Feminism is a personal choice: Bina Shah on identifying herself as a Feministani

Bina Shah is a writer, author and columnist who has established herself as one of the foremost feminist and cultural commentators in the country.

She has written extensively about Pakistani culture, women’s rights and education for girls. Bina Shah is highly sought as a speaker on female empowerment in Pakistan given her work on cross-cultural promotion and diplomacy. Her latest feminist dystopian novel ‘Before She Sleeps’ received immense praise in the literary spehere. 

We spoke to the ‘Femanistani’ Bina Shah to addresses several myths and misconceptions about feminism.

MM News: You identify yourself as Feministani. Was there any particular moment or personal experience that led you to this?

Bina Shah: I was a child during the Zia days, but I remember the clampdowns on women and the protests that were held against the Hudood Ordinances. This really left an impression on me about the position of women in our society.

MM News: Have you experienced backlash – either online or in real life – as a result of being Feministani and if so, how do you cope with it?

Bina Shah: There will always be backlash against feminism, and I have experienced both online and real life versions. I like to explain feminism to see if misunderstandings can be cleared up, but if the response becomes abusive, then I usually ignore and block.

MM News: What is the essence of feminism for you?

Bina Shah: The idea that women should be given equal opportunities, rights and status as citizens of Pakistan; that their safety and security should be protected from gender-based violence; and that nothing should be taken away from them on the basis of their gender.

MM News: What has led feminism to be perceived so negatively in Pakistan?

Bina Shah: A concerted effort to label feminism as un-Islamic, Western, and designed to destabilize society by conservative elements who do not wish to concede power to women.

MM News: A feminist who inspires you is? 

Bina Shah: I am inspired by Ms. Anis Haroon, who was the chairperson for the National Committee for the Status of Women, and an original member of Women’s Action Forum (WAF). She continues to be one of Pakistan’s foremost women’s rights activists, and I admire greatly her principles, values, and commitment to the cause of feminism throughout her life. 

The current chairperson of the Sindh Commission for the Status of Women, Ms. Nuzhat Shirin, is also a brave and impressive feminist. Throughout the Covid pandemic, she has been continuing her work for oppressed women, visiting victims and going to court with them.

MM News: A saying or quote you live by?

Bina Shah: I can’t think of any at the moment!

MM News: Feminism as anti-men is a common misconception in Pakistan. How can we begin to address this?

Bina Shah: People need to do their homework on feminism, read more about feminism, and understand both the theory and the practice. They also need to read how women have suffered around the world because of gender-based oppression practiced by both men and women who believe women are inferior to men.

MM News: Some argue Feminism as incompatible with Islam. How do you perceive this?

Bina Shah: Islam guarantees women basic rights of safety and security, property, inheritance and financial independence and does not bar them from pursuing education or employment. If your feminism begins and ends with Islam, there is nothing wrong with that.

MM News: Three books you think everyone should read to better understand feminism? 

Bina Shah: The War on Women by Sue Lloyd Robert, We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, Down Girl: the Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne

MM News: Can or should we encourage men to be feminists too?

Bina Shah: I prefer to think of men as feminist allies rather than feminists. if they align themselves with feminists and the fact that women and men deserve equal treatment under the law, access to educational and economic opportunities. I do appreciate men who call themselves feminists, although sometimes we see them taking the space that should be given to women to be seen and heard.

MM News: Your advice to women reluctant to call themselves feminists?

Bina Shah: Nobody should feel pressured to call themselves a feminist or not. That is a personal choice. You can be supportive of feminism without identifying as one — that doesn’t bother me very much.

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