Thursday, April 19, 2012

What does it mean to be an empowered woman?

Pashtuns, Social Networking, and Gender Empowerment: What does it mean to be empowered?

When I first decided to write on the topic of Pashtun women’s empowerment through social networking and specifically through blogging, I was searching for the blogs of those Pashtun women who engaged themselves in “intellectual” discussions, writing on “serious” topics, such as politics, society, and religion. I was not, for example, looking for blogs replete with “gossip” or “every-day things.” I wanted to find signs of heterodoxy, explicit discussions of taboo subjects (though I hadn’t yet decided what “taboo” meant in a Pashtun context), perhaps disagreement with status quo, with the roles typically associated with Pashtun and other Muslim women (which are primarily domestic and private roles as opposed to public). But I realized that I was excluding an important circle of Pashtun women bloggers who perhaps simply had no problem with the roles with which they might be associated. Although this is not to imply that they are indeed necessarily satisfied with their current roles, I did realize that the absence of discussions of certain topics in itself reveals quite a lot about what this particular circle of bloggers view as important. Hence, what does it mean to be empowered? What does an empowered woman do or talk about, and how does she show her empowerment? These are the questions I intend to answer in my study.

It seems that much of the research on social networking and women’s empowerment suggests that in order for a female blogger to be empowered or to express her empowerment, she must be engaged in public discussions of “taboo” subjects such as sex. While I am not denying the empowerment of such women, I do question what it means to be empowered. What of those women who feel empowered but do not feel comfortable writing about, or simply do not wish to write about or are not interested in, such subjects? Is it not possible for a woman to work and live inside the social, political, and religious system that has bred her and in which she continues to live and struggle, but still feel empowered? Must, for example, she express disagreements with her society and surroundings in order to show that she is an empowered being? I suggest that this reading of women’s empowerment excludes those women who prefer to express their empowerment through other means rather than through writing about subjects such as sex and love….

Going back to the earlier point about my initial objective of seeking only “serious” blogs, I’ve been asking myself what exactly a “serious” blog is. And why was I excluding “non-serious” and “gossip” blogs from my study? Indeed, why is gossiping bad? More importantly, what constitutes gossip? How do we know, for example, that women talking about “non-serious” topics does not empower them? I opine that gossiping is given a negative status among intellectuals because it is generally a women’s activity—not a men’s activity—and women’s activities tend to be given much less importance than men’s activities. Since gossiping is often not associated with intelligence and one way through which intelligence is measured is by the lack of gossiping one does, women who do choose to gossip are simply not “intelligent” then. Could this be why I was seeking “serious,” “intellectual” discussions—searching only for “intelligent” Pashtun women?

My definition: I propose that empowerment is a process that mobilizes an individual intellectually, mentally, and/or physically in such a way that she realizes her worth as a participant of her society and community and thus contributes to it by engaging in activities she finds purposeful and productive, whether for herself or for her society, activities that instill in her a sense of personal significance; through this process, she recognizes, appreciates, and exercises her power as significant community member. Blogging is one such activity that may lead to one’s feeling empowered.

So, what do YOU think it means to be empowered, and what do you think an empowered person acts like and talks about?


  1. Empowered woman in my opinion means an economically independent, politically aware, legally conscious, socially daring , religeously knowledegable and emotionally mature woman.

  2. Za mara! That's too vague, kana. Too ambiguous. What is "economically independent? "Politically aware"? Legally conscious? What, most of all, is "socially daring"? And so on. I would appreciate an elaboration, if you get a chance.

  3. Economically independent - I.e. Has a job, has graduated in a field of her choice and hasn't made it her goal in life to become a mindless TV watching trophy wife.

    Everything else can be summed up by the word Knowledgeable - I.e. her knowledge extends beyond designer handbags, cooking and all things pink to things that matter more to human beings who aren't completely self obsessed e.g religion politics philosophy - and I don't mean the sort of shallow awareness that one gains by watching a 5 minute news broadcast everyday.

