Reactionary critique of the women’s movement from the Left and Right

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Hiba Jafri

(Note: East and West have been used throughout the article for the purpose of simplification. The organisation recognises the limitations and controversial nature of such terms.)

Be it women’s march or any other issue pertaining to the women’s movement, patriarchs of Pakistan and their apologists launch an offensive from all sides. The Right terms the entire feminist movement ‘western’ while certain sections of the Left are also found rejecting the movement as the recent press statement of the Awami Workers Party’s Balochistan chapter reveals. There are other such examples on social media as well where members of certain leftist organisations have criticised the women’s march in Pakistan.

The most common argument used in the country to reject every issue concerned with women is: “Our woman is not like that, she is content with her status in society and those women who are raising their voice these days against this status are inspired by western culture.” The best tool to crush every dissenting voice of women is to label the voice itself as ‘western’. This argument appears to be quite silly but the logic behind it is that if an eastern woman is raising her voice for her freedom, then she is playing in the hands of foreign powers as she is incapable of conceptualising the dream of freedom on her own. Such a logic limits the dream of freedom to a western one. On the contrary, women in the East have waged struggles against their oppression similar to the struggles waged by women in the West. In every part of the world and in every era, women have fought their war against patriarchy, be it the struggle for the right to vote in the west or the fight against compulsory hijab in Iran. Then, another important aspect to be considered is the solidarity extended by the oppressed section and working class of one part of the world to the oppressed and working class of another part of the world. Be it students in London raising slogans for the freedom of Palestine or Baloch activists’ solidarity with the Kurdish struggle, it is not unusual for one conscious people to support another. So why should the oppressed woman of one part of the world not support the oppressed section of another? Not only do the women of the East and the West have the right to be influenced by each other, they also learn from each other’s struggles – just like the working class of one part of the world engages with that of another. It cannot be denied that many-a-times imperialist powers have used women’s oppression as an excuse to invade, for example, Afghanistan, and used the excuse to say that the invasion is meant to protect Afghan women from the Taliban. At the same time, it cannot be denied that sections of western socialists and feminists opposed this war, too. The war of the oppressed across the world is a war against oppression. Therefore, solidarity with one another in this war is crucial.

Moreover, it is important to recognise how the Right in the West is mirrored by the Right in the East. If women enjoy certain freedoms in western countries, it is not because these countries one day decided to grant women their rights. In reality, women had to wage a struggle similar to the one currently happening in Pakistan. Those who would like to term the women’s rights movement as ‘western’ try to project an anti-imperialist image of themselves. The reality is contrary to this though. All such people are actually representing a mirror image of the right wing of the West as the Right across the world is standing against women’s freedom even today. It is important to remember that the rights that women enjoy today in western countries are the fruit of their own struggle and were not presented to them by some state on a platter. Now that women enjoy these rights in western countries, the countries in question, on the one hand, present themselves as progressive and, eventually, create a justification for interfering in the affairs of eastern countries. On the other hand, the Right in these countries continues to struggle against the women’s right to abort even today. The reactionaries in Pakistan try to present themselves as an anti-imperialist force when they term feminism a western concept. In reality, they are only representing a true image of the western Right themselves.

It is neither the West nor the East that can give women their rights and freedom. It has always been political struggle that has led women to achieve these rights. Feminist movements across the globe have extended solidarity to each other. Since women’s oppression is a global reality, therefore internationalist solidarity amongst women’s movement should not come as a surprise. Socialists and feminists should not allow reactionary criticism to serve as a hindrance in their struggles.

While the Right is organised against women’s movement on the one hand, we see similar tactics being employed by sections of the Left. The Awami Workers Party’s Balochistan chapter issued a statement to reject the Aurat March that took place on March 8. It further stated that the slogans raised at the march had nothing to do with working class women or their struggle. Not only does the statement lay bare once again the inner contradictions within the party, it also unveils the reactionary mindset of the Balochistan chapter of the party. Farooq Tariq, a central leader of the Awami Workers Party, said that the Balochistan chapter’s statement had nothing to do with the party. This is a step in the right direction. However, the party should have an internal debate on the issue so that the contradiction can be resolved. At this important juncture when women’s movement in Pakistan is gaining momentum, it is crucial for socialist and progressive organisations to decide whose side they are standing on. The principled stance of the Left should be in favour of the women’s movement and not the patriarchal approach of the reactionary Right.

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