Feminism is the Feeling of Being Safe - Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy recently became the first Pakistani to win an Academy Award. Her Oscar-winning documentary, “Saving Face,” co-directed by American filmmaker Daniel Junge, chronicles the lives of acid attack survivors in Pakistan and follows a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Mr. Mohammad Ali Jawad, who performs re-constructive surgeries on them. (Wikipedia)

In an interview with the Times of India, she defined feminism as:

How do you define feminism? Who in your eyes is the epitome of feminism?

For me, feminism is the feeling of being safe; in your skin, in your house, in the office and on the streets. Feminism is the pursuit of these conditions, and all of the struggles that you have to go through in order to ensure that they are available to yourself and other women. Personally, I look up to Mukhtaran Bibi, an enigmatic Pakistani women’s right activist. I have had the privilege of meeting with her and continue to be inspired by her story and unwavering determination to seek justice.

Mukhtaran Bibi, a victim of rape and then some archaic and terribly misguided tribal justice, became the unlikely champion of women’s legal rights in Pakistan when the local village Imam blew the whistle on her case and registered a police complaint.  She now runs a centre in Meerwala that provides some basic services to women who have no practical recourse in the justice system.

While the punishments have gone up in 2010 (Section 367 A of the PPC), enforcement is still a big challenge and each one of these cases breaks a little bit of new ground.  Collectively, the middle classes, civil society and electroni media are now eager to discuss such cases in the open.  However,  politicians, feudal landlords and moral leaders are still reluctant to take interest in, much less champion, these cases, unless they happen to be high-profile.

Respect vs Taboos

While women enjoy a position of singular respect in the Muslim social climate of Pakistan, this concept of respect morphs into the cultural and tribal concepts of honour.  This sometimes results in two distinct types of social malaise:  the thought that ‘my honour is not your honour’, and that the woman herself becomes an object of the honour and her status as a citizen with inalienable human and legal rights is pushed to the background.

Crimes against females are part of all cultures — from female foeticide and infanticide in India to institutionalized war rape in the Congo.  The cultural dynamics that drive these crimes are unique to the locae and the solutions must be unique as well.  As Pakistan embodies cultural traditions from historic India, Muslim Arabia, tribal central Asia, and colonial Britain — the solutions have to be creative and will be slow in coming.

‘Struggles’ of Feminism

Neither overnight Islamisation nor instant Westernisation is going to solve these deep-rooted cultural issues that give rise to the twin evils: corruption of the legal system and misguided religious beliefs and honour concepts.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s definition of feminism is quite apt then: a constant *jihad *(struggle) to combat both of these, bit by bit.  With empathy, shared humanity and sense of community.