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As we enter a new century, with its promise of change, women in Pakistan often emerge as its best face forward. At the same time, a persistent and growing trendline of disadvantage and discrimination throws up a harsh counterfactual to the motivating success stories. Knitting these skeins together is the complex, long, often untold tale of women who think, speak, act and give up a part of their comfort zone to push the rights agenda, to take on the architecture of patriarchy and extremism or to call out resurgent misogynies. This is a book about these women, by these women, for the women who struggle to find a voice.
This anthology of essays attempts to do two things. It seeks first to provide testament and context to women’s activism through the lived experience and voices of pioneers who not just headlined the rights struggle in Pakistan, but also gave it intellectual meaning and moral quest. In this endeavour, this book looks to capture a repository of important voices in order to create a slice of memory. The second idea motivating this collection is to probe the connection between the fairly coherent movement of the 1980s to the post-millennial activism that is challenging norms and pushing the boundaries of patriarchy today. Without forcing a grand narrative on the essays, a selection of younger writers uses this space to grapple with persistent barriers reified by the state, while speaking to new problems that tag on to new opportunities. These young women seek to add their voices to the changing face of women’s activism in contemporary Pakistan, while building a new vocabulary to address emerging challenges.