Imperialist Baji | Feministaniat

Jan 2015

Feministaniat | BLOG

‘Hello my Aman-o-Nisa sisters!’, Hilary Clinton greeted a delegation of elite Pakistani NGO ‘Women Moderating Extremism’ in Washington, DC in 2012.

Aman-o-Nisa members looking pretty star-struck upon meeting Sister Hillary

Aman-o-Nisa members looking pretty star-struck upon meeting Sister Hillary

Let me introduce you two the sisters in the picture above:

Aman-o-Nisa is a coalition of elite Pakistani NGO women leaders who were brought together, trained, funded and sent to DC by US-based organizations like United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Institute of Inclusive Security and the US State Department. After a two-year training, the coalition was sent as a delegation to Washington, DC for a week, where they met with US policymakers and made recommendations on how to make the War on Terror efforts more inclusive to the voices of elite NGO women. They lobbied for things like increased financial support for women’s organizations working in support of the War on Terror and the induction of more women in the security apparatus. Groundbreaking stuff, really.

Hillary Clinton is a renowned Imperialist Feminist.

As an elder sister (Hadia Baji), even though I have a fair share of stories of how complicated sisterhood can be, I find this bond of solidarity between our Imperialist Baji, Sister Hillary, and NGO-wallis a bit strange. For instance, why is Hillary so interested in taking fifteen minutes out of her very busy schedule (those wars don’t plan themselves) to tell a bunch of NGO-aunties that they are her sisters? And why are these NGO-aunties so eager to go all the way to DC to meet with Hillary, Nancy Pelosi and other such important-types (other than from reaping the obvious benefits of foreign hotelling shotelling)?

Sister Pelosi was given a wooden jewelry box because, you know, sisters gotta have each other’s back. #sisters4eva

Sister Pelosi was given a wooden jewelry box because, you know, sisters gotta have each other’s back. #sisters4eva

If sisterhood is defined as the close relationship of solidarity between women based on their shared experiences and interests, then what is the basis of this particular behanchara?

First off, the whole performance is orchestrated by the State Department. Native informants are transported from the so-called patriarchal margins of the world, which also happen to be where the US has strategic interests, into the centre of imperialist power, Washington, DC. Hillary, our leading feministwasher of imperialist wars, under whose administration the US government has made strides in making  ‘women a foreign policy issue’, uses a quarter of an hour for a photo-opp which shows liberal feminists around the world that women are supporting the War on Terror across the Imperial and Client-State divide.

On the other side of the sisterhood, we have NGO-wallis, who work closely with the Pakistani State and support its efforts in the War on Terror, accepting the sisterly love of the US in order to ensure their own livelihoods by lobbying for more imperialist funding for NGO work (money can buy love). They do this by presenting themselves as the authentic brown woman who is both indigenous enough to understand and translate the realities of the ‘Third World Woman’ for the imperialist audience and liberal enough to support and execute the task of imperialism. Sameena Imtiaz, a member of Aman o Nisa, said that meeting Hilary ‘meant a lot’ to the group because she is ‘a huge supporter of women’. Last year, while I was interviewing Imitiaz for a study I did on the Military-development nexus and its impact on women’s empowerment work in Pakistan, I asked her what she thought of women’s empowerment funding being tied to imperialist strategies, she dismissed my proposition by saying that the US does not have a ‘clandestine agenda’ in Pakistan. That is, the support for imperialism and its feminism is so normal for some sisters, that pointing out the obvious is ridiculed as conspiracy.

This behanchara between an Imperialist Baji and her choti liberal NGO-walli behan doesn’t just gloss over the lives and voices of all the women who have been killed and dispossessed by the American and Pakistan States, it explicitly supports these ventures. In fact, the drone attacks and military operations like Zarb-e-Azab are supported by the main women’s rights and human groups: Aurat Foundation (who also happened to be the recipient of a $40 million grant from USAID), Shirkat Gah (Ed. note: please see update below), Women’s Action Forum and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Most NGO-wallis I spoke to also support the US-led War on Terror. Many of them also downplay the atrocities of this war by arguing that ‘at least something is being done’ for women’s empowerment in Pakistan because of the influx of development aid.

While many on the left recognize the complicity of Pakistani women’s organizations in Imperialist ventures, some people I spoke to during my research were still hesitant in publicly denouncing their work because ‘they’ve (Aurat Foundation etc.) done a lot for women, they are not the enemy.’ I disagree. I think it’s high time that we denounce the liberal feminist NGO-walli’s support for her Imperialist Baji and her mischiefs.

