The Reaction To This Pakistani Ad Shows How Differently We Look At ‘Women Empowerment’

Posted on September 8, 2016 in Cake, Culture-Vulture, Respect Women

By Cake Staff:

An ad campaign for a Pakistani clothing brand has run into controversy for its depiction of female empowerment.

The ad for clothing label ‘Do Your Own Thing’ (DYOT) depicts an all-female flashmob on the streets of Lahore, dancing to Beyoncé’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’. The clip begins with a woman covered in a shawl who’s given a once-overby a male passer-by on the street in a response to which she throws off the shawl and begins the dance routine, followed by the other women who join in.


A screenshot of the video which was later taken down.
A screenshot of the video which was later taken down.

Once the video went viral, many Pakistanis on social media began criticising it, calling its version of empowerment ‘skewed’. Many began pointing out that ‘female empowerment’ is not just dancing on the streets, but doing something more concrete for women’s rights.

Image Source: Dawn
Image Source: Dawn

The ad is not without its issues. ‘Girls At Dhabas’, an initiative run by a group of Pakistani women that’s focused on reclaiming public spaces for women, put out a long note on Facebook about the ad. They brought out very valid points about how a certain class of men who are shown to be objectifying these women and the women themselves come from a certain position of class privilege. They also pointed how over 90% of sexual violence against women happens at home, something we miss out on when we limit conversations about women’s safety only to public spaces. ‘Girls At Dhabas’ later removed their note from Facebook for reasons unknown.

However, this criticism doesn’t mean that some women cannot find empowerment through something as small as women dancing to Beyoncé on the very same street where they often face harassment. These women openly challenge the male gaze and and occupy a public space, and it can go a long way in changing mindsets and breaking conventions.

While people (and even feminists among them) may argue that we have ‘bigger’ social problems to worry about, there’s something else to be considered.

Female liberation is a vast and all-encompassing issue, and in South Asia, there are a lot of patriarchal norms and myths that need to be shattered before it can be achieved fully.
Hence, to impose a singular idea of ‘empowerment’ or ‘liberation’ on women is actually counterproductive, because different women have different ways to fight the patriarchy – and these can be both small and big. The whole idea behind the ad is to be free to be able to do one’s ‘own thing’, and that’s what the women in the ad are doing by expressing themselves.

Shockingly, DYOT was forced to take down the ad as the women featured in the video faced cyber bullying, “offensive statements”, judgements and threats. This just goes to show how society still reacts to attempts made by marginalised sections of society to reclaim a highly masculinised public space. Read DYOT’s full statement here.