Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies Conference – March 1994

Women’s Studies as a discipline is an unfamiliar concept in Pakistan. Even within academic set ups, it is often misunderstood to be a course on home sciences. While formal institutes have had a problem defining Women’s Studies, the universities are equally at a loss in their approach to the courses. In effect, the very interdisciplinary and multi dimensional nature of Women’s Studies is being defeated through misconceptions and an absence of a theoretical framework to inform such courses. 

In order to convey the multidisciplinary and holistic approach of Women’s Studies, ASR had proposed an Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies Conference. The aim was to extend the definition of Women’s Studies by bringing together Pakistani women’s opinion and ideas on national issues and policies, resistance and visions as expressed through academic writings, fiction, activism, artistic and cultural expression. The idea was to provide a forum for the convergence of all these facets and related disciplines that make Women’s Studies the dynamic concept it is.

This initiative stems from ASR’s involvement in several socioeconomic research studies; in conceptual and theoretical research; in action oriented participatory research; in teaching and training and in working on training methodologies.

In March 1994, ASR organised a National Multidisciplinary Women’s Studies Conference in Lahore. This Conference was extremely successful both thematically and in terms of the workshops, papers, issues and multidimensional activities and exhibitions. It was also very successful organisationally and this has given tremendous confidence to the ASR team and those involved in the Women’s Studies Centre in its ability to handle large-scale initiatives especially in connection with the Women’s Studies/Women in Development Training Centre.

The thematic workshops for which papers were written for this Conference were; Women and Development, Women, Identity and Ideology, Writing and Creative Arts, the Women’s Movement.

The decision to organise such a Conference stemmed from the belief that women in Pakistan have been contributing to and involved in Women’s Studies but most initiatives have been fragmented and restricted to the social sciences. ASR has always considered Women’s Studies to be much more interdisciplinary and a coming together of individual and collective expressions in relation to women, their relationship to development and their creativity as part of development.

The Women’s Studies Conference was the first such event initiated in Pakistan. Some 60 women who wrote papers for the Conference came together from across Pakistan from different disciplines to share and pool their expressions into a collective whole in the form of Women’s Studies in Pakistan. As estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people were mobilised in this event as participants, organisers, volunteers/helpers, viewers, spectators and observers of the open day presentations, debates, discussions, multimedia art exhibition, theatre, continuous film and book festival, the Urdu poetry recitation, musical evening, prose readings, dance performance, art slide show and the opening and closing ceremonies, candle-lit street demonstration against violence against women and so on. As much of the news coverage suggests, it was considered one of the most pioneering, ambitious and well-received events in Pakistan in a long while and certainly, on behalf of women.

This was the first attempt in Pakistan to bring women across disciplines and for some, the first coming together even within a discipline. More than the energy and inspiration that sustained the whole Conference, the differentiating marker was the space the Conference provided for sharing, questioning, debating, critical analysis, input to ongoing research or work and challenging of views. The Conference provided an opportunity to clarify and expand on the meaning of Women’s Studies and to affirm the interests and contributions of women in the country as well as to encourage more to be actively involved in this field.

ASR published a series of publications of the papers and debates which came out of the conference.

A Celebration of Women – Essays and Abstracts from the Women’s Studies Conference March 1994

Other titles include:

Locating the Self: Perspectives on Women and Multiple Identities

Sex Crime in the Islamic Context: Rape, Class and Gender in Pakistan

Masculinity, Rationality and Religion: A Feminist Perspective

Aspects of Women and Development

In Her Own Write: Short Stories by Women Writers in Pakistan

 

Title Date Resource person / paper presenters Number of Participants
‘A Celebration of Women’ Interdisciplinary Women Studies Conference

 

Themes of the Conference:

·     Issues of Identity

·     Women and Literature

·     Women and Creativity

·     Women’s Movement

·     Women and Development

Other simultaneous activities:

·     Art Exhibition, film festival, book festival, theatre festival, feminist Mushaira etc.

21 – 25 March, 1994 Nighat Said Khan, Afia Zia, Rukhsana Qambar, Durre Ahmad, Neelam Hussain, Kishwar Naheed, Salima Hashmi, Anis Haroon, Fareeha Zafar 200 participants in Academic part

 

5 – 6 Resource person in each workshop

Total Number of participants 2000