This article challenges the binary framework within which women in Pakistan have been viewed, by political actors, the state, and more broadly as well, as either ‘secular/feminist/godless/Westernised’ or ‘authentic/Islamic/traditional’. It begins by contextualising the genealogy of this binary in Pakistan’s colonial and political history, which has led to the state’s side-lining of moderate religious voices and promotion of right-wing religious parties that suited its political objectives. Even the scholarship produced by the women’s movement, which arose in response to a politicised Islamisation process begun under military rule in the 1980s, inadvertently reproduces this binary as activists sought to assert a rights-based agenda and were supported by international donor funds.
A shift in recent years in response to West-based international scholarship post 9/11, which focuses on the subjectivity and organisation of Islamist women, has influenced work on women in Pakistan as well as a donor turn to funding faith-based initiatives. The paper then examines current gender justice movements that emerged independently at a grass-roots level, and draws attention to their effectiveness despite lack of strong linkages with either the women’s movement or Islamist women.