Gendered and Sexual Inequalities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Gendered and Sexual Inequalities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

75 Years of Men’s Independence; Gendered and Sexual Inequalities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan


Dr. Afiya Zia

Visiting Assistant Professor, Wesleyan University, Pakistan

On 14th August 2021, as Pakistan celebrated 74 years of independence from British colonial rule and its partition from India, a mob of over 400 men assaulted, groped and fondled the popular female Pakistani TikToker, Ayesha Akram at the Minar e Pakistan in Lahore – a landmark monument that commemorates the 1940 Pakistan Resolution for an independent homeland for Muslims of South Asia. As video footage of Akram’s ordeal and attempts to escape the assault circulated, there was some outrage from civil society, but this soon got lost in the myriad of growing and horrific cases of sexual violence escalating over the pandemic year.

Over the last 20 years, women in public spaces, which includes digital sites, have become conscious targets of sexual violence in Pakistan, particularly those who threaten the patriarchal gendered and sexual orders. The #MeToo movement was not robust in Pakistan until it converged into nationwide street protests under the banner of the ‘Aurat March’ (Women’s March) in 2018. Many young women at these Marches spoke candidly on issues that had been hidden under euphemisms. Their placards were provocative, protested the restrictions on women’s bodies, mobility, behaviour and exploitation as based on personal experiences. There were even some unprecedented renditions of LGBTQI politics at the event. The migration of #MeToo politics from online and hashtag protest to offline street politics amplified the anxiety of the gatekeepers of patriarchy. Many men and even some women were outraged at the boldness of the Marchers and a vicious backlash followed including threats of violence against the participants for being ‘offensive, ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-culture’.

This paper will analyse the progress and potential of the women’s movement against sexual violence over the past 75 years in Pakistan by reflecting on colonial legacies, the role of the Islamic state, and the generational differences and internal paradoxes within women’s movements that are spearheading this critical resistance for sexual rights and autonomies in Pakistan.


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