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Women Voices Are Louder but Not Enough-Aurangzeb Wattoo

There was a time when women were considered subaltern in field of arts and literature and they had to adopt pen names and to disguise themselves behind a false identity to avoid unfavourable reactions from audience. Till the beginning of 20th century women artists and writers had to go through a tough struggle to make their art and literary endeavours acceptable among public and critics alike. Things have been changed dramatically in this technology oriented world and women leaders are doing wonders in every field of life including arts and literature. 20th century have seen great poets and writers whose work though transcend the gender boundaries but still have a uniquely female voice and their narratives have made once male-dominated ground a much more balanced world to understand. It begins with Virginia Woolf’s narratives and experiencing the multiple waves of feminism engulfing the voices like Gyatri Spivak and Alice Walker make it a wonderful body of literature. The subalterns are no more ‘’subaltern’’ and the world of literature is flooded with diverse narratives and wonderful stories that come from womenfolk. These voices challenge the taboos and hit below the belt by unearthing untouchable subjects whether it is Arundhati Roy’s stories of dalits and transgender or Kamila Shamsie’s experimentation with subjects of global wars and national identities or Shafak’s spiritual experiences. Urdu literature has a very strong tradition of challenging patriarchy and gender roles and formidable voices including Ismat Chughtai,Qurat ul Ain Haidar,Fehmida Riaz,Kishwar Naheed,Zahra Nigah,Bano Qudsia and many more have been making their mark to resist the oppressive literary landscape.Pakistani-anglophone literature has also followed the same tradition and moving one step ahead women writers have overshadowed their male counterparts with their enormous and outstanding literary contributions. A long list of women writers and poets including Atia Hussain,Bapsi Sidhwa,Sara Suleri Kamila Shamsie,Moniza Alvi,Tehmina Durrani,Muneeza Shamsie,Shadab Zeesat Hashmi,Bina Shah,Uzma Aslam Khan,Moni Mohsin,Fatima Bhutto and Fatima Ijaz have made a larger than life impacts upon readers of strictly Pakistani-English fiction. Besides writing fiction and poetry, Pakistani women have become a strong symbol in political and social hierarchy. The Prelude have spoken to leading academic leaders, intellectuals, writers and poets to get a profound insight into this world where artistic and literary space has been enlarged though not by an act of providence neither as a consequence of an act of generosity from dominated gender but gained after a dauntless struggle and resilient efforts.

 Muneeza Shamsie, literary critic, editor, bibliographer and a member of one of a prestigious family of writers including Atia Hossain,Kamila Shamsie and Saman Shamsie put her thoughts as following.

‘’Today. women writers, artists and indeed curators, critics and academic are leading figures in Pakistan’s cultural production both within the country and foreign lands.  As far as Anglophone writing is concerned (my specific field of study) one of the major difference between now and the early post-Partition years is that the majority of writers are now women.  Many of them have also received the same educational opportunities as their brothers in Pakistan and/or foreign lands, or indeed if they belong to the Pakistani diaspora.

File Photo:Muneeza Shamsie and Aurangzeb Wattoo

In the wider context they have given voice to the experience of Pakistan, as women, which challenges the certainties of patriarchy and indeed stereotypes so often bandied around in the west. 

This is also true of the women’s literature in the many languages of Pakistan and indeed the extensive art production by Pakistani women, as it grows and develops and goes from strength to strength.’’

The author of Hybrid Tapestries: Development of Pakistani English Literature and editor of prestigious literary journals analysed the journey by comparing the positions of women writers almost a century ago and contemporary milieu.

‘’ Today many young women have taken up art or writing as career, which would simply not have been possible during my childhood, in the early post-Partition years, when both disciplines were considered but a hobby for women, although there was a handfiul of acclaimed artists such as Anna Molka, Zubeida Agha, Laila Shahzada and her sister, Mariam Saidullah.  In this era Anglophone writing included the prose of Zaibunissa Hamidullah and Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah while Urdu’s literature already included the fiercefy feminist and revolutionary pre-Partition writing of Rashid Jahan and Ismal Chugtai which forged future generations including Pakistani poets Fahmida Riaz and Kishwar Naheed, among others. 

File Photo: Hybrid Tapesteries:Development of Paistani-English Literature

At the time that I was growing up in Pakistan and indeed in Britain where I was at a boarding school in Britain for many years, there were very few career opportunities open for girls: a good marriage was every parent’s main aim and ambition for their daughters-and to be “too highly educated” tarred you as a “blue stocking”.  In Pakistan the most eligible girls in our ‘modern social circles” (English medium) were in their late teens and I met many girls who had been allowed to apply to university or art college abroad, as a form of parental indulgence i.e.–  when they received a letter admission their parents refused to send them and found them a suitable husband instead.  Their creative aspirations were regarded as a  hobby or a pastime which they could or could not indulge in, depending on their husbands or in-laws.’’

She called this transformation ‘’a radical change’’ but still yearns and hopes for much more aspiring future and independent world especially for women writers.

‘’All this has changed radically over the years, and though the struggle is still not over, the success of so many women artists and writers has inspired others in a snowball effect. This in turn, is also related to the opening out of many careers for women in Pakistan (and indeed globally – in my childhood, no one could even imagine a women Prime Minister in Britain, India, Pakistan or anywhere), together with educational opportunities, changing social structures, travel opportunities and indeed the advent of the internet, the satellite media in an increasingly global world.’’