Update: Shirkat Gah distanced itself from the statement in a Facebook post. For more, see the author’s comment below in the thread.

39 Responses to Imperialist Baji | Feministaniat

  1. raheem on Jan 2015 at 8:55 AM

    this article has factual errors…. shirkat gah does not take US funds as a matter of principle and WAF is not an NGO…. it attributes a personal opinion to that of an organization’s position…. this is bad editing and unethical…. had thought that tanqeed would be a different left forum. sad

  2. Farzana Bari on Jan 2015 at 2:56 AM

    How silly? How could you call these NGO women shown in the picture as feminist as they do not know the ABC of feminism and never claimed themselves as feminist? The author is serving an imperialist agenda by imposing feminist identity on these women in order to discredit feminism and feminist movements around the world. Personally, I reject the terminology such as “Imperialist feminism” or “Liberal Fascists”. These are the terms coined by imperialists and their agents to create confusion and to undermine the core ideas of feminism and liberalism that challenge the material basis of imperialism built on class, gender, race, and other social divisions. In my view a feminist by definition can not be an imperialist and a liberal can not be a fascist.

    As a feminist I claim the term feminism and reject those women organizations/ NGOs who may have played in the hands of imperialist power as feminists. The role of NGOs and “rights activists” making justice claim within neoliberal framework should not be considered as part of the history of feminist movements.

    As feminist, I reject these pseudo intellectuals who are promoting intentionally or unintentionally the imperialist agenda by discrediting feminism that may have different shades but all fundamentally challenge the material basis of patriarchy and imperialism that work in tandem to create and recreate social division for economic exploitation.

    • Zahra on Mar 2015 at 5:18 AM

      I think Dr Farzana Bari failed to understand that the reference to these women as “feminists” was meant to be ironic.

  3. Nabiha Meher Shaikh on Jan 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Extremely important to critique imperial funding sources and complicity. However, not ok to defame. Shirkat Gah issued a statement saying they were not in support. Shouldn’t Tanqeed be asking writers to fact check? A simple phone call to any Shirkat Gah office could have sufficed.

  4. Hadia Akhtar on Jan 2015 at 8:02 PM

    It was brought to my attention that Shirkat Gah distanced itself from the pro-war statement through a Facebook post. The post says:

    ‘We at Shirkat Gah wish to distance ourselves from the statement regarding the North Waziristan operation, published on behalf of Pakistani civil society organizations in various newspapers. It must be clarified that our views have been misrepresented in the newspapers and online; Shirkat Gah never endorsed the recommendations mentioned in the posts.’

    The problem with this post is that it wasn’t publicly circulated like the original letter signed by the organization. It is now eight of months since the pro-war statement was published in a number of venues. That is sufficient time for organizations wishing to protect their reputations to have published and circulated a press release or other public text denouncing a statement that supports a “war” which has had tragic and catastrophic consequences for FATA. Given the disastrous pro-war policies that the statement advocates, one would expect organizations opposing the “war” to do at least that. Furthermore it remains vague about what exactly it is that Shirkat Gah is distancing itself from.

    Moreover, Shirkat Gah has also supported the war in other more visible spaces like the National Commission of the Status of Women’s Conference in 2009 where both Nighat Said Khan and Fareeda Shaeed, the previous and current EDs of Shirkat Gah, were present. The conference recommended more drone strikes and emphasized the role of civil society in actively propagating pro-war discourse:

    ‘The previous discourse of State has to be replaced by new discourse against the Talibanization. This can be done by civil society organizations; National Commission on the Status of Women can develop various discourses and disseminate those through means of brochures and pamphlets.’

    ‘FATA crackdown has not begun with the same gusto so far- the operation has just begun, I think they (military) are properly thinking to clear Malakand division first then start in FATA- so far they have besieged different organizations; however, there seems to be no likelihood of the whole scale crackdown on FATA. There is a writ of the Taliban in FATA, hence, first their bunkers should be attacked through aerial strikes and drones; only then it would be possible for the Army to enter their land strongholds.’

    (http://www.ncsw.gov.pk/prod_images/pub/Report-%20Religiuos%20Extremism.pdf)

    The point this blog is trying to make is that many women’s NGOs in Pakistan are complicit with the work of imperialism either because they explicitly support it or because they don’t publicly and explicitly reject and work against it.

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