Mahnaz Rahman is a feminist and activist whose work for women’s rights spans decades. She has worked as a journalist, a political activist, and is currently Resident Director of Aurat Foundation. She has witnessed the rise and fall of the Left, the brutal regime of Zia-ul-Haq, the struggles of democracy in Pakistan, and the gradual radicalization of Pakistani society.
Who were Fahmida Allahbuksh, Samia Sarwar, or Saima Waheed and why they were significant women in Pakistani history? What happened in Lahore in 1983? Why are women burning dupattas in that historical photograph of WAF members, and what exactly is WAF? Are there no empowering women in Pakistan other than Asma Jahangir or Mukhtar Mai? These are the questions that Pakistanis, especially young people need to be asking themselves, and people around them. But that’s what the problem is, they don’t, and they are unaware of the feminist legacy of South Asia.
Even before the Partition of India into two separate countries, women in United India regardless of religious beliefs, played an active role in fighting for their rights. We read brief paragraphs in Pakistan Studies textbooks about “the role of Muslim women in creation of Pakistan” but that seems like a distant memory that consists only of Fatima Jinnah, Begum Raana Liaquat, and the mother of the Johar brothers during the Khilafat movement. Just like these textbooks don’t portray actual history accurately, similarly they portray no picture of the women’s movement in Pakistan. Young Pakistani feminists are embracing The Second Sex, A Room of One’s Own, The Yellow Wallpaper, but ask them about Fahmida Riaz’s beautiful “Chador Aur Chaar Devari” (Four Walls and a Black Veil) or the poem by Kishwar Naheed which is affectionately referred to as a women’s anthem among feminists, and you get blank stares.
It is imperative that we stop taking for granting the rights we have as women, and acknowledge the struggle and sacrifice that enabled the empowerment of the modern woman. It is also just as important to acknowledge that, as the urban woman progresses, the rural woman remains disenfranchised and powerless, and that much work still needs to be done for women’s rights in Pakistan. For this reason, Bolo Bhi created The Women’s Movement Herstory Project, to interview feminists and activists who were at the forefront of the struggle, and witnessed firsthand the fight for women’s rights, and personally went through hardships for the sake of all women.