Journey of a Pakistani Feminist towards a humanist

By: Hafsa Mehmood 

Stepping into a new road is not easy; it becomes more difficult when new road leads to “feminism” and challenging patriarchy. Although, I had thought to be privileged to be a part of 24th Feminist Capacity Building Course on Gender, Sustainable Livelihoods, Human Rights and Peace by the end of the course I was feeling lucky to be among such strong and brave ladies. The butterflies in my stomach were flying high from the time I got the selection letter and till the time I finally landed in Nepal to explore more. A group of 38 women from 8 countries of South Asia were participating and representing different ideologies, faiths, cultures, and identities. They were full of national spirit and their chests swelling high with nationalism except one; that hardly could understand this hype of nationalism and never could relate to any nationality. For her, ‘humanity’ is the only nationalism and when her own community is suffering, what nationalism she will relate or even try to relate to? She was from Indian occupied Kashmir and every day she broke into pieces – in discussions, in introductions and every time when we spoke about humanity but staying strong and fighting is the only mantra she knew and passed on.

Our welcome and introduction ceremony was completely dissimilar and beautiful, planned by our beloved Kamla Ji (South Asian Feminist) and the team. When I lit the candle, I felt that I am lighting my own self to strength from now onwards. A scarf was draped around my neck and a strong feeling of love and positivity ran through my heart. Finally, I was introduced and with all the customary a part of Sangat Family.

All of us had one or the other kind of expectations, fears and hopes from the course. Identity is an important part of our existence; during introductions, I introduced myself as a feminist and human rights defender from Lahore, Pakistan. Even without having clear thoughts and concepts of being a feminist (I later came to know through the training that how less we know) but deep in my heart I always had this feeling that I am feminist.

During introductions we came to know how different yet similar we are. Although, our cultures, religions, norms, values, socializations overlap and we still believe we are different. This training not only shook our misconceptions but made us realize how we are part of a same circle somehow with minor differences which are being made by our societies only, otherwise we are same, “The South Asians”.

A very initial and worth doing task was to remember names of all participants within 3-4 days, It was fun as I memorized names by connecting to some songs, names of different things etc. It was amazing to observe how most of us had remembered the names by following the same practice. By the end of the first week we were all laughing, giggling, and taunting each other with so much of love and positivity.

A new chapter of my life had already started that was leading me towards the branches of patriarchy, social systems, femininities, masculinities, gender equality and equity, power, empowerment and its indicators, gender transformation , women’s movements and violence against women and girls. The main tagline towards these topics was the Universal Anthem/Mantra; “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.  We not only learned the anthem but sang it every day and took oath that this will be our regular chant and we will chant this on all the occasions of our life.

This was not it, there were still more and interesting surprises in the box and one similar session was on self -awareness and feminism, self- growth, emotional health, self-esteem, roles and responsibilities associated with self, behaviors, transaction analysis & prejudice. The summary of these phases is; I am a precious worth-while mistake making person and that is my core worth, I won’t allow anyone to approach towards it.

Finally after 30 days, here I am back with new friendships and strong networks. Friendships beyond borders, it was a ride full of laughs, tears, strengths, secret sharings, endless jokes, sleepless nights, wonderful roommates, late night funny talks, unique birthday celebrations, wonderful whistling sessions, non-stop singing & dancing

The heavy concepts regarding globalization, neo-liberalism, climate change, gender and nationalism, care economy and house hold work, gender and internet, right to information, poverty, powerlessness and strategies to grass-root mobilization were discussed comprehensively.  Though, we use these terms normally but we hardly had ever thought that these terms will have such huge impact on our lives and overall on humanity. All these issues that we discussed and deconstructed in one month were extensive and important to evolve as mature individuals with their own strong opinions.

One of the important segments of this course was to not only talk about women’s right but also about health and well-being of women as well. We discussed contraceptives, Inter-sectionality, power & vulnerability, women’s bodies as sites of consumption, censorship and honor, sexual and reproductive health and rights & sexuality. Generally, in any course we ponder upon everything but we ignore the most important part of well-being that this course dealt with poise. We normally propagate even being feminists the message that how our bodies are – ugly, fat, not in shape which clearly is summed up in this quote “I am my body and my body is not me” we explored all patriarchal structures which are affecting and portraying our bodies negatively and broke all shackles and were comfortable in our own body and shape. 

I hardly could believe that this healthy one month of my life could come to an end. I never wanted this month to go by – to wake up early in the morning for yoga, healthy breakfast, series of activities and sessions till night, and what beautiful movie nights we had.  Even after coming back that specific routine rushes to my mind often. There were no boundaries of cultures, religions, social norms and patriarchal structures. Each session would start with a song. We came to know about our hidden talents and while singing and dancing we realized that we can also compose and write songs. I with a friend from Indian Occupied Kashmir wrote and sang a song for our beloved mentor, friend, Mother – Kamla Bhasin.

Lady with Positivity

“She taught us to touch the sky,

She taught us to see the light,

She taught us to have a positive sight,

She is the only one who taught us so…

She taught us to rise up high,

She taught us to be own light,

She taught us not to be shy,

She is the only one who taught us so…

She taught us ideas with clarity,

She did it all for charity,

She is the Goddess of our ideology,

She is the only one who taught us so..

She taught us to break patriarchy,

She taught us to break hierarchy,

She taught us to claim individuality,

She is the only one who taught us so…!

Finally after 30 days, here I am back with new friendships and strong networks. Friendships beyond borders, it was a ride full of laughs, tears, strengths, secret sharings, endless jokes, sleepless nights, wonderful roommates, late night funny talks, unique birthday celebrations, wonderful whistling sessions, non-stop singing & dancing. Our graduation ceremony was not less than a film in itself and I will never experience such graduation felicitation ever in life. It motivated us, inspired us and encouraged us to be stronger.

How effectively Sangat summarized everything in one month course, I still try to understand and am awestruck with all the hard work and creativity Sangat team had put in to keep us not only engaged but in a momentum to think and reflect.

Now a new journey in life for all of us has started and we are positively energized to replicate all learning’s and knowledge into our personal and professional lives.

The writer is Lahore based human rights defender and Chairperson of Youth Advocacy Network, she can be reached at [email protected]