Feminist “Consciousness Raising” in Islamabad

Pakistan Women at Faisal Mosque, IslamabadDuring the women’s liberation movement feminists developed a method of listening to women. They called it “Consciousness Raising.” Feminists understood that in order to understand what women’s lives were really like, one had to suspend personal judgments and really listen. They formed small groups and chose different topics of discussion for the sessions in which the women met with one another. Topics included, health, marriage, children, work, etc. When one woman was talking, others wouldn’t judge her, nor would they interrupt her. They simply listened and learned.

Consciousness Raising can be considered the heart of the women’s liberation movement. Prior to the women’s liberation movement women weren’t taken seriously. Their interests and experiences were considered trivial. From these “Consciousness Raising” sessions feminists developed new insights into women’s lives. From here they could add to feminist theory.

I asked my friends in Islamabad, Pakistan some questions in writing and I read their written answers.

What follows are two questions, with answers, from an email conversation with Sonia Farooq and Rubia Akram of Islamabad, Pakistan.

Jennifer: If you could say anything to women in the United States who consider themselves feminists, what would you say?

Sonia: I would like to say that we women who are of many colors, ethnicities, religious and cultural backgrounds share a common issue of being suppressed (forms of suppression may differ in different contexts). If we interact with each other, those who have managed to secure some space, like American feminists and those who are struggling (women of the third world), it can open a dialogue for cross-cultural feminism by taking women of the other world in confidence. This way we can make each other understand the issues and problems in different contexts.

Rubia: I do not agree with certain feminists whose ideas are not rooted in our culture. They want to apply western models in our culture means trying to reject culture altogether and imposing foreign models on us which would not bring constructive change in the society rather will offend more people especially women in the society. Let me explain it with an example. When you were here we did discuss that on women’s day some so-called feminists arranged a cycling race of women in Islamabad.  Or, previously on a similar day a marathon for women was organized. Such activities are becoming a source of women’s commodification. Marathons or cycling aren’t issues [for] women of Pakistan. They have more serious problems. By making women run on the road is a process of women’s objectification because through such activities women are only becoming a source of gratification of men’s gaze (who have not been educated yet). So such image of feminism is looked on with suspicion even by the marginalized groups, especially women. These women or feminists are not representing the majority rather raising voice of elite liberal women.

Jennifer: Can feminism help bring peace in your country?

Rubia: Feminism should be a political movement which should aim at bringing betterment and peace in the society by modifying those norms and laws which marginalize certain groups, in this case women. Therefore, those women who in the name of feminism are criticizing society for the sake of criticism are disturbing harmony in society and in my opinion they cannot be called feminists. Likewise, one single idea of feminism cannot be applied to the whole universe. The world is made up of people of different color and taste. This diversity is beauty of the globe. So, in my opinion women’s liberation does not mean eradicating one’s whole cultural values just to identify ourselves to one kind of feminism, i.e. western feminism. Homogeneity is death of progress. Within our culture good values should be preserved and suppressing values should be modified.

Sonia: As there is a recent strive for peace building processes across the globe, I believe women should also come forward to play their role in creating harmony. I know women are struggling at various levels which may not be political though but they are trying to resolve conflicts. But these small struggles either are not reported or are not considered as peace-building efforts at all. In my context, I being a teacher, can interact with 30 to 40 girls students of different social backgrounds daily and as a person believing in making a world better place to live in I can teach them peace, tolerance and harmony by synthesizing it in my lecture content. That is one example. there can be many more if we explore…

Jennifer: Thank you.

Rubia: It is my pleasure. You took time out for us so it is our job to facilitate you against those, who while sitting at home, are constructing us through mere imagination.

You can hear more from Jennifer’s friends in Islamabad in this video:

Jennifer Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films and used her free time (when she had it) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being screened around the country.

Image via iStockphoto/Patrick Poendl

  • Bakhtawar

    Pakistan as a nation is capable of change, reform and positive developments. Feminists here are working for the elite class of the society and lower class family is not receiving the reward of the of rights given in constitution. There is need to do work in a lower socio economic strata.

  • Irfan Chourbati

    When we talk about feminism it means uplifting the women’s status in a community or we can say social justice with women. The answers by Rubia truly depicts the feminists approach in today’s Pakistan, first you cannot impose a particular feminism in a society which is imported from another part of the world where culture is very different then here. Secondly a person who is truly feminist in Pakistan should uplift the lower middle class and poor segment of the Pakistani society which constitute the most part of Pakistani women. I think the most effective way of uplifting the women of Pakistan is access to modern education.

  • anqa akram

    You did a great job Jennifer Lee and Rubia Akram on your behalf as feminists :) thumbs up for your efforts. And I do agree that western form of feminism is applicable in only western context. we as a society are quite different from West so we need to establish our own form of Movement for Women Liberation.

  • Mustafa

    The Feminism concept was developed to eradicate the gender inequality. Rubia explained very well in about the western Feminism that can not be applied in the third word due to the social and cultural norms. Her view is support by Sonia as well. Now many of the women in developing countries are working to bring the change and positive developments in the society. Feminism as a political movement is a huge concept which needs more working from grass root level by the woman all around the third world.

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