In an attempt to build a bridge between feminists of this generation and third wave feminists of the 90s, while simultaneously acknowledging the vital differences between the periods of feminist activity, the All Pakistan Feminists’ Association commits to struggle for gender equity. Now is the time that we, as young feminists active in the 21st century, do what Rebecca Walker did years ago and recognize today’s feminism as its own movement. Feminists of the past laid groundwork for feminists today, and our goal is to pick up their torch.
Denying the argument that religions oppress women, APFA respects and acknowledges that religious belief is a personal matter and locates the roots of feminism in the struggle of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), in the life story of the hero of Karbala Bibi Zainab (A.S), in the teachings of Mahatma Buddha, in the love story of Radha and Krishna, in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, in Mary, the mother of Jesus and the list goes on. Certainly Olympes de Gouge (d. 1791), Mary Wollstonecraft (d. 1797) and Jane Austen (d. 1817) are foremothers of the modern women’s movement. All of these people advocated for the dignity, intelligence and basic human potential of the female sex. However, in the modern world, it was not until the late nineteenth century that the efforts for women’s equal rights coalesced into a clearly identifiable and self-conscious movement, or rather a series of movements.
The first wave of feminism took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics. The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. Discussions about the vote and women’s participation in politics led to an examination of the differences between men and women as they were then viewed. The second wave began in the 1960s and continued into the 90s. This wave unfolded in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movements and the growing self-consciousness of a variety of minority groups around the world. The New Left was on the rise, and voice of the second wave was increasingly radical. In this phase, sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant issues, and much of the movement’s energy was focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment to Constitutions around the world guaranteeing social equality regardless of sex.
Whereas the first wave of feminism was generally propelled by middle class, Western, cisgender, white women, the second phase drew in women of colour and developing nations, seeking sisterhood and solidarity, claiming “Women’s struggle is class struggle”. Feminists spoke of women as a social class and coined phrases such as “the personal is political” and “identity politics” in an effort to demonstrate that race, class, and gender oppression are all related.
The idea of women empowerment in undivided India was carried forward by Kamini Roy (the first woman honours graduate in British India), Tarabai Shinde through Stripurush Tulana, Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati, a champion for the emancipation of women, and a pioneer in education, Begum Rokeya, the pioneer feminist of Bengal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah for his far-sighted feminism and vocal support of the suffragettes, Khātūn-e Pākistān Fatima Jinnah, Abadi Begum famously known as Bi Amma, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat, and many more. Evidence enough that Feminism is not new to Pakistan nor is it a western concept. Be it Fahmida Riaz’s beautiful “Chador Aur Chaar Devari” (Four Walls and a Black Veil) or the poem “Hum Gunehgaar Aurtein” (We Sinful Women) by Kishwar Naheed, affectionately referred to as a women’s anthem among feminists, the writings on LGBT and feminism before even The Second Sex was published or the women’s resistance to Zia ul Haq’s law of evidence in Lahore in 1983, Pakistan takes pride in its rich feminist history.
The third wave of feminism began in the mid-90s and was informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking. In this phase many constructs were destabilized, including the notions of “universal womanhood”, body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity.
Feminism is now again moving – from the academy and back into the realm of public discourse. Issues that were central to the earliest phases of the women’s movement are receiving national and international attention by mainstream press and politicians: problems like sexual abuse, rape, violence against women, unequal pay, slut-shaming, the pressure on women to conform to a single and unrealistic body-type and the realization that gains in female representation in politics and business, for example, are very slight. Fourth wave feminism talks about and APFA focuses on issues of societal abuse of women, rape, Article 25, homo and trans phobia, unfair pay, and the fact that Pakistan has one of the worst records for work conditions in the world.
Feminism no longer just refers to the struggles of women; it is a clarion call for gender equity. The emerging fourth wavers are not just reincarnations of second wave grandmothers; they bring to the discussion important perspectives taught by third wave feminism. APFA speaks in terms of intersectionality, whereby women’s suppression can only fully be understood in a context of the marginalization of other groups and genders – feminism is part of a larger consciousness of oppression along with racism, ageism, classicism, ableism, and sexual orientation. Among the third wave’s bequests is the importance of inclusion, acceptance of the sexualised human body as non-threatening, and the role internet can play in gender-bending and leveling hierarchies. The beauty of the fourth wave is in its inclusivity.
Through APFA, feminists of Pakistan wage a firm and an uncompromising struggle for gender justice.