Sara Danial, a Karachi based reviewer and critic, whose works have been published in prestigious newspapers and journals including Dawn, The News on Sunday, The Friday Times, The Aleph Review, South Asia, and The Express Tribune put her thoughts and personal experiences thus,

‘’I wouldn’t speak for arts per se, but as a regular writer, and a former publishing professional, it is extremely difficult to put your voice across. It is as though one has to work doubly harder to validate oneself and justify your opinion. Although writing has traditionally been a woman’s profession (there are many excellent male writers such as yourself, too), one often sees very few actually making the cut. Such as in the literature festivals, most of the shortlisted entries are by male authors. Are you telling me not one woman wrote a good book? Despite being women in the jury. Something definitely is amiss. It if difficult to point a finger at single factor, there are many. But the fact remains that, while we have come a long way in voicing out our opinions, there is still much further to go.’’

File Photo:Sara Danial,Columnist,Critic and Reviewer

.

Khuwaja Alqama, leading academic and diplomat also spoke to The Prelude and lamented the loss of paradigm and painful national history marred by military adventures and called women space a part of national space which had become very limited and had lost its direction.

‘’We had our own paradigm which we lost at the time of the first military intervention in1958. Since then we have not been able to reconstruct our lost paradigm.’’

File Photo: Khuwaja Alqama ,Diplomat and Academic

Shadab Zeesat Hashmi prominent poet, essayist and authors of multiple books of Pakistani origin who is also recipient of various literary prizes including SAARC medal for literature, Stout Award,(2004),Andalusia Prize for Literature,(2007) San Diego Book Award,(2011) Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize,(2014) San Diego Book Award (2014) shared her thoughts with The Prelude.

File Photo:Shadab Zeesat Hashmi reads from her Baker on Tarifa

‘’My writing typically focuses on enlarging the creative spirit and deepening human bonds beyond gender. However, in my latest book “Comb,” a hybrid memoir, I do share my experiences as a woman writer, paying homage to my female mentors and emphasizing the need for women to wholeheartedly support other women.  I also believe that it’s vital to cultivate an intelligent readership among women— that would be a way not only to foster creative expression, boost the publication industry but to invigorate the culture as a whole. Good readers ultimately make good writers.’’

Fatima Ijaz,author of ”The Shade of Longing and Other Poems”, whose poetry brings before us memory and subjective world of this young and inspiring poet seems very optimistic and encourages the women writer to open their heart and mind and speak louder,

‘’Pakistani women are doing so well in diverse fields — here I’d like to speak in the specific context of Pakistani English language poets. I find there is so much openness to hear what women are writing about, there is a genuine curiosity and interest that I find. I believe women need not shy away from any topic and they should explore any theme they want in their poetic writing.’’

File Photo:Fatima Ijaz during 13th edition of annual KLF

Leading Paistani academic and intellectual Professor Rauf-e-Azam who has served as Vice-chancellor of multiple public sector universities paid his gratitude for making the world a more harmonious place to coexist,

‘’On this question I would like to thank the womenfolk of the world, and of Pakistan in particular, especially the ones into art and literature – you make the world around us more aesthetic, beautiful and loveable. We need more of you, working ever harder to untangle and rebuild a world that is more equitable, more peaceful and that promises more happiness for our future generations.’’

File Photo:Rauf Azam,VC Pujab University of Technology

Mehvash Amin a prominent figure among Pakistani-Anglophone community who edits and publish The Aleph Review comments on contemporary women’s position as a writer and publisher and laments the remnants of colonial biases in this world of books and letters,

‘’As a woman publisher, I find that things do not really go your way. Book stores take a huge percentage, and do not promote books published locally as they ought to do. Also, they lag in payments. Sadly, the colonized mind that puts precedence over imported or ‘gora’ books, still holds sway. Added to that the tendency to take women a bit more for granted than men does not make it easy to be a woman publisher.’’

Faiza Anam,a Lahore-based young poet and academic, tries to explain the misconceptions and politics attached with women voices.

File Photo:Faiza Anam,Poet and Academic

‘’The practice of cherry-picking terminologies from the western academia to delineate the lived

realities of womanhood in Pakistan is inevitably problematic. Resultantly, the initiatives for women

empowerment in Pakistan are often misconstrued either as anti-men or pro-women. Thus, the need

to bring forth indigenous models of womanhood which stress the urgency of increased legal

equalities in the various spheres of life, especially education, employment, decision-making and

leadership, is indispensable. ‘’

Tamanna Khosla,a Delhi-based Political Scientist and author of ” Personal Laws in India Reconciling Diversity with Gender Justice” and ”Globalization and Democratic Values” calls for feminization of politics”.

Gender inequality and discrimination are unbridled in our societies and most of the time women are victims of this. Women across the world use this day to come together to celebrate and rally for equal treatment and representation , reproductive rights and violence and abuse against women. The digital equality and innovation in technology is what is the pre requisite for women in India and South Asia. Feminization of politics is much needed world wide.

About the author: Aurangzeb Wattoo is Editor-in-chief of The Prelude.
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