My thanks first of all to Julie Matthaei for her excellent essay, which has provided us with a well-articulated account of the journey of feminist thinking. It will be a valuable resource for the discussions on feminism that young (and old) activists in Pakistan are currently engaged in, especially with reference to developing strategies.
At the outset, I would like to say that I am neither an academic nor a scholar but an activist in the feminist movement in Pakistan. I strongly believe in “looking back” in order to “look (sic) ahead,” and in the importance of analysis to formulate/design strategies for the future we seek. Hence I found Julie Matthaei’s paper very useful in tracking the evolution of feminism and the stages in feminist awareness that find parallels in my region starting from pre-independence India to modern-day feminist activism/practice in Pakistan. The concepts of “intersectionality” and the necessity of “solidarity politics” became clear in the course of the movement, and it is indeed exciting to see praxis and conceptual discourse converging. The challenge, however, remains of how to address all aspects of intersectionality (class, ethnicity, gender, etc.) as women’s experiences and lived realities require attending to all of them.
I am limiting my comments to (a) what I feel needs to be added to the discussion and (b) the challenges to strategy development. Militarization, politicized religion, and climate change have dire implications for people, planet, and society, particularly women. Militarization and religious militancy are powerful forces with far-reaching local and global impacts that not only reinforce patriarchy but also act as barriers to moving towards our vision of a world without patriarchy and with just and fair systems. While climate change is a globally recognized crisis, it is not given due priority by everyone (states and people alike) in the world. Pakistan, along with the rest of South Asia, is highly vulnerable to climate change; it is water-stressed and will soon be water-scarce; it is hit by floods and heavy rains; and it is threatened by natural disasters. In all such situations, women and children are the worst affected. We must factor this into our analysis.
It is the how of bringing about the change we want that I (and feminists in Pakistan) am grappling with. For us, it is still the resistance phase, with human rights standards the measure, and ending discrimination (state-sanctioned, religion-propelled, culture-based, embedded in socio-economic structures), attaining justice, and ensuring dignity of person and communities al having a great sense of urgency. While breaking the glass ceiling, reducing the gender wage gap, ensuring freedom from violence and harassment, and other struggles are not the end, they do remain means for the feminist goal of a transformed world and are thus essential. Women have made gains through these struggles—the right to education, political participation, access to opportunities—the condition of many women has improved but not of all. The larger system of oppression thrives under capitalism/neoliberalism and patriarchy; unequal power relations prevail.
The question agitating me is, how do we “shift the lens from resist to build, from what we are against to what we are for?” to quote Matthaei. Place-based politics has shown success, but how do we take it to scale?
This discussion and sharing of experiences have enriched my thinking. I am excited with the concept of solidarity economy and see the combination of inclusive (all genders, class, ethnicity, race) identities “solidarity politics” and the “solidarity economy” as the way forward and would welcome more conceptual discussion on women’s care work and its due place and recognition.