Momina Mustehsan made it to BBC’s 100 Women list last week, sending social media into a frenzy as everyone began to debate whether the Pakistani singer is a suitable candidate for the esteemed list. Some claimed that she was projecting a positive image of Pakistan as the list contains accomplished women from across the world. Others were not so convinced and questioned whether Mustehsan is a worthy representative for Pakistan on the list.
Her potential credibility can only be assessed with the knowledge of what the list really is.
BBC revealed part of its 100 Women Challenge list, naming 60 women that will tackle problems faced by women around the world, while 40 positions remain to be filled as the season progresses. The women will come together in four teams to tackle problems related to the glass ceiling, female illiteracy, street harassment and sexism in sports. Women selected on the list will take up empowerment and emancipatory projects to help women in the key fields indicated. Momina is part of the team that will challenge sexism in sports this year.
It is no exaggeration that Pakistani youth often lacks the ability to rationalize their response to a simple statement on social media. Criticism in Mustehsan’s case was no different. We jump the bandwagon in bashing the singer for ‘being nothing but a pretty face’. Our own twisted notions of gender roles are responsible for reducing her person to her physicality. Contrary to this restrictive understanding, Momina’s place on the list does have some semblance of merit in light of her efforts towards emancipation of women.
Momina is the Ambassador of Islamabad United’s Empowerment Program. The Pakistan Cricket League announced last December the program’s intention to work on women empowerment with the larger aim of bringing about social change. Now, one can clearly see why she is on the list, as her position is justifiable by the simple argument of her involvement in the cricket team’s project. However, the problem of identity politics behind placing her on the list still remains and has barely been tackled by social media thus far.
Momina lately is being deemed as the emblem of a “perfect Pakistani female”, who fights gender bias all the while staying true to her “cultural and moral” roots in the burgeoning entertainment industry of the country. The problem is self-evident here: Momina’s personality and demeanour is being upheld as appropriate for all women i.e roughly 49% of Pakistan’s population. Her position in society is fairly obvious; she is a member of the upper class with many social privileges under her belt. Placing her on the list just because female empowerment in cricket is the primary aim of her ambassadorship, takes away from the real-time struggles of actual players who are struggling to break through gender biases in sports across Pakistan.
The need to place a currently iconic and well-known personality on BBC’s list appears logical in trying to create a buzz regarding the emancipatory aims of the project itself. Question is, however, does it really emphasize names of people who put more at stake when fighting sexism in sports? Very simply, where do players of Pakistan Women’s Cricket team stand in the narrative?
For example, cricketer Bismah Maroof is the only Pakistani player in the top ten list of the ICC Player Rankings for Women in both ODI cricket and T20 cricket. Her colleague, Javeria Wadood, is second among Pakistani players in the ODI game. Anam Amin is the only Pakistani bowler in the top ten of the ICC Player Rankings for Women in T20 cricket, while Diana Baig represents Pakistan in both cricket and football, internationally. These women are the real sources of experiences that we should be lending an ear to. Hence, our interaction with their narratives should be direct. Our engagement or the world’s with them should not be through an identity that often clouds our rationalities as we resort to reducing Momina to the “national crush” of the country.
There is no shortage of powerful and accomplished women in the country. Momina is certainly one of them as she vocalizes her struggles with depression while having to deal with fame. She is a role model in her own right; but she should not be regarded as the singular role model this country has to offer, especially when it comes to sports. This list would fare better if actual sportswomen take the lead in challenging sexism because there is nothing stronger than the impact of a first-person narrative where women use their own voice to their own liking.