Women Writing South Asia: canons, curricula, careers

Rachel CarrollMMUf

This panel brings international perspectives to debates about the position of contemporary women’s writing in University curricula and questions of gender equality in relation to women’s academic and research careers in South Asia.  Bringing together UK-based and overseas scholars, activists, publishers and early career researchers, it examines the conditions in which contemporary South Asian women’s writing enters into canons of contemporary, feminist, postcolonial and world literature, considering the impact of publication, translation, marketing and reception practices.  Noting the predominance of Anglophone and diasporic writing in British and Western publication and academic contexts (Ranasinha, 2016), the panel will pay special attention to the diversity of ethnic, class, linguistic, regional and religious formations of South Asian literary expression, and provide a platform for critical reflection on the opportunities and challenges encountered by early career women researchers from South Asia. So doing, it will offer a vital opportunity to explore affinities and differences in strategies to redress gender inequality in Higher Education in the UK and South Asia, and to investigate the extent to which inequalities of access, opportunity and progression are mitigated or reinforced within the UK based academic publishing and research funding landscapes.

The panel is presented in partnership with the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association and is part of Women Writing Pakistan: gender in the South Asian Literary Landscape, a collaborative project supported by a QR Global Challenges Research Fund award and led by Rachel Carroll (Teesside) and Madeline Clements (Teesside). 

Confirmed speakers

Sofia Hussain, Assistant Professor, Department of English, International Islamic University, Islamabad; Muneeza Shamsie: author of Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani English Literature (2017) and editor of And The World Changed: Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women (2005); Munazza Yaqoob, Chair of the Department of English at IIU Female Campus, Islamabad and Director of the project Consciousness Raising of Pakistani Women on Contemporary Academic and Social Issues (2015-17); and Shirin Zubair, Professor of English, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore and author of the forthcoming Feminism, Gender and Education: A Study of Womens Literacies, Lives and Representations in Pakistan.

Panel Convenors

Madeline Clements, Senior Lecturer in English Studies at Teesside University and author of Writing Islam from a South Asian Muslim Perspective: Rushdie, Hamid, Aslam, Shamsie (2015); Rachel Carroll, Reader in English at Teesside University and author of Transgender and the Literary Imagination: Changing Gender in Twentieth-Century Writing (2018) and Rereading Heterosexuality: Feminism, Queer Theory and Contemporary Fiction (2012); Fiona Tolan, Senior Lecturer in English at Liverpool John Moores University and author of Margaret Atwood: Feminism and Fiction and co-editor of Writers Talk: Conversations with Contemporary British Novelists.

Individual Contributor Abstracts

How the World Changed: Early English Life Writing by Pakistani Women (Muneeza Shamsie)

This paper explores the lives of four pioneering women—Atiya Fyzee Rahamin, Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, Abida Sultaan and Shireen Nana—who employed the English language for life-writing, including memoirs and letters which reveal their determined struggle for empowerment and self. This paper will comment briefly on the role of Englishwomen on the development of the earliest Muslim women’s memoirs in undivided India. Thereafter, the discussion looks at Atiya Fyzee Rahamin’s Zamana-e-Tehsil which was first serialized between 1906—1907. This was the first Urdu travelogue about a trip to Europe by an Indian Muslim Women and which has a clear link to Iqbal published in English thirty years later. centering on the English letters written to her by the poet Sir Muhammed Iqbal. The paper will look at the autobiographies of Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah From Purdah to Parliament and Abida Sultaan’s Memoirs of a Rebel Princess which tell of two very different women who fought very different battles to fulfill their dreams of freedom and were among the earliest Pakistani women to be given diplomatic postings as Ambassador.  The paper will lead up to Letters to Emily: Life Inside and Outside the Haveli by Shireen Nana which consists of correspondence between Nana and her American friend, describing multi-layered, multi-cultural Pakistan. 

Practicing Critical Feminist Pedagogy in the Pakistani University Classroom: Possibilities and Challenges (Sofia Hussain, International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan)

The modern developmental discourses consider women’s education to be an important marker of their empowerment and economic independence. However, many studies indicate that the quantitative increase in the enrolment of girls and young women at primary as well as secondary level of education in Pakistan has not brought about any substantial change in the status of women, as they continue to face discrimination at all fronts and are subjected to different forms of harassment and violence. The current pedagogical practices prevalent in Pakistan are largely traditional that encourage the creation of docile and compliant individuals particularly women, who do not challenge the existing socio-cultural dynamics and reinforce the status quo which favors patriarchy. My paper argues that critical feminist pedagogical paradigms can be used as an alternative instructional model in higher educational settings, to enable young female learners to not only understand the gender bias that operates in different societal and academic structures, but also become critically conscious and empowered individuals who learn to deconstruct and dismantle such inequitable patterns. I also argue that, the course contents of a literature classroom in the universities can be effectively used to raise the consciousness of women by employing critical feminist pedagogical practices which emphasize the co-construction of knowledge by the learners, and the revision of the entire teaching-learning paradigm from a feminist perspective. These pedagogical practices insist on the inclusion of marginal perspectives, such as those of women and their experiences as a significant means of knowledge – making through interaction, collaboration, and negotiation. My paper is a presentation of my PhD research in which an experimental study was conducted on two batches of BS and MA, in the Department of English, Female Campus, International Islamic University, Islamabad. The students of the selected classes were taught the course of “Pakistani Literature in English” for a semester through critical feminist pedagogical paradigms and significant developments were observed in female learners’ abilities to understand, challenge and devise strategies to transform inequitable social structures. Henceforth, I argue that such alternative instructional models can become an important means to develop the critical consciousness of young women and make them more empowered and self-actualized individuals.

