As the Pakistani fashion label Generation turns 35, we look at what makes the brand tick

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Elle India: October 17, 2018

I’m looking for a way to tell the story of Generation, a Pakistani ready-to-wear women’s clothing brand, that turns 35 years old this year, to you, a reader across the border in India who may never have heard of the company. How do you tell the story of a brand that is one of a handful to have survived for more than three decades here, its presence so indelible in the Pakistani retail landscape that scores of women know it by a misnomer – “Generations”, plural – that has been around for too long to correct now?

Perhaps the story starts in Lahore in 1983, when Generation was founded by Nosheen and Saad Rahman to cater to the needs of the urban Pakistani working woman. In February of that year, in the same city, an estimated 400 of these women gathered to protest against a series of laws passed since martial law was declared in the country, laws that said the testimony of two women would be equal to that of one man in court, and that required women who had been raped or sexually assaulted to provide four male witnesses to the crime or they could face prosecution for fornication or adultery. At the protest, the women set their dupattas alight. They were lathi-charged and teargased. And the poet Habib Jalib reportedly recited a verse composed on the spot: “We are not helpless or powerless anymore/We are not naïve and innocent anymore/We can shape our own destiny/We are no longer grateful for the writing on the wall dictating our fates.” That day was, as human rights activist and lawyer Hina Jilani noted, “really the start of the women’s movement in Pakistan.”

But Generation has been around for my whole life – I was born two years after the brand created the first concept of sizing in the country, churning out small, medium and large RTW cotton clothes in a market awash with polyester – and so I wonder if these histories, running parallel to and shaping the brand’s ideas on how a modern Pakistani woman should dress, are more important than my own encounters. Then I would start the story from the 1990s, when I snuck an ironed Generation dupatta, neatly folded into the smallest square possible, to a meeting with my friends. Pakistan now had its first female prime minister in Benazir Bhutto, martial law was over, and it had been years since institutions like the Council of Islamic Ideology had floated the idea that women should not be allowed to be heads of state or contest elections until the age of 50 (even then, only do so with their husband’s permission), years since female civil servants in the foreign service were recalled from all postings and female government employees were directed to cover themselves with the veil. I was too young to know that just a few years ago, there were stories of women slapped on the street by strange men for not having covered themselves appropriately. I only knew that many of my friends had suddenly begun to wear dupattas and that seemed to me the first badge of adulthood. But my mother did not care to prescribe dupattas or certain clothes for her daughters, especially if they only wore them to fit in.

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Sparks fly when an artist decides to talk back to her Pakistani ‘uncles and aunties’

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Women in the World: April 18, 2016

When Maria Qamar was a child, her parents refused to support her decision to pursue art — even ripping the drawings from her bedroom walls on one occasion. Today, thousands pay to have her work on their walls. 

For many people of South Asian descent, there is a group in possession of the magic words that will instantly transport you to your most painful and rebellious teenage years — the uncles and aunties. Often unrelated to you, they are the cluster of your parent’s friends that have a word of advice (or disapproval) for everything from your weight and grades to your marriage prospects.

Maria Qamar, a Toronto-based artist and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, who goes by the name Hatecopy, decided to talk back to the uncles and aunties. And very quickly, she had more than 46,000 followers on Instagram alone, listening in to the conversation and chiming in with their stories, both hilarious and heartbreaking.

When Qamar was a child, her parents refused to support her decision to pursue art — even ripping her drawings off the walls of her bedroom in one instance. Today, thousands pay to hang that art on the walls of their homes. Qamar spoke with Women in the World about this gratifying journey and why getting let go of her day job was the best thing that happened to her.

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Oscar-nominated documentary about “honor killings” exposes filmmaker to witch hunt

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Women in the World: February 24, 2016

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has been accused of defaming and disgracing Pakistan as a result of her courageous documentary “A Girl in the River”

On a dark night in June 2014, a bruised and bloodied young woman stumbled into a petrol station in Gujranwala, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province. She had been beaten, shot in the face, dumped in a burlap sack and thrown into a nearby canal. As her attackers fled, the cool water jolted her awake. She struggled out of the sack, and treaded water till she reached the canal’s banks where, grasping at reeds, she pulled herself to dry land. She followed the distant lights of cars and motorbikes until she ended up at the station, begging for help. Eighteen-year-old Saba Qaiser was picked up by rescue services that night and taken to a hospital, where she told doctors her father and uncle tried to kill her for marrying a man they did not approve of.

This was a clear-cut case of ‘honor killing’, a practice that claimed the life of at least one woman in Pakistan every day in 2015 alone — and those are figures gleaned from reported cases only — as she is murdered for bringing ‘dishonor’ to her family.

In her latest documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy met Saba’s father, Maqsood, shortly after he was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of his daughter. Furious that Saba married a man from a lower social class of her own free will, Maqsood claimed, “Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honor.” He describes his daughter’s decision to marry someone her parents did not approve of as “unlawful”.

“I labored and earned lawfully to feed her, this was unlawful of her,” he insisted. “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That is what (Saba) has done.”

Unrepentant, Maqsood said: “If I had seen (Saba’s husband), I would have killed him too.”

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New project sheds light on Pakistan’s lesser known feminist history

The New York Times/Women in the World: July 14, 2015

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It had been there for decades  — a red, blue and white flag unfurling in the wind, an unwanted blot in the sky for many who walked under it. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone, removed by a woman who heard the calls for the flag’s removal and decided to do it herself.

This is not the story of Bree Newsome, but instead, of Fatima Sughra. In 1947, Fatima, then a 14-year-old girl living in Lahore (in undivided India) pulled down the Union Jack from the Punjab Civil Secretariat Building and replaced it with the emblem of the Muslim League, the political party fighting for the creation of Pakistan and freedom from British rulers in the Indian subcontinent at the time.

But while Bree Newsome’s name may be familiar to many young women in Pakistan, Fatima Sughra’s is known to a handful, relegated to a time when hashtags did not commemorate heroes. Sana Saleem and Ghausia Rashid Salam, two Karachi-based women, are hoping to change that. HERstory, an online record of Pakistan’s feminist legacy, is a collection of oral histories the two women have been collecting for eight months, since an intern they worked with elsewhere mentioned she had no clue about Pakistan’s feminist movement.

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