PAKISTAN: Not Just a Pretty Face – Speaking Out Against the Media Image of Pakistani Women

HAIG TER-GHEVONDIAN WRITES – According to an interview between Pakistani teacher Rubia Akram and Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation director Jennifer Lee, in 1947, during the war of independence in Pakistan, a woman named Dr. Fatima Jinnah fought alongside male soldiers. After the war ended, she became a national legend. Today she represents everything honored on International Women’s Day: the bravery, courage, and brilliance of women everywhere.

Women in Pakistani media today, however, are only considered empowered when they are seen as sex symbols.  When they are not, they are portrayed as weak and oppressed.

Rafia Zakaria of The Dawn News wrote “They get their media moment only when they are shot and killed; and in these days … with the war on terror, this happens often.”

In response to this media portrayal of weak women, the National Students Federation of Pakistan launched a Men Against Patriarchy Campaign through social media to fight against the image of the weak woman.

The NSF spread its campaign with the hashtag #MenAgainstPatriarchy through sites like Twitter and Facebook with images of students holding signs apologizing for the way women are portrayed as sexual objects or helpless victims of harassment.

The students are not alone in this fight. Hamza Ali Abbasi, a renowned Pakistani actor, showed his support by posting on Facebook about how women ought to be honored not just on International Women’s Day, but all the time. Abassi wrote “In every field of life including media, women must come out as symbols of respect, honour, dignity and courage.”

Others in the theater arts like playwrights Aisha Zia and Evie Manning also encourage the idea of the free woman in their play No Guts, No Heart, No Glory. A story about the lives of young, Muslim female boxers of Pakistani descent.

In an interview with Zia and Manning, Sarfraz Manzoor, writer for The Independent, discusses the current media portrayal of both Pakistani women and Muslim women, and how Zia and Manning hope their play can help break that trend. While traditional gender roles still affect the lives of some young British Muslim women from more conservative families, Manzoor notes that “The young women who feature in the play enjoy far greater freedoms and have more supportive parents than the women I knew when I was growing up…in a largely Muslim community in Luton…Things have, then, changed somewhat for the better and this is a story that is rarely reported. Manning and Zia’s play is important and a desperately needed corrective to the usual media narrative around young Muslim women which depicts them as oppressed and subservient, the victims of forced marriage or as aspiring jihadi brides.”

The campaign to honor the brave woman who follows her dream as opposed to the media-driven idea of the weak and helpless one in Pakistan is noble. Hopefully the movement will gain momentum both inside and outside of the region.

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