Influence of three major waves of feminist movements in Pakistan

Written by: Salahuddin Bhutto. The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Management Sciences, NUML, Multan. Published in Daily Times on October 30, 2019.

The history of feminists’ struggle to end discrimination, oppression and marginalisation against women is divided into three waves. They are known as first, second, and third wave of feminism. These waves, although they had started in Europe, had global impact on the status of women, including women of Pakistan.

The first wave of feminism officially started with the Seneca Falls Convention, 1848. It continued till 1920 after women of New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States gained voting rights. In between the first and the second wave of feminism, which started in 1960s, Pakistan got independence. Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947, with the provision of reserved seats in parliament existing throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 onwards. Being a woman of a newly born country, a Pakistani woman had to do way more to establish her worth and gain some status quo in society. Like western women, Pakistani women, during the second wave, were also victim of sexism, harassment at workplace, degradation and objectification. For example, Fatima Jinnah also had to bear character assassination at the hands of a dictator, along with other setbacks, including poor finances and an unfair and unequal election campaign.

Read article: Feminism in Pakistan: A brief history

Inspired by the second wave of feminism in 1960s, Pakistani women started to embark on a journey of improving their social and economic conditions. They argued that having voting rights did not guarantee the end of their oppression in the hands of men. The initial influence of the feminist movement during the second wave in Pakistan included issuance of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, 1961. The new law aimed to regulate family affairs by protecting women rights. In the subsequent year, another law, the West Pakistan Muslim Personal Law Sharia Act, 1962 was introduced in the country. It allowed Pakistani women to inherent all forms of property.

In an article published in Express Tribune, Mehreen Ovais writes, “Western women’s liberation movement also influenced Pakistani men.” She writes, “Rangeela was the first Pakistani to publicly express his concerns regarding the treatment of women in Pakistan and support the liberation movement of the 1970s. He did so via a film called Aurat Raaj, which he directed, produced and even acted in. Released in 1979, the film depicted the story of a housewife who stands up against her chauvinist husband and goes on to form a political party for women across the country, eventually becoming the national leader.”

The third wave of feminism started in 1990s. Its focus was to globalise the feminist movement and help every woman around the world, regardless of race, colour, class, and ethnicity. The Transnational Feminist Networks were established around the world to achieve the objectives. In the second wave, Pakistan’s government worked on country’s Women in Development profile to reduce gaps between socially defined roles and responsibilities of women and men. But realising the need of the time during the third wave the focus shifted to gender mainstreaming as a part of Gender and Development. Government of Pakistan aimed at promoting gender equality by involving women in all spheres of life.

In the new century, Pakistani women have enabled themselves in gaining higher participation in socio-political and economic fields. They have secured their quota in local government departments, bureaucracy, media houses and parliament.