Discussing the importance of the feminist discourse and the various forms through which it has been manifesting itself in the current times, a panel moderated by academic Fawzia Afzal Khan stressed the need for understanding the dynamics of the feminist movement in the South Asian context on the first day of the Adab Festival Pakistan on Friday.
The panellists, activist Hani Baloch, journalist Maheen Usmani, author Maniza Naqvi, columnist Saira Shah, academic Severine Minot and poet Fatema Hasan, spoke about their experiences with regard to gender disparity, harassment at workplace and #MeToo movement, class divide and other related issues.
Maheen said she felt it was important to understand that in a case of harassment, the victim should not be put on the spot. Focus should be on the perpetrators instead of the victims, she asserted.
Fatema recited her poem which was about the way women were viewed under the male gaze. The poem spoke volumes about the effects of patriarchy especially how the idea of competition amongst women was perpetuated to create divisions.
Speaking about the #MeToo movement in India, Saira said it had gained a lot of momentum when many women came forward levelling allegations of harassment against men in powerful positions. “I feel the power dynamics are very important because the women in question have been the subordinates. When women accused men of charges committed years ago, there was a hue and cry about why now. I stress why not?”
Minot said the harassment issue was a serious one and should be dealt with strictly. Discussing her work concerning women’s health, Hani said she encountered many women who thought it was shameful to discuss the menstrual cycle.
“It’s very important to raise awareness about this because many times, women who feel immense pain think it’s normal and bear it quietly, not knowing that there is a possibility of treatment. These women are sometimes taken to Pirs and Aalims because their elders fail to comprehend their pain. I feel feminism is about superseding class, gender and ethnicity and making resources available for everyone,” she said.
Maniza felt that there was a great need for understanding feminism from the perspective of class. The Global North pushes a certain kind of feminist narrative, she said, adding that it must not be forgotten that the same powers send their armed forces under the guise of liberation.
Fawzia was of the view that while it was necessary to understand the distribution of resources, the Marxist perspective should also be questioned through the gender lens as it existed under patriarchy. The panel also discussed the corporate sponsorship’s and the venues of the book festivals which gave them an elitist outlook.