A professor of literature and gender studies from Pakistan fled threats to her life in response to her advocacy for women’s rights in her home region of Southern Punjab. With a Ph.D from the U.K., this scholar had taught at the university level for over twenty-five years. She developed curriculum on gender, language, society, and feminist linguistics and conducted extensive research on controversial subjects such as madrasas for women in Pakistan.
In November 2008, faculty colleagues deemed the scholar’s work un-Islamic, immoral and subversive and she was dismissed from her position as Chair of English Language and Literature at her home university. Local authorities also disproved of her promotion of women’s rights in Pakistan. Un-deterred, the scholar continued her advocacy and founded a women’s empowerment group to protest the live burials of women throughout Pakistan. Shortly thereafter, pressure from religious extremists led to an outright removal from her university post.
Suddenly without the academic career she had invested years to establish, the scholar continued to be a voice for women’s rights, calling for an end to honor killings and acid attacks against women. But pressure from extremists intensified and fundamentalist groups began to spray paint death threats outside of her home and send her menacing letters. In need of refuge and safety, she saw an international academic position as her only source of protection.
With support from SRF, the scholar is now teaching courses on international education and socio-political identity in South Asia at a university in the U.S. She has been invited to help develop the university’s new Islamic Center where she will contribute greater understanding of Islam to the campus and local community. As a truly engaging professor, she often sees more hands raised in class than can be called upon, but thankfully her SRF fellowship ensures that she will remain in safety to continue the discussion at the next class meeting.