We grew up listening to heroic accounts of the courageous officers of our armed forces who have been defending our homeland against all odds. Interestingly, the women who are serving our country in all the three branches of the Pakistan Armed Forces are also making us proud.
While Army has been inducting women for a long time, women joining Air Force and Navy is a recent development. Pakistan Navy offers women short commissions in certain branches like IT, Engineering, Medicine, Education, Logistics, Public Relations, etc.
Ever wondered how life in Navy is for women officers? Are they up for challenges? Are they discriminated against on the basis of sex? Lt Commander Asima Naz of Pakistan Navy Public Relations Directorate (South) set up a meeting between this scribe and a group of lady naval officers from different branches to give an insight about the life in Navy for women officers.
Graceful, poised and diligent ... these dynamic Pakistan Navy women are moms, wives and daughters, and they are also the defenders of our sea frontiers. They are competent, confident and motivated. Patriotism fuels their desire to keep our homeland safe. They sacrifice more than other women; probably miss their children’s first words, steps or even first day at school! They leave their husbands when they are transferred to other places, sometimes for a couple of years...
‘Jumping is a fascinating experience’ - Lt. Ayesha
Lt. Ayesha binte Rafiq has made us all proud by becoming a Navy paratrooper. A Masters in International Relations (IR), this enterprising young woman joined Pakistan Navy’s Education branch as an Instructor. Lt. Ayesha’s decision to join Navy is not surprising; her brother is a paratrooper and hailing from forces background is an incentive in itself for adventurous spirits. Pakistan Navy offers Short Service Commission in certain branches, initially for a period of five years. Lt. Ayesha applied for and was inducted as sub-lieutenant in Navy’s Education branch in 2013. Navy offers para training courses and Lt. Ayesha qualified for this course on merit.
“Jumping is a fascinating experience! I did my course in 2014. It was conducted at Naval Special Operation Forces’ Training Centre. Training was intensive, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Initially, I confess to being a bit frightened ... you know, the door of the aircraft opening and jumping, but we are trained to overcome fear. We are made to jump from varying heights in ascending order and are taught how to fall, and protect ourselves and perform with the parachute. We jump from two feet, to four and finally 34 ft, psychologically, the most terrifying height for the average person.
Para Training Schools have towers, 34 ft in height; a line is rigged from the tower for the trainees to jump from before they graduate to jumping from aircrafts. Then there is a difference between landing on land and sea, so we are also taught water landing. If a jump is made in say, Ormara, there is bound to be lots of wind. Paratroopers can get stuck in trees and we are taught what to do if that happens.”
Since women are non-combatants in Navy, the purpose of para training was explained by Lt. Commander Asima Naz: “Training in armed forces is the same for males and females, officers or soldiers. You are trained for the same purpose so there is no difference in basic training. Women learn shooting, swimming, and sailing. They do sea training and undergo sea survival test. Being in non-combat roles it seems useless apparently but everyone here is trained to fight and win a war, so are para troopers. In war time, women paratroopers may be required, so both male and female candidates undergo the same physical efficiency test to qualify for para training.”
‘I want Balochi people to join Navy’ - Lt. Zakia
Lt. Zakia Jamali has the distinction of being the first Baloch lady commissioned officer. Talking about her journey, Lt. Zakia praised her family for being supportive. “When I said I wanted to join Navy, they were a bit confused initially, but they trust me. My family is educated. I am from District Jaffarabad, from where I got my early education. In Jaffarabad, the standard of education is a lot better than many places in Balochistan. I did my Masters in Urdu Literature from the University of Balochistan. My husband is also a Masters in Urdu Literature. I taught for three years at a high school and even had a government job. Then I saw the advertisement and applied for short commission.
“Training was tough but Navy treats you as an individual. We have the same promotion criteria and whosoever excels in his domain goes to higher ranks without any gender discrimination. Navy has changed my life. I want Balochi people to join Navy. I have served at Pakistan Navy’s Cadet College at Ormara and I am proud to say that PN Cadet College Ormara (PNCCO) has changed Balochi people’s life. It has helped in bringing the Balochi youth in the mainstream. They are groomed at Junior Naval Academy, