Pakistan is a country filled to the brim with a variety of cultural diversity, ethnicities and lots of undiscovered talent. Like any newly developed sovereign state, Pakistan has had its share of political and historical strife, both external and internal and we still have a long way to go when it comes to our education, our ability to do away with sectarian and religious violence and in particular the way we deal with women’s issues. There has been, however, a recent rise in the all girl movement here in Pakistan, with a plethora of different movements and organizations coming together for many different causes but one united end goal; to empower women and girls all across the nation and hopefully get the guys on board too.
The main gist of what movements like “Girls at Dhabbas” or “Women on Wheels” aim to achieve is to reclaim the public spaces that are predominantly thought suitable only for men. According to a study conducted by the Humans Right Watch it is a fact that around 70 to 90 per cent of women in Pakistan are subject to untold violence within their homes, which are considered to be safe havens whereas we are constantly being told that it is the streets that are a dangerous place for the “fairer sex.” This apparent contradiction is something that seriously needs to be addressed within the public domain and a new platform for women to discuss their issues has finally emerged; the idea of the all girl comedy troupe. Women doing comedy is not a new concept in the international community, with phenomenal female comedians like Amy Schumer, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler taking the world by storm, however, back here in Pakistan it is a different story and even the comic world is hegemonized by men. This is exactly what comedy troupes such as The Khawatoons and The Auratnaak Show are attempting to do away with. Through the inclusion of women and girls into the unchartered territory that is stand up and improv comedy; these brave ladies are brilliantly challenging the archaic norms of our society while simultaneously leaving us all in throes of uncontrollable laughter.
The Khawatoons, a Karachi based endeavor, led by comedienne extraordinaire, Faiza Saleem, is a novelty not only here in Pakistan but also is the first of its kind throughout South Asia. It was started by Faiza about 9 months ago in July, 2016 because she felt that women were thoroughly under-represented when it came to the world of comedy and consequently were always the butt of crude and sexist jokes. It is true that whatever forms of comedy that the Pakistani audience finds entertaining is what can be labeled as “crass humor”, lacking in both creativity and wit and is usually at the expense of women! Faiza, who herself has always felt a great passion to pursue the performing arts recently left her job at a well established law firm to make comedy her full-time job. “Comedy in our part of the world is so male dominated that most women do not even consider it as a career option. Also, due to social constraints they are held back to a great extent.” The problem with stereotypes is that once accepted by society, they stick and this is one adhesive we should be extremely vary of because not only does this hold an entire gender back from achieving their potential but in doing so holds back the entire nation.
The Khawatoons address deeply embedded social issues in such a light hearted, entertaining manner so as to engage the audience and not outright bore them; people go to the shows for some laughter therapy but in the process leave with some important issues to ponder upon. Issues like “elite feminism” and body shaming come up a lot in the show’s overall theme which go largely ignored as Faiza feels people, especially the aunties of the house feel no wrong in highlighting the fact the one is fat. She says in her blog, “For Fatties With Love”, “Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that their words could be more harmful to our hearts than a cheeseburger will ever be,” According to Faiza, the men and women who attend their shows usually come initially just to experience the foreign concept of women commanding the stage so confidently, but she is sure that once people realize the group is “good as comedians and not just female comedians” the doubts and criticism surrounding their work will crumble down and we may just see the first few cracks begin to appear in the elusive glass ceiling which is defined as "the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements."
Globally, there has been greater dissent about the systematic exclusion of women from positions of power within the political and social dialogue, especially in the discourse that directly concerns them. The hotly contested picture on twitter of the American president Donald Trump and members of his Freedom Caucus lawmakers deciding women’s issues such as maternity leave has faced a lot of backlash because there were no female members there to provide their input. Sadly, this mirrors our own representation problem with men mostly deciding on women’s issues entirely without taking the female perspective into account.
Platforms such as The Auratnaak show where women and men come together to do away with notions of gender roles and speak up against the taboo topics in society aim to eradicate the preconceived notions of how women should act or be in the public sphere are a great way to start. The hope is that the Pakistani society is finally ready to accept some positive change and start accepting women in previously unheard of roles so that this becomes the norm.