Women's issues are getting a creative spin as they're brought to the forefront.
In Pakistan, young people are taking a stand against patriarchal or simply outdated attitudes, echoing the huge strides that have been made for female empowerment around the globe. While the approach may be whimsical, the issues are serious—from escaping arranged marriages to demystifying menstrual taboos and tackling domestic abuse.
After years of trying to elude matchmakers in Pakistan, Nashra Balagamwala, 24, created a board game this year where players try to evade an unwanted match and marry for love instead.
Balagamwala had flown off to study at Rhode Island School of Design, against her parents’ wishes. Back home, her friends were being married off one by one. “Sometimes, they would meet the person and be married to him within the week,” she told Fast Company. “I see them now and they’re all just stuck in loveless marriages dealing with horrible in-laws, horrible husbands, and there isn’t much they can do about it.”
The board game “Arranged!” features cards with diversionary tactics, such as getting a tan (in a country where lighter skin is prized), that allow the player to move a few spaces away from the matchmaker. Smiling while looking at your phone, to hint at an existing boyfriend, has a similar effect.
Balagamwala is now back in Karachi and overseeing production of the game after raising $21,788—three times her goal—on Kickstarter. “Arranged!” is priced at $30 and will start shipping in two weeks. She says she’s helped raise awareness that women have options, though she knows it will take more than a board game to change a centuries-old practice.
“Many Pakistani and Indian women have spoken to me about their family pressure, asked for advice and also just spoken to me to vent out their anger,” she told JWT Intelligence. “It’s been great knowing I’ve either managed to help them, or at least be there as a friendly presence when they’re going through a hard time.”
MoHiM is another game aimed at changing societal attitudes. The free mobile aim-and-catch game launched in August is designed to bust period myths. MoHiM is an acronym for menstrual health management, and also means “an effort” in Urdu.
The player uses a pair of panties to catch falling pads while avoiding objects that should not be used, such as leaves and newspapers. Players are rewarded with “keys” to open doors that bust common myths, such as “PMS is not real” or “You can’t bathe during your period.”
“The taboo around menstrual health manifests oppression of a kind that few of us pay attention to,” Mariam Adil, founder of the game’s maker GRID, told Dawn.com.
Then there’s “Pakistan Girl,” a new female comic superhero who wears a green cape. Sarah is a regular teenager with a pet cat. She rouses from a coma after a blast in her village to find she has superhuman powers, and vows to use them to fight corrupt officials and fight domestic violence in a deeply patriarchal society.
“There’s a huge shortage of female role models and superheroes in the mainstream media here, and we wanted to create a strong female character for the girls in Pakistan and even the young boys in Pakistan that they can look up to,” creator Hassan Siddiqui told AFP.
The recent efforts are part of a wider recognition of gender disparities in Pakistan that hobble women within the family as well as at work. Last year, a group of women started Sheops, an online marketplace for women, which among other things allowed stay-at-home women to become entrepreneurs.
Cultures worldwide have made huge strides towards female empowerment. As taboos erode around topics like women’s sexuality, menstruation, and body hair, brands are finding creative ways to tap into the new wave of frank-female-focused conversation. As Pakistan shows, this is a trend with important reverberations worldwide, even in historically conservative societies.