Image Courtesy: storiesbeyondborders.com

HERStory is online archive of Pakistan's feminist history, as recorded and documented by its founders Sana Saleem and Ghausia Rashid Salam. It invites Pakistanis all over the world to interview local women, in an attempt to capture the rich history of the Nation’s feminist movement. I interviewed Sana and Ghausia for this article.

In 2014 Sana Saleem and Ghausia Rashid Salam interviewed Najma Sadeque, the original founder of the Shirkat Gah and the Women's Action Forum. Najma paints a picture of Pakistan 1975, a time when she was turning the political sphere on its head with her articles and activism on human rights, gender issues, and the environment. She told them stories of women fighting against daily injustices, and stories of women storming the streets to protect their voice – stories of Pakistani Feminists.

A few months after Najma Siddique’s interview for HERStory, she passed away.

This tragedy and loss reenforced something at the core of HERStory’s very existence: if we do not capture the stories of Pakistan's feminist past they will be lost forever.

"Pakistan has a rich history of feminism, and if we do not document it, as morbid as it sounds, women like us will take our stories to our graves,” Sana explains to me over Skype, as the azaan blares in the background.

While the 70s was a revolutionary time for Pakistani women, 2015 is seeing the nation somewhat paralized by the fear of being dubbed “The F-Word”. A mention of it, and you’re portrayed as a "man-hating lesbian who refuses to shave her armpits, or wear a bra." Society seems to have little time for such “NGO aunties” – women who are too outspoken, too feisty, and too independent. Apparently, we are also too much of “the wrong thing” to get a decent marriage proposal. While women’s rights is a topic heavily discussed in Pakistani circles, there is a disconnect from the feminist ideology itself. According to Sana, ending up as an "NGO aunty" is a legitimate and common fear many Pakistani women and girls have.

Despite being an outspoken and an open feminist, Ghausia still deals with the reality of her relatives sagaciously advising her on not becoming an NGO aunty “like those Tahira Abdullah or Asma Jahangir types”. Like many Pakistani feminists, Ghausia stumbled upon Pakistani feminism through a politically active friend, Nabiha Meher Sheikh, "She was, and is, frequently annoyed by how young people do not tear themselves away from Western theory to learn about their own legacy, and though she never directly addressed me, I knew I was part of those Western-gazed young feminists.", Ghausia explains.

"The Western-gazed young feminist" is something most Pakistanis can probably relate to. There’s a perception that feminism is a Western construct, available only for the privileged few. We look at videos on feminism, celebrity endorsements, and given that it is predominantly marketed as a Western concept, assume that we have no part in this narrative. Sana’s advice to the nation? “Go talk to your khalas, your daadis, and discover the feminists that surround you. If it is anyone’s narrative, it is yours."

And that is exactly how Ghausia, like myself, and like many other Pakistanis, found feminism. She remembers picking up a copy of Kishwar Naheed’s Buri Aurat Ke Katha and being absolutely fascinated by how the writer described her childhood. Yet after conversations at home, she discovered that her own mother had gone through those very same struggles. “That moment was it”, describes Ghausia, "my Feminist awakening.”

HERstory has the mission of humanising the concept of feminism, providing a culturally rich context to it, and allowing Pakistanis all over the world to reclaim the F-word, as something inherent to their identity. According to Sana, "We have a lot of catching up to do. We need to archive our past before our past becomes inaccessible.” And she’s right. We need a broader conversation about what it means to be a feminist in Pakistan. We need to reconcile our feminist history and remind the Nation about how indigenous the concept of feminism is to the Pakistani identity.

There is a time in every Pakistani woman’s life where you uncover something about your mother or grandmother, that stays with you for a lifetime. A reminder that every privilege you experience in your lifetime, is because of her fight for you. For many women, that is their moment. The moment that they decide to pledge allegiance to the F-word.

It is now up to us, as a nation, to uncensor it.