'Celebrate Pakistani women, inspire younger ones,' says author of new feminist book

'There are endless cases where women and their experiences are not heard or their rights not given'

KARACHI: Maliha Abidi is all geared up for her debut art project Pakistan for Women, a book that combines words and sketches of 50 women change-leaders in the South Asian country and is slated for release mid-March.

Speaking to Geo.tv, Abidi, a Pakistani-American woman, said she hopes her storybook becomes a "contribution to little girls discouraged from following their dreams" and told to "follow a certain path, [such as becoming] a doctor or an engineer".

Geo.tv/Illustration/Maliha Abidi Art

Born and raised in Pakistan, the 23-year-old has been hopping from Karachi to California and London and "contributing in my own way" despite "not being involved in protests or groups" that are working for women's rights around the world.

Now in Sussex and studying neuroscience, Abidi talks of how she never let go of her passion for art and started taking it "seriously back in 2012 when she launched her page" on social media. Among the things she cares about the most, she said, was also women's struggle and combining it with art in the hope that it could do some good in the world was a dream come true for her.

"To me, [feminism] means basically anybody who fights for equal rights, who stands up for women’s rights. There are endless cases where women and their experiences are not heard or their rights not given."

Her latest — and this time on a vastly bigger scale — project is in a format similar to that of her past ones; a series that dives into the lives of strong, independent women who have created a ripple in the fabric of society through their actions or achievements.

Although almost half of her life has been spent away from Pakistan, her homeland has stayed "close to her heart".

"So many of the young women in Pakistan are told, 'this is where you can’t go' or 'you can't do that' and so I believe that the main reason [is] to celebrate and inspire the young ones," she said, when asked what her book aims to achieve.

With its idea born last year, the book's first stage was compiling a list of Pakistani women who have made a name for themselves, she explained, adding that it "could easily have been a thousand women".

"I filled up my diary page after page, from cartoonist Nigar Nazar to high-altitude mountaineer Samina Baig, but cutting down [to 50] was a process," Abidi noted. "For the purpose of this project, I took a look at what they have achieved and also if they had got any recognition."

The young artist-writer mentioned that she had spoken to some of the women in her book as well as the family and relatives of those who "we lost early" so that she could "get their facts right".

Geo.tv/Illustration/Maliha Abidi Art

"Mahnoor Ali [Syed], a girl who recently won the Queen’s Young Leader Award and is a little over 18, knew about the project I was working on. She was very appreciative and I've talked about the way she has shaped the project and her community."

As for the name of the book, which is seemingly contradictory especially considering the crimes perpetrated against women — such as honour killings, sexual assault, and acid attacks — in the country, Abidi stated: "The title is kind of like a circle ... it goes back to the idea that the general perception in our culture is that only people in the US or the UK or abroad achieve anything.

"But these women? They’re from Pakistan, they’re Pakistani, and even if they left, they maintained their identity, and have contributed towards the causes [important to them]. It's, in a way, saying 'yes these problems exist but our women are the ones fighting against it'".

With her online crowdfunding campaign having surpassed its goal already, an excited Abidi now intends to return to her motherland by the end of February for a book tour in major cities, including Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.

"I'm overwhelmed by the general reaction I’ve received as well as the immense support from followers around the world."