    There are also men who do not empower themselves - they live off their parents' money for their whole lives, squandering their inheritance left right and centre as if it were a God given right - the quintessential "burger for life" who does what he wants when he wants - and throws a tantrum when daddy isn't there to save him. You find such people in all families.

    In general I'd say nobody is empowered until their character is such that other people are inspired by them and want to either be like them or spend as much time as possible around them. (Of course If they're no longer around then people want to read about them to feel closer to them).

  4. The problem with that thinking, I believe, is that it assumes that a woman who doesn't work or doesn't want to work or can't work is not empowered. And why is "knowledge" about anything other than handbags and other "feminine" things not appreciated and not a sign of empowerment? As I said above, why are discussions of politics, religion, philosophy, etc. more important, more "empowering" than discussions of fashion and other activities typically associated with women only? Why do we think that discussions of fashion are shallow?

    It is very interesting that your idea of women's and men's empowerment is different -- and understandably so. I like it.

    I love the last paragraph - good, good.

    Thanks for your comments, guys! Much appreciated, always!

  5. The reason people put so much emphasis on financial independence is that when you are financially dependent - (I.e. you rely on somebody for the roof over your head) you are ideologically limited by the scope of whatever they find to be acceptable - for example, growing up in your parents house there are certain things you cannot say or do because a) it would upset them and b) you are dependent on them.

    To be completely free one must own enough capital to generate a decent income without having to work every day one gains enough free time to become a philosopher (Plato) - hence slaves cannot be philosophers.

    Lets see now - Fashion, Handbags etc involve detailed attention to one's appearance, which is a sign of vanity and narcissism. At the most you will experience a small fall in social status for not wearing what is "in fashion" - (In law we measure the importance of remedies by their results). As long as you wear something - and don't go out naked it does the job!

    If we look at Politics Religion and Philosophy - They concern all humankind, and your political/religious beliefs will have a large influence on how you act and how you think others should act - Often these decisions i.e. to go to war or not - to support a certain policy or not - to believe in God or not. Have far reaching consequences and are in my opinion more important than Fashion - If you make a metaphor out of these three things - then it is impossible not to wear them and go outside naked. While I can choose to go outside wearing any old sweater ! - I won't wake up and go right today I'm going to choose any old religion. Phew I think that answers everything ( ma la pata che you're just waiting to tear my answer to shreds though haha)

  6. I will share my opinion that women are tooooo much empowered in Pakhtun Society. Take the example of Mother; she is running the whole house and dominating every decision. Another example is mother-in-law; you cannot dare to challenge her. Another example is Wife; ...... di bara ki sa nasham wailay charta ye ona gori ;)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Saif! Greatly appreciated :)

      Mara, you know what I've noticed? People mixing the roles and rights of *woman* with that of *mother*! Any time someone says, "Women are dominated by men," the response is almost always: "NOO THEY ARE NOT!! Mothers-in-law are the most dominating people ever!"
      Firstly, not all women are mothers.
      Secondly, not all women are mothers-in-law :)
      Thirdly, mothers-in-law tend to oppress and dominate a very specific group of women: their own daughters-in-law! Not other women, not their own daughters, not their sisters, etc., etc. Can we say the same about a man who dominates other women? He tends to dominate all the women in his household (maybe except his mother)! That includes his sisters, wife (almost always), female cousins, etc.

      But as far as your comment about the role of the mother is concerned, really? I don't know of any--okay, maybe 3 or 5--mothers who are in charge of their household affairs.

      Most importantly, however, notice something: the women you're speaking of have a very private role, and their role is usually dominating other women. But I would caution against confusing empowerment with dominating others :) A mother-in-law who dominates, oppresses, otherwise rules over or hurts another woman isn't an empowered woman in my opinion. Just because you can't challenge her opinion or decision doesn't make her an empowered creature; it makes her an insecure, vicious woman who's afraid of critical feedback.

      Manana for your thoughts :)

  7. I would say ur an empowered woman, and a perfect example... I would marry you hella fast!!!


Dare to opine :)

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