Farhat Parveen set up NOW communities to work towards de-weaponization. Her story began with an unusual childhood and spiritual experiences that contributed towards her work for women’s rights and the labor movement. Parveen talks about being raised in a shia family, listening to the history of Shia Islam in a ritual gathering (majlis) amongst the Shia Muslims and how that formed her perception of questioning authority.
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.