Message from the Dean

Welcome to the online presence of the Saida Waheed Gender Initiative!

Message from Dr. Kamal Ahmed Munir, Former Dean of the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences

I believe this newly-formed Initiative is poised to make significant interventions, both here at LUMS and in South Asia. Since the late 1980s, Women and Gender Studies programs have been established at higher education institutions across Pakistan; today, with curricular standards for women’s studies formalized by the HEC, just under fifteen universities, offer BS, Masters, PhD, and distance courses. Indicative of its spread, gender studies is now a topic on the Central Superior Services examination.

We are of course cognizant of how such moves to institutionalize gender studies are implicated in transnational politics and state agendas. Nevertheless, the rise of women and gender studies must be read as a means to grapple with what are very concrete realities of inequality within many countries including Pakistan. Inequalities at the intersection of gender and class in paid and unpaid work, the social production of gendered identities and resulting decision-making both in domestic and public spheres are critical issues that need serious consideration. The emergence of gender studies as a discipline is a vital response to this need. As such, it is also linked to transformative social movements that have long advocated around issues including the status of women, sexuality, labor, education, health, and governance.

This landscape consequently raises questions around the relationships between pedagogy, research, activism, and policy that often remain unexamined. What, after all, does it mean to ‘do gender’? More specifically, taking geopolitics into account, what does it mean to ‘do gender’ in Pakistan? What are the uses, limitations, and dangers of gender as a category of analysis and of action? To this end, how can the interdisciplinary study of gender provide the basis for effective interventions? How can engaging with gender improve the way we address important issues like violence, income inequality, and access to reproductive health care?

At this juncture, the Saida Waheed Gender Initiative will reach across schools at LUMS to develop resources, research and programming, teaching, and conversations around gender. By fostering connections between faculty, practitioners, students, campus centres, and other civil society organizations, it will seek to address the gap that often crops up between ‘theory’ and ‘praxis.’

The current work of a number of faculty at each school demonstrates their existing commitments to inquiry around gender. LUMS has faculty researching gender from perspectives spanning law, sociology, economics, history, literature, religion, and public health. This semester alone, we have courses – including “The Reluctant Feminist,” “Law, Gender, and Social Justice,” and “The Economics of the Household” – that both explicitly and indirectly require students to think deeply about the operation of gender in different contexts. Looking beyond LUMS, we have faculty leading women entrepreneurship programs and groups like the Social Innovation Lab improving the livelihoods of female carpet weavers in Hunza.

In building the Saida Waheed Gender Initiative, we will utilize these existing resources and leverage LUMS’ leading role among the country’s higher education and research institutions to support creative and new approaches to ‘doing gender.’ Even as a number of gender studies programs have emerged, limited attention is devoted to critically assessing existing frameworks around gender and imagining approaches that are directly engaged with the context of Pakistan. Such context-specific understanding is critical as well for the development of effective programs, advocacy, and policy.

With this in mind, the Initiative will strive to be a place where sociologists researching masculinities can inform economists’ engagements with the economics of the household; where anthropologists studying the politics of reproductive health care can offer their insights to social innovators seeking to improve service provision; where legal scholars can help students consider the possibilities of law in addressing gender inequality; and where historians can contextualize proposed projects addressing income inequality within the fraught history of development. It will be a place for students who are curious about how studying gender may change their worldview, a place for faculty looking for support for new initiatives, and a place for conversation and collaboration that, through our affiliated faculty, Steering Committee, and Advisory Committee, extends transnationally.

I believe that developing a rigorous gender studies initiative at LUMS will also have transnational implications. There is a need to build on the important interventions of feminist scholars in India – who have profoundly altered how institutions in the West address gender and sexuality – to deepen understanding of contexts including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan. Without turning gender studies into a nationalist discipline, then, the Initiative presents the LUMS community with an opportunity to critically interrogate and diversify what gender means across South Asia.