Inclusivity in Pakistan’s Urban Feminist Movement: A Call for Reflection

Gulrukhsar Mujahid

While inclusivity as a principle would translate into inclusion of all marginalised voices within the feminist movement, it must also mean recognition of the hierarchy that exists amongst various forms of oppression. We are not all oppressed the same way nor to the same extent, producing varying consequences and costs for each one of us. In other words, we live subjective lives while experiencing objective conditions. For instance, when performative resistance translates into marches and protests, analysing the consequences attached to groups/individuals involved can be revealing. For some, protesting might just mean giving up a day of one’s life for the said cause likely resulting in societal backlash or censorship. For others and their families, dissenting results in arrests, the threat of physical violence and disappearances.  All are expressions of resistance with varying consequences. There is a stark difference amongst them, as they exist along a spectrum.

However, this understanding must not translate into embracing the futile logic of competition amongst various forms of oppressions and therefore amongst the oppressed, but instead build an authentic understanding of people’s lived experiences in order to struggle and strategise accordingly. When political marginals of differing identities unite under the same banner, these distinctions matter. A lack of recognition leads to misplaced priorities, alienation and a lost opportunity at realising the revolutionary potential residing in the voices, agency and struggles of working class women, as well as women from oppressed nations and religious minorities.

Where do these countless possibilities for revolutionary solidarity reside? They reside in Farzana Majeed, Sammi Baloch and many other Baloch women who marched for 102 days for their missing male family members, forcefully disappeared by the known ‘unknowns’. We fail to speak enough or raise our voices enough for and with them. They’re our living, marching warriors left unheard—who don’t want medals but just want their family members back home, irrespective of their long political struggle—and perhaps unfortunately will be left unheard, if meaningful solidarity and an understanding of their lived reality is not realised. Censorship imposed on Baloch women activists by the ill-meaning state should not be left at the periphery in well-meaning rights movements. 

The opportunity for solidarity also resides in deepening our understanding of the life and death of Qandeel Baloch, who lost her life in the name of honour. We lost her, not only because of her scorned upon liberal lifestyle, but also due to her objective class position in society. Qandeel’s death and many other honour killings reflect a patriarchal code of ‘honour’, but should also be seen within the spectrum of class, as lack of exposure, resources and social capital impeded her and many others from navigating a heavily chained capitalist-patriarchal society as a ‘liberated’ individual. Can we all ever be truly liberated in a capitalist-patriarchy through everyday acts of liberation under conditions of disproportionate backlash and consequences for gendered and classed bodies? The brother who killed Qandeel is to be damned as a patriarchal product, but so too is the overarching systemic construct that forces men to look towards women for honour, who are considered devoid of an iota of respect that could be harnessed economically and socially. So let’s also unpack honour collectively and see what it denotes and why it means different things to different individuals falling in varying positions along the class spectrum.

Possibilities for meaningful, revolutionary solidarity also resided in Badrunnisa, a landless farmer from Okara, a member of the Thaapa collective. She raises a piece of wood used to wash clothes (a thaapa) alongside other women in the collective while protesting. She had nine registered cases in her name besides several attempts of arrest. Badrunnisa and many others are fighting against the contract system introduced by the military regime in 2003, which takes away rightful ownership by farmers to land and agriculture. But do we hear enough about her and her comrades at Anjuman-e-Mazareen Punjab in the mainstream rights discourse? Are there women championed as torch bearers of feminist resistance to the extent matching the threat of violence and coercion they have faced directly from the state? Is a movement inclusive enough when it fails to recognise these women and keep their struggle at the forefront of a feminist movement?

There are countless other examples of kill-and-dump cases of women in Waziristan, women in Badin hit worst by the climate crisis, and those living in the periphery of the cities; the Afghan migrants, Bihari and Bengali women without NICs in Karachi, caught beyond the formal law’s precincts, whose problems aren’t addressed with valour and seriousness. There is a dialectical relationship between the emancipation of women at the periphery and that of women at the centre— without the emancipation of one the emancipation of the other is unrealised and incomplete.

A feminist united front that struggles for the ethnic or religiously oppressed and working class women, while explicitly recognising the gross imbalance in women’s struggles due to their inherited and immobile socio-economic position in society, is the path toward the realisation of revolutionary potential. Only then can we be truly representative and address the crises in the lived experiences or people in the margins with the seriousness required.

Some voices need a larger base and support in struggle because their struggle and oppression, by default, puts them in far more precarious positions than what others could even imagine.

The burden of oppression and erasure of these voices mainly lies with the powers that be, the perpetrators of these forms of brutality and structures that perpetuate them. However, those championing feminist consciousness and praxis must explicitly recognise the limitations of their resistance in the service of political honesty and concern for consequential tokenism of those in the margins, if the immensely disproportionate effects of the oppression many face aren’t embraced for what they are.

To each meaningful criticism, one must not only present the manifesto or written agenda as a rebuttal, but perhaps a rigorous reflection of how it manifests itself in praxis. Therein lies the much called on revolutionary potential of a movement. All humans are not equal, therefore, all suffering and pain resulting from overlapping oppressions and exploitations are not equal; we live unequal lives each breathing day of our existence.

Gulrukhsar Mujahid is associated with Women Democratic Front and currently works as Editor, Higher Education and Academia at Oxford University Press (OUP). She tweets at @Gulrukhsar


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