This March 8, being the devout feminist that I am, I found myself attending a feminist Open Mic that was held at Books n Beans, hosted by the Democratic Students Alliance.
This was actually the second in the series. The first one, in November last year, had seen an amazing audience turnout. It hadn’t a specific theme and opened the floor for discussions regarding all kinds of topics such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, the importance of feminism and more.
This time around the theme was pre-decided — ‘Faith, family and culture’. The purpose was to discuss how being a feminist comes with its own internal and external struggles such as the lack of space to just be yourself, and practice your own beliefs, without being frowned upon by families, culture, or just society, in general.
The discussion was interesting and helped in broadening views on feminism and why we as a people need it in our daily lives.
The house rules laid out at the outset deserve a mention. Apart from giving all those wishing to speak a standard amount of time, they also called for “a safe space” where whatever people had to say would be listened to attentively and whatever they were saying would be met with appreciation and respect.
Furthermore, this was a “judgment free zone” and the speakers were asked not to use their allotted time to backlash at anything they did not approve of.
Lastly, a rule that was much valued was that if the speakers were to speak about, say, rape or molestation, they had to give a warning, as these could trigger a strong reaction among the audience.
The first person who shared her story talked about a completely different narrative than most girls in Pakistan are familiar with. While most of us dream of roaming the city on our own, we are often denied that liberty. This woman, on the other hand, was given the freedom to do just that. How, you ask? Well, because she managed to change her parent’s minds and showed them how she deserved the same privileges as her male counterparts.
The lady told the audience that in order to make change happen “we need to be that change.”
Another woman shared her experience — of owning a company and how she did all the work for it herself and was respected for it despite being a woman. In the end, she urged everyone to do whatever their heart wants them to. “And if it means going against conservative and traditional views, we should still do it.”
The next speaker was a male who, despite broadly agreeing with feminism, had a few misgivings about the concept. He raised the question of why the feminist movement is only a western concept and why have we not localised it as yet.
This was a valid point and feminism should indeed be ‘localised’ so that it is not only the elite class that is aware of it but also the working and middle classes.
It should not be classified as a man-hating movement. His concern that feminism used the example of men as the ‘big, bad wolf’ in a way showed how people reacted to feminism and so laid down space for further discussion.
There are men who have already converted to the idea and soon after, another man came up and recited a poem he had written after cleverly reversing a poem by Kishwar Naheed titled ‘Hum gunahgaar auratein’ calling it ‘Hum ghairatmand mard’ where he talked about how men constantly put women below them.
Lastly, a woman who had brought along a team of fifteen girls from Hunza and Chitral, as a part of a project they were doing for Aga Khan Cultural Development, spoke about how it is extremely important for us to bring about social change in our society and let go of the mindset that forces us to think about what people say. “It is this very attitude of ours that brings us down because we care too much about what society thinks,” she said. The audience cheered in response.
The Open Mic provided an opportunity to hear stories of struggles as feminists and women. What made this healthier was the fact that there was ample room for dissent. We need to hold more of such events in Lahore.