An American-Israeli traveller and vlogger Alyne Tamir, known by her social media handle, Dear Alyne, recently posted a video on YouTube about the conspicuous absence of women in public spaces in Pakistan.
Narrated by Tamir, the video titled 'Where are all the women?', also features 'modern' Pakistani girls talking about issues that keep them from assimilating into public spaces, the obstacles they face when finding educational opportunities and experiencing general safety and freedom in society.
Alyne starts the video with a disclaimer that she may say something wrong, but the message [in the video] and intention remain the same, followed by, "I was just in a country and I noticed something unusual outside on the streets, almost everyone I saw, were men."
She continues, "And when I saw all of this, I couldn't help myself but ask: Where are the women?" She said that while her truth includes thinking men and women are equal to each other "in intelligence, capability and in worth," but this, unfortunately, is not the reality in many countries around the world, especially in Pakistan in this case, where women are not given the same safety opportunities and freedoms as men.
While she makes some pertinent points in the video, we think her one-sided argument borders on harbouring a 'saviour complex', a phenomenon where foreigners—mostly white— feel it's their moral responsibility to 'liberate' natives—In this case brown— from self-imposed [and avoidable] oppression.
Luckily, there were some Pakistani voices chiming in. Gul Jabeen, better known as @travelwithgul on Instagram, posted a series of messages on her account's story calling the view out for what it was.
A recent Forbes article recently included Pakistan in its The Not Hot List: 10 Best Under-the-Radar Trips for 2020. And while there's no doubt that Pakistan has unparalleled scenic beauty coupled with unmatched hospitality of its people, no one—native or foreign— has ever gone as far as to gloss over the many unique challenges the country faces.
But by only highlighting one side, the vlogger discounts generations of women who have fought hard for the freedoms many of us enjoy today. She ignores the strides women have made not only in different fields and industries but in how they've slowly pushed back against a society oppressive towards women.
Not only that, but in a culturally diverse country inhabited by dynamic communities—habits, lifestyles and even mindsets vary from street to neighbourhoods. Which means a sample population of five girls is evidently not enough to make generalisations bereft of nuances.
It's odd that there are only two opinions of Pakistan from travel bloggers, both one-dimensional; that either the country is extremely safe and problem-free or that it's successfully oppressing its women. While we appreciate any help in raising awareness, a blog from a first-time visitor doesn't cut it.
While no one is denying that Pakistani women have a long way to go to in order to change everyday discrimination experienced on the basis of their gender, what is often not emphasised enough, is that 'we the women' can, and have been fighting our own battles—whether inside the house or outside its walls. It's best to acknowledge that than make superficial incomplete statements.