Hiba Usaf Siddiqui is a communications specialist. Hiba has been associated with the media and development sector in Pakistan since 2007. Her first job was at a television channel that specifically made programmes targeted at empowering women. Later on, she joined development sector where she had the opportunity to work actively on gender equality and as an advocate of women's rights at the policy level. At present, she is the communication head at the Hashoo Foundation in Islamabad. In a candid interview with You!, Hiba talks about her work and shares her views on women empowerment...
You! Tell us about some of your most defining projects?
Hiba Usaf Siddiqui: During my professional work, I had the opportunity to work on several exciting projects. During my assignment with the United Nation's specialised agency ILO, my role encompassed the nexus of media and development, focused on strengthening towards gender equality. In my course of work, I had the opportunity to organise a fashion show aimed at exhibiting the training invested in underprivileged men and women residing in different rural and peri-rural regions across Pakistan, ranging from Thatta in Sindh to Baltistan in the north.
Synchronizing the efforts of these artisan's efforts with the emerging fashion industry of Pakistan was a huge breakthrough, and a dream come true for me. The most unique aspect of this talent exhibition was that for the first time in Pakistan the marginalised class of worker was directly linked with the international and national buyers without the traditional middle person. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences.
You! What skills are most important for a communication specialist?
HUS: As the digital world evolves your skills and knowledge must evolve as well, therefore marketing/communications managers must be tech savvy. It's not enough to simply be familiar with these tools and trends; the role demands the ability to be able to actively use them. And the confidence to take feedback professionally, not personally.
You! Does your organisation give equal opportunities to men and women?
HUS: Yes, fortunately I have the privilege of working for an organisation that is led by a woman and most of the department heads happen to be women. In addition to this the organisation has also hired differently abled/physically challenged candidates in different roles ranging from telephone operators to department managers.
You! Have you ever faced sexual harassment at work place?
HUS: In the recent past, something unprecedented has happened across the world, hundreds of women have collectively spoken out about sexual harassment they have experienced at work, with a new, unforgiving spotlight being shone on those accused of perpetrating abuse.
Following the outpouring of women and men sharing their stories of abuse via the #MeToo hashtag, there has been a much-needed wave of support for people to vocalise the harassment they have suffered at work. I have experienced it once when I initially started my career.
You! Any lessons learnt the hard way?
HUS: That eventually you have to grow up. But on a more serious note, the hardest lesson that I have ever learnt is always leave your loved ones with good words and smile as you never know that it could be the last time you are seeing them.
You! What kinds of challenges do you encounter?
HUS: The most challenging in my field is that it can be very fast paced, but if you plan accordingly and you find systems to help you, you can overcome that. Personally, for me the hardest part is juggling kids and trying to work with constant interruptions!
You! What's your biggest accomplishment to-date?
HUS: I believe the best and big is yet to come! But the one that I consider to be my greatest accomplishment to date was learning how to overcome prejudices and self-imposed obstacles to be able to purse the career I wanted.
You! Do you think general mind set of our society is changing?
HUS: There have been important advances in gender equality in Pakistan in recent years, yes the mindsets are changing. But having said that, considerable progress is required for Pakistani women to fully access their rights to fulfil their life aspirations and empower themselves to be full partners in development.
You! What are the challenges, in your eyes, being faced by Pakistani women today?
HUS: Women are afraid of being judged by the society. If you are working or doing something for yourself, people start accusing you of neglecting your family and kids etc. They make you feel guilty which is a constant challenge being faced by Pakistani women.
You! Why do you think women should be empowered?
HUS: Women comprise over half of Pakistan's population, yet only 22.7 percent are part of the work force. Even those who are part of the work force are largely in the informal sector, receiving low pay and with few legal protections. To overcome these challenges, Pakistani women need to be given equal access to education and employment opportunities. They should be empowered.
You! What is the strongest point of being monetarily independent?
HUS: Economic empowerment gives you a decision-making position.
You! What may be the negative point of being financially empowered?
HUS: I read this line somewhere, 'I can do it all but not all of it is mine to do!' They expect you to do it all!
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
HUS: With two kids and a full-time job, it gets quite overwhelming and exhausting, but it is also teaching me resilience, patience and most importantly when to say no!
You! How do you unwind?
HUS: Spending time with friends and family, reading a good book and watching movies.
You! Do you think a professional can be a good wife and mother?
HUS: Why not! But it has to work both ways. I believe it's not only a woman's job to take care of the kids and do household work; it's a partnership and could only work when both the husband and wife strive together!
You! What advice would you give to other women struggling to follow their own ambitions?
HUS: As mothers, we often lose our confidence in work and fear can be an overriding factor preventing us from achieving our dreams. My advice would be to ditch the guilt and go for it! Nothing good comes easily - everything comes with a price. Hard work always pays at the end of the day.