SOCIOLOGIST and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Professor Dr Nida Kirmani on Friday explored how the feminist movement in Pakistan dealt with religion in its advocacy for greater gender equality.
She was speaking on the last day of the ‘I Need Feminism’ 2014 conference on the campus during her talk titled ‘Contentious Encounters: Women’s Rights Activism and Islam in South Asia.’
Kirmani, who holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Manchester, presented her research on groups, including Women Action Forum (WAF) and Shirkat Gah, to the audience.
She said that for decades the women activists in Pakistan had debated using religion in their campaigns and grassroots work.
Kirmani said WAF which declared its secular position in 1991 had an internal split on this question, whereas WAF stalwarts Hina Jilani and Rubina Saigol thought of international human rights as their mandate and the members like Khawar Mumtaz of Shirkat Gah believed their feminism should incorporate Islam as it was language of the masses.
She said the feminists, including Mumtaz, felt that on a practical level, WAF should evoke progressive interpretations of the Holy Quran to counter the rising tide of rightwing extremism.
The LUMS sociologist said that despite General Zia’s Hudood Ordinance, being grounded in Islam, the WAF avoided using religion to their advantage.
LUMS Fellow Aurangzeb Haneef said that in a country where the constitution and laws drew legitimacy from Islam, it was important for the women rights struggle to invest itself in the religious tradition.
Various female students expressed their thoughts on their relationship with religion and culture in daily life. A student said space for open religious debate had shrunk in today’s Pakistan.
A Baloch male student from LUMS National Outreach Programme said that culture often had a more instrumental role in determining family values. He said the people in the country’s rural communities often practiced cultural customs, not mentioned in Islamic scriptures. “In order for the women’s rights movement in Pakistan to succeed; it would require female activists to include indigenous cultures in their grassroots fieldwork,” he said.