinnaird College Lahore, and later went to England to pursue a degree in theatre sciences from University College London.

Madeeha created platforms for human rights activism at a time when General Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive, dictatorial regime had blocked all avenues for political expression in Pakistan. In 1983, she began Ajoka Theatre with her partner playwright/director/actor Shahid Mahmood Nadeem, where she combined conventional Western theatre techniques with local performing traditions and cultural nuances to produce her work. The group began operating out of the homes of its members, using money raised…

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Sabeen Mahmud

Women Who Named the Unnamed

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance
Sabeen Mahmud (1975-2015)
arts activist/poet/organizer

By Fauzia Rafique

Sabeen Mahmud was a computer programmer and graphic designer who had a clear vision of her world and her own role in it. She taught herself these skills not just to make a living but to create public spaces for free expression in a city she saw as chaotic and oppressed by a system based in a military industrial complex. In her own words, she wanted to create ‘a safe haven for artists, musicians, writers, poets, activists, and thinkers— essentially anyone who wanted to escape the relentless tyranny of the city for a little while. If I built it, would anyone come?’

She sure built it, and her vision brought enough support to establish an institution called The Second Floor or 2tf, combining art and literary presentations with opportunities for vibrant social interaction…

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Asma Jahangir

Women Who Named the Unnamed

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance
Asma Jahangir (1952-2018)
lawyer/human rights activist/author

By Sameena Siddiqui

Who they are, they are bizarre! But them you can’t extinguish,
They are whole, they are part, mingled so, you can’t distinguish,
Determined! They want the flame of hope to ignite,
Determined! They want life to illuminate like light,
Who they are, they are bizarre! Them you can’t extinguish,
They are whole, they are part, mingled so, you cant distinguish

yeh jo bhi hain ajeeb hain mitai mit na payenge,
yeh kul bhi hain, yeh juz bhi hain, tumhe nazar na ayenge,
yeah zid pe hain ke roshni ka har chirag jal uthe,
yeh zid pe hain ke zindagi mein roshni beekher de,
yeh jo bhi hain ajeeb hai mitai mit na payenge,
yeh kul bhi hain yeh juz bhi hain tumhe nazar na ayenge

(Gauhar Raza, Urdu. Translation, Author)

On 11th…

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Pakistan’s Woman Heroes : Fahmida Riaz

Women Who Named the Unnamed

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance
Fahmid Riaz (1946-2018)

By Sara Kazmi

On November 21, 2018, dedicated political activist, unflinching social critic and revolutionary feminist poet Fahmida Riaz passed away in Lahore, Pakistan. She will forever be enshrined in the progressive history of the Indian sub-continent for her lifelong pursuit of a poetics of Marxist-feminist dissent, for her matchless contribution to Urdu poetry, prose and regional intellectual culture.

Fahmida was born in Meerut in 1945. She grew up in Hyderabad, Sindh, where her father had been posted. Fahmida began writing poetry at a tender age, and honed her craft through her experiences of student activism in the 1960s. She was part of a powerful student movement resisting Ayub Khan’s ban on student unions, and published her first book of poetry in 1967, titled ‘Patthar ki Zuban : The Tongue of Stone’. Six years would pass before…

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Meet the Women hosting Women Heroes on September 28-2019

Women Who Named the Unnamed

Meet this group of bright and talented women who have come together to bring us the stage show ‘Women Who named the Unnamed: Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes’: Sana Janjua, Hafsah Umar Durrani, Sameena Siddiqui, Hina Imam and Mariam Zohra D. View the Program here.

Sana is a poet, playwright and performer who works as a psych nurse and pursues her higher education goals, Hafsah Durrani is a homemaker, a mother and a Scouts Leader who is interested in performing and martial arts. Sameena is a Muslim from India pursuing her PhD in India’s art history, and she’s a compulsive reader, researcher and writer. Hina is a journalist born in Pakistan, raised in Saudi Arabia and living and studying in Canada as a student of journalism at UBC. Mariam is a vocalist and a multi-disciplinary artist combining music, video, drama, painting and poetry. View more about our amazing hosts:

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