Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Emory University
Intergenerational Politics of Women's Rights Activism in Pakistan

This project interrogates practices and discourses of rights in two women’s rights organizations in urban Pakistan. Women’s Action Forum (WAF) was established in 1981, by elite, professional women challenging laws discriminating against women, during the first wave of ‘Islamization’. Girls at Dhabas (GaD) was formed in 2015, by a group of young, middle- and lower-income women, lobbying for women’s safe access to public spaces, as a civic right. While WAF challenges the state through legal reforms, GaD utilizes social media to engender societal change. Attending to the differential practices of both organizations, this project asks: What are the causes and consequences of intergenerational changes and rifts in the women’s rights movement in Pakistan? Recent anthropological literature on women’s agency presents Muslim women’s piety as an alternative to liberal, secular autonomy. This project explores a ‘third way’ outside the analytical binaries of secular/religious agency, by studying women who constantly innovate their practices and discourses of rights in response to changing circumstances and hierarchies imposed on them. Using semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and social media analysis, this project assesses the hypothesis that women’s agency, and broader shifts in women’s movements, can be understood through a close study of evolving organizational practices and discourses. Youth-based social movements in the Muslim world reveal a growing commitment to social justice and human rights. These movements are influenced by new media, transnational solidarities among activists, and global movements such as #MeToo. By applying an intergenerational lens to women’s rights activism in Pakistan, this project will contribute to studies of social movements and civil society, the anthropology of rights, women’s studies, and media studies. This project underscores the vibrancy and potential efficacy of female agency in a country often presumed to be controlled by stringent, state-sponsored Islam, and demonstrates how feminist orientations survive under putatively inimical conditions.