In light of the fact that feminism is a rather controversial topic not only in Pakistan but also in Lums, I decided to interview the Feminist society at LUMS. Sana and Maarya shared their insights regarding this issue and the society, in general, portraying a diverse and tolerant image of their society. The purpose of this interview was to try to get rid of the ‘feminazi’ like stereotypes that we have regarding feminism leading to an intellectual, broad-minded conversation with like-minded individuals.
How would you describe your society?
Maarya: We’re a group of students who care very deeply about social issues with regards to gender and gender inequality and it includes multiple gender identity and the discrimination that they face on a systematic level. We’re focused on basically educating people about that and being in charge of initiatives that tackle these issues.
Sana: The other thing is that the society in itself serves a purpose. We try to initiate dialogue without which we’re not getting anywhere. It’s also a very growing experience when you talk to like-minded individuals because feminism in itself is such a diverse movement/idea/concept that people who call them feminists can be very different people. I think even our society; we’re a diverse bunch of people coming at it from different points of views.
Is there a specific structure to your society?
We never made the society thinking that it will be only women or something like that. We had wonderful interviews this time around because gender is not something that is only important to women and its silly to assume that men don’t have a stake in gender-related issues. Gender does not imply women related issues, it constitutes if both men and women.
If someone doesn’t identify himself or herself as a feminist, can they still be a part of the society?
Maarya: It is somewhat important to understand the concept in itself. When he held our interviews we did ask people this however, some people might have some very legitimate issues for not liking the label of feminism for example, white liberal feminism has been co-opted and used in a way that is very problematic. People might say that it’s a western thing and so, not relative to my context so it doesn’t make sense to call myself a feminist. So there are some legitimate reasons to not call yourself a feminist.
On a personal level, I’ve heard sillier reasons such as,
“I’m not a feminist, I love men”
“I’m no a feminist because sexism doesn’t exist anymore”
Does your society have a flagship event?
We have INF (I Need Feminism) that was inspired by an initiative that was happening in campuses in the US and Canada where they would approach people with a board and ask them why do they need feminism?
Over time we have evolved and go in sort of different directions, we’re trying to collaborate with other societies because I think making gender mainstream and talking about it in a way that is relative to all of our lives is extremely important.
Speak out was inspired by a project called unbreakable and we wanted to make a safe space for survivors of sexual assault where they could anonymously talk about it. Initiatives like these are more important than picketing, protesting and signing petitions because these things bring people closer together and make them think just how pervasive these issues are.
Feminism has a sort of infamous connotation to it, how do you handle such responses?
Mostly it’s just juvenile. When it’s just jokes at our expense, those things we can just laugh off. It really builds up when they start assuming that we as a society are a monolith and are out to get men or are always complaining about things that don’t exist. What is more discouraging is apathy because 51% of your population is women and we have to convince them that these issues are important.
Sana: We’re a small society and we’re not very bureaucratic at all because you can’t be with feminism because people take all of these things very seriously. One thing that we have in our society is that you have an idea, come to us and you’re it.
For example, we have Zainab Chugtai who had an idea about photography and she’s heading the event right now. So, you really can’t plan that way because some of our best events have been when individuals came up with ideas as opposed to preplanning traditional flagship events.
What we’re trying to teach here is that feminism or gender isn’t something that you bring to light by introducing a course on it, we want it to intersect everywhere, whether its health, medicine, law etc. Which is why we’re trying to talk to more societies and integrate the idea so that is one plan, to make people think that gender is relevant everywhere. We would also like to reach to other campuses and similar societies and talk about such issues.
Maarya: For me personally, one of the directions, which I would like to see femsoc going in, is creating community building, reaching out to certain people and basically being a support group for all sorts of marginalized people to come and feel safe and build those bridges with these people.
We’re trying to contact other feminist societies in Pakistan that are slowly popping up and we’re trying to be a resource for each other. Women rarely come together in an effort in solidarity for each other and that is a direction that I would want our society to take.