Reimaging the future through formative experiences

‘Dreaming of an alternative reality is not merely a matter of inspiration. To even conceive of different realities, women must first question the given parameters of their current lives by, among other things, unravelling the composite strands of the current identity being imposed on them as an integral whole.[1]

Moments of crisis can be a spark to turn dreams into action. When we explore the history of women’s activism in Pakistan, it was the crisis that engulfed women with the Islamisation of laws that sparked the collective response that saw the formation of the Women’s 

Action Forum (WAF). Crises that impact women can take individual journeys and bring them together in a collective struggle. The WAF became a platform to unite the individual voices of women and organisations for collective action. Women’s individual stories became part of a bigger story of women acting together to negotiate change in gender relations. 

Looking back on women’s activism Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan, Banaz Mahmod in the UK/Khurdish Iraq, Malala Yousafzia in Pakistan, Djamila Bouhired and Louisette Ighilahriz in Algeria, Tarana Burke and the #MeToo Movement, Rosa Parks in America, and the many, many other women from around the world, each of these women questioned the boundaries of their lives and dreamed of a different future.

In Kishwar Naheed’s poem, We Sinful Women, there is this profound movement from subjectivity to resistance. It captures the constraints and opportunities that attend the life of women in the pursuit of change 

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvest of our bodies become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world. 

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find the tongues which could not speak have been severed. 

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the walls which have been razed
don’t insist now on raising again.[2]

Women foreground agency in resistance when formative experiences become the grist of change. 


[1] Shaheed, F. (2004). Constructing Identities: Culture, Women, Agency and the Muslim World (Vol. July). Lahore: Shirkat Gah. p. 11

[2] Naheed, K. (2004). The Distance of a Shout. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Translated by Rukhsana Ahmad.

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