Panelists at the conference —Photo courtesy: kalamresearch.com
Panelists at the conference —Photo courtesy: kalamresearch.com

On November 13-14, Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) organized a two-day conference, titled "Pakistan’s Contribution to the Muslim Intellectual Tradition” held at the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Social Sciences and Humanities. That's all fine. The catch? All the speakers at the conference were all male.

Many current students, alumni, faculty and researchers associated with Lums were troubled; one former student, Fatima Tassadiq, took matters into her own hands and started an online petition titled "Letter of Protest to LUMS MAG School of Humanities Social Sciences".

The petition says: "We appreciate the intellectual premise of the conference and consider it a hallmark of LUMS’ vibrancy to have scholars present exciting research on this important topic. However, we are at a complete loss to understand how a two-day conference boasting six panels, each with multiple speakers, along with chairs, and keynote speakers, was organized without the inclusion of a single woman."

"Are there no female scholars working in these fields? If the organizers of the conference did not receive high quality papers from female researchers responding to the conference’s call for papers, was it not possible to invite female scholars to at least chair some of the panels? Given that one of the panelists participated in the conference via a proxy who read the paper out, is it unreasonable for us to expect that the same could have been done for female scholars not based in Lahore?"

Whether this was a genuine oversight or an intentional course of action, attention must be brought to highlight the gender disparity that exists in Pakistan.

So far, 200 people have signed the petition, which was created a day ago.

It can't be lack of merit that led to the female voice being expunged in the arena: scholars like Ayesha Jalal, Riffat Hassan and Leila Ahmed or theologian Amina Wadud would have been welcome additions to the line-up of speakers.

LUMS response: LUMS prides itself on a tradition of inclusive dialogue, and we believe that constructive criticism pushes us to work harder to create an exemplary environment for teaching and learning. We welcome the recent feedback we have received suggesting the need to be more proactive in ensuring not simply more, but more meaningful, female representation within academic settings. Such change requires a sustained and institution-wide commitment to understanding histories of marginalization and the manner in which such exclusions are often indirectly and even unintentionally reinforced. As we draw lessons from this experience for the future, we are committed to engaging our students, faculty, and staff in the ongoing and sometimes difficult conversations necessary to achieve our vision of an even more inclusive, and thereby more vibrant, LUMS. We aim to do this in particular through our recently established Saida Waheed Gender Initiative.

Clarification: The article has been modified from the original to more clearly reflect the views expressed in the online petition.

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