Now in its second year, the Zeenat Haroon Rashid (ZHR) Writing Prize for Women has announced 21-year-old Lahore-based Raniya Hosain as the winner of the 2020 edition for her powerful and polemical essay ‘Portrait of a Woman in Pain’.

The ZHR prize now alternates yearly between fiction and non-fiction. Last year’s prize of Rs100,000 was won by Maham Javaid for her short story ‘The Tallest Woman’.

Entry to the competition is open to all women writers of Pakistani origin, over the age of 18, and submissions must reflect the experiences of women in the Pakistani context. According to the managing committee, over 350 entries were received for the 2020 prize. The judging panel included diplomat Maleeha Lodhi, authors Alice Albinia and Ahmed Rashid, and journalists Homa Khaleeli and Shan Vahidy.

The winner for 2020, Raniya Hosain, previously won the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition in 2014, when she was just 15 years old. Currently she is studying for a masters degree in English Literature at King’s College, London. In the judges’ opinion, her essay is an experiential examination of womanhood in Pakistan, and demonstrates an original voice and striking command of her craft: “It’s comic, it’s sad, it’s angry. A clever, multidimensional piece full of memorable one-liners and razor-sharp wit.”

The winning entry is being carried as the cover story in Eos today.

Other entries in the shortlist include ‘Bad House’ by Ayesha Alizeh Arbab that explores the claustrophobia of the domestic sphere — a theme especially pertinent during the present phenomenon of Covid-19 lockdowns; ‘Fathers Be Good to Your Daughters’ by Tooba Masood-Khan, which is an unsentimental but emotive description of a complex familial relationship; ‘Hairy’ by Sara Khan, that conducts a humorous analysis of absurd, Western-influenced beauty standards and their significance in local patriarchal structures; ‘Inheritance’ by Yumna Baloch, which takes a complicated grandmother as the lynchpin in an examination of hidden rebellions by women; and ‘Moti Saand’ [Fat Cow] by Angbeen Abbas, which is a personal account of how striving to conform to conventional notions of beauty results in debilitating body dysmorphia.

The ZHR Writing Prize for Women was set up in memory of Zeenat Haroon Rashid by her daughter, Syra Vahidy.

The winning entry and shortlisted essays can be read on the prize’s official website

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 22nd, 2020