As the world celebrates International Women’s day today, a story that I put together while interning at GlobalPost comes to mind, on the “First Female Heads of State”. I could not help but notice that South Asia made it to the top with Sri Lanka, India and Paksitan, all of whom have had female prime ministers. If we expand to Asia, then Israel and Thailand also joins the list.
Of course there have been questions raised as to what this really means for women’s rights — it a symbolic victory, a real benchmark of progress? Or is it a result of the dynastic political structures that are embedded in a lot of these countries?
No doubt, Women heads of state whose families have a history in politics do derive their social and political stability from this lineage. This is not to say that they have not fought for social justice, but women’s rights can be a slippery slope.
While the Gandhi and Bhutto legacies live on in India, last year India and Pakistan, However today India has seen three female chief ministers in the past year, one of whom is a former Dalit or lower caste. Perhaps this has been our real break through for democracy and women.
The role of women has and continues to remain contested in South Asia. It’s easy to get caught up in the feminist lens of gender domination and inequality, but as for South Asia the narrative is more complex. I think that the best way for us to celebrate International Women’s day is to acknowledge that while we have a long way to go in terms of social injustices, there remains a long history of pioneering women, which extends beyond the field of politics. To forget them in our discourse on the role of women in South Asian would be an incomplete narrative.
NOTE: SAPAC and the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) are showing “Saving Face” at Tufts today. Pakistan’s oscar winning documentary, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, an award winning Pakistani journalist on one of the worst injustices that South Asian women face. Perhaps this stands as a testimony to the complex narrative of women in South Asia.