Feminism in Pakistan

Feminism in Pakistan is a set of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women in Pakistan.[1] It is the pursuit of women's rights within the society of Pakistan.[2] Like their feminist counterparts all over the world, feminists in Pakistan are supposed to seek gender equality: the right to work for equal wages, the right to equal access to health and education, and equal political rights.[3] Feminist and women's rights consciousness in Pakistan has historically been shaped in response to national and global reconfiguration of power including colonialism, nationalism, dictatorship, democracy and the Global War on Terror.[4] The relationship between the women's movement and the Pakistani state has undergone significant shifts, from mutual accommodation and a complementary ethos to confrontation and conflict.


After independence, elite Muslim women in Pakistan continued to advocate women's political empowerment through legal reforms. They mobilized support that led to passage of the Muslim Personal Law of Sharia in 1948, which recognized a woman's right to inherit all forms of property. They were also behind the futile attempt to have the government include a Charter of Women's Rights in the 1956 constitution. The 1961 Muslim Family Laws Ordinance covering marriage and divorce, the most important sociolegal reform that they supported, is still widely regarded as empowering to women.[5][6]

First phase 1947–1952

In 1947, Muslim women did not have it easy; they were some of the worst victims of the traumatic events that took place in the South Asian region in the mid-20th century. It's reported that 75,000 women were abducted and raped during the partition, sooner after Pakistan's Independence Fatima Jinnah took part in refugee relief work and formed the Women's Relief Committee during the transfer of power, which evolved into the All Pakistan Women s Association. Later on Fatima Jinnah set up a secret radio station to running for president when it was perceived to be a man's role. These are some of the empowering stories that are often left untold and very few people talk about this effort of empowering women in Pakistan.

Begum Ra'na Liaquat Ali Khan helped the refugees who fled India during partition and also organized the All Pakistan Women's Association in 1949,[7] two years after the creation of her country. Noticing that there were not many nurses in Karachi, Khan requested the army to train women to give injections and first aid. This resulted in the para-military forces for women. Nursing also became a career path for many girls. She continued her mission, even after her husband was assassinated in 1951, and became the first Muslim woman delegate to the United Nations in 1952.

Second phase 1980s

End of 1970's started a new wave of political Islamization in many Muslim majority countries. In Pakistan a military dictatorial regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq came into power & introduced several laws for more Islamization of Pakistan called Hudood Ordinances It replaced parts of the British-era Pakistan Penal Code, adding new criminal offences of adultery and fornication, and new punishments of whipping, amputation, and stoning to death. (After much controversy and criticism only parts of the law were considerably revised in 2006 by the Women's Protection Bill.)

on backdrop of this General Zia's more Islamization of Pakistan called Hudood Ordinances, A more vocal Women's Action Forum (WAF) got formed in 1981[7][8] According to Madihah Akhter General Zia ultimately sought to moral police women role in public sphere with his Islamization plans, which brought unexpected pressure on Pakistani women taking them back suddenly in medieval times. As a reaction to patriarchal rigid form of Zia's Islamization, many Pakistani women from diverse fields like writers, academics, performers became active to oppose women denigrating policies of General Zia. Madihah Akhter further says younger generation of 1980's women activist were more feminist in their outlook and approach on one hand; Women's Action Forum used "progressive interpretations of Islam" to counter the state's patriarchal version of religion and morality, and in doing so, succeeded in getting unexpected support of right wing Islamic women's organizations, too. The WAF and its associates mass demonstrated against a number of laws and issues throughout the early 1980s. They campaigned through various outreach approaches like newspaper articles, art, poetry, and songs in schools and universities.[9]

Feminist work in Pakistan cuts across all sectors of civil society: education, health, poverty, domestic violence, rape, denial of rights and legal/ political reform through range of women's movements[7]


Post General Zia period, While Pakistan got its first woman prime minister in form Benazir Bhutto, that helped create some positive image for Pakistan, and she made some small efforts here & there like all women police station & appointing women judges first time; she could not succeed in repealing anti women laws of General Zia era.

Post-Zia era (1988-1999), activists produced research that focused on increasing women's political voice and strengthening inclusive democratic governance (Shaheed et al., 2009; Zia, 2005; Bari, 2015). They have also produced some of the first research and awareness-raising material on sexual and reproductive rights (Saeed, 1994),5 environmental issues (Sadeque, 2012; Hanif, 2011), and citizen-based initiatives for peace between India and Pakistan (Sarwar, 2007).[10]


While it is still more time i.e. 2006 to water down General Zia's some of ordinances and quite a long time to effect any social change; after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in USA & subsequent global war on terrorism, obviously along with global political Islam, Afghanistan, Pakistan's socio-political structures also came under global attention.[11]