For the past few years, Pakistan has seen an overwhelming debate regarding women rights, feminism and gender equality. It is quite evident through the famouspeaceful, yet controversial, movement ‘Aurat March’. The movement reflects as an annual advocacy campaign organised on international Women's Day led by various feminist activist groups in the major cities of Pakistan.
The rise of a feminist approach synced in a millennial mindset has shown its prominence across various platforms, largely echoed in social media and among thought leaders. Growing awareness on social issues and persisting inequalities in society has compelled our younger generation to be more vocal and work with each other to establish equal opportunities for both genders in the country. However, the concept of feminism in Pakistan has hit hard on some groups such as conservatists individuals or civil society organisations who disagree with the concept of this equality and feminism. For them, this particular concept is not only going against the culture of Pakistan, but also against the religion of our community, Islam.
For decades and before, females in Pakistan have faced great inequality and injustice due to living under a patriarchal society. Despite signatory to various international treaties and adoption of global commitments - The Universal Declaration of Human rights, The Conventions on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, The Sustainable Development Goals etc. - and its inclusiveness to our national policy framework on gender equality and women rights, the Global Gender Gap Index report of 2020 ranked Pakistan lowest among 153 countries. Practices such as honour killing, sexual harassment, domestic violence and the concept of glass ceiling still haunt the females of modern day in the country. Such concepts lead to women blaming the culture and religion on which Pakistan strives. Islam is one of the most peaceful religions providing equal opportunities to both genders without discrimination. However, our religion is often confused and misperceived with our male dominant culture, which not only pollutes the understanding of Islam on women rights, but its social practices are often misread and misinterpreted leading to hate against the principles of Islam.
To successfully imply feminism in Pakistan, it is essential to embed sensitivities of culture and religion to make it broad based and acceptable at the grassroot. The concept of feminism and gender equality is currently being applied and forced upon conservatism communities, mainly perceived as a western concept.
For gender equality to flourish and blossom in Pakistan, it is essential to apply a cultural relativist approach. Cultural relativism is defined as an approach of making laws and concepts in a geographical location according to their religion and culture, hence believing that not every law or concept is universal. In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly formed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which stated the rights of LGTBQ communities however, it goes against many religions around the world especially Islam.
The United Nations believes in an idealistic approach meaning that their resolutions are universal and should be applied in all countries. These are considered as the shortcomings of the United Nations approach to international relations. They should have a more realistic approach by taking in consideration that every nation or state has its own cultural and religious beliefs which they have to abide by. The laws applied should be according to the culture and religion of the region in order to achieve success. For example, in response to the UDHR, The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam took place in 1990, rejecting certain points of the UDHR which went against their religion.
The same problem is resonating in the concept of feminism in Pakistan. This concept is formed on the bases of western ideology rather than eastern ideology. The western ideology is being claimed to be universal, however it is not compatible with non-western states. To reach gender equality through feminism, this concept needs to be restricted according to the culture and religion of Pakistan rather than based on western countries. The concept of feminism should have a cultural relativist approach in order to achieve success in Pakistan, otherwise the western based concept of feminism which is being currently applied may reach a certain amount of success but it will end up dividing the nation.
Muhammad Rafay Waqar is an IBDP student and social issues advocate.
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