English and Feminist Studies in Pakistan: A Self-Reflexive Case Study (Shirin Zubair, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, Pakistan)

This paper problematises some of the issues surrounding Feminism within the teaching of English in contemporary Pakistan. The research reported here is based on an exploratory study of women studying feminist theories and texts as part of their MA / MPhil courses and how this impacts upon their identity.  Teaching of English (Literature) has always been ambivalent and controversial in Pakistan. On the one hand, English is promoted and aspired to as an international language of power and prestige while on the other, detested as a bearer of Western ideologies; colonial legacy is so deep-seated that policy makers, and academics alike prefer British- canonical-patriarchal texts over indigenous and/or feminist writers, although in the past two decades several Pakistani writers including women have won international acclaim for their literary works.  The research draws on Postcolonial, Muslim and Western feminist theories combined with self-reflexivity as a feminist research method to reflect on my experiences as a professor of English and a feminist educator at a state university in Pakistan. Using the self-reflexive approach from a feminist standpoint the research aims at unpacking the  institutional feelings and reactions, emotive  responses and reception practices that the teaching of  Feminism  and Women Studies entails in this context. Through citing anecdotal and empirical data, I bring out the rampant marginalization of Feminism and Women Studies courses and the persecution of feminist academics.  I also consider the discourse surrounding the related issues such as  the complex linkages between the gendered institutional practices, customary laws, discriminatory legislation,  sexist attitudes and linguistic codes such as chador aur char deewari (veil and four walls) and similar discursive constructions and practices. Thus this article calls for an awareness of the way in which the mainstream academy in Pakistan has been involved in stigmatizing and marginalising English Studies particularly Feminism and  Women’s Studies as transgressive and inappropriate forms of knowledge posing a threat to the structures and hegemony of the patriarchal academy. Further, the paper theorizes the ways in which feminist bodies are read, interpreted, and silenced within institutional spaces that are shaped by historical forces of state-sponsored Islamization campaigns that are built upon the bodies of women by illustrating how feminist bodies and the work that they do disrupt historically constructed hetero-patriarchal spaces structured by Islamization ideologies.

The overarching goal of the research is to theorize institutional feelings and reactions to further our understanding of how these gendered ideologies and discourses—promoted through discursive and coercive measures—might not only impede feminist epistemology and praxis within the discipline of English Studies, persecute feminist academics as Westernized and irrelevant, but also lead to the curtailment of general academic freedoms and violation of women’s human rights.

Gender Balance in Higher Education Institutions in Pakistan: A Pathway to Social Transformation and Development (Dr. Munazza Yaqoob, International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan)

Gender inequality, generally in the education sector and particularly in higher education has deprived women of voicing their concerns in policy designing and decision making in the areas of education, economic, and political planning in Pakistan. As a result of the absence of powerful voices of women, there is no significant transformation in socio-cultural scenarios of the country required to eliminate structures of inequality and discrimination. The gender equality index has placed Pakistan at 135thposition out of 136 countries. For Pakistan, like other developing countries, it is mandatory to address gender-based discrimination in education and human resource development institutions to achieve sustainable development goals. Pakistan is currently investing efforts to prioritize higher education and eliminate gender-based discrimination in access to higher education to benefit from the new trends in economy, which is predominantly knowledge-based. However, despite the efforts, women remain underrepresented in higher education institutions and have unequal access to higher education opportunities. My paper focuses on the under-representation of women in influential decision making and senior management positions in Pakistani universities to investigate the challenges and barriers women encounter to rise to higher positions of power and management. I mainly discuss the current trends of universities in Pakistan where access to higher academic positions and thus to senior management is based on publishing and conducting intensive research disregarding classroom teaching and familial responsibilities of women. Keeping in view, the socio-cultural constraints, such as family care, domestic responsibilities, and stereotypical understanding of the role of women in society, I also attempt to explore the institutional structures and policies which further contribute in marginalizing women and gravitate them towards lower positions and hinder their access to senior academic as well as managerial positions. The discussion will involve other issues related to this marginalization, such as absence of or ineffective women’s networks, lack of women’s access to academic and professional networks, research funding and publishing opportunities, facilities for mobility and training, and other such opportunities to improve their expertise and skills necessary to maneuver their way to higher academic and management positions. I will also probe the impact of the communication styles, mentoring, and adequate educational support required to facilitate women to manage their disproportionate responsibilities, both at home and workplace. The paper argues that women at managerial positions and influential academic positions can serve as an effective strategy to encourage and have more women in higher education and at higher decision-making positions to achieve sustainable development goals and a meaningful social transformation in Pakistan. The data will be collected from three major universities in Pakistan, which include International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI), COMSATS University, Islamabad, and National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad.

Sat 2:15 pm - 3:30 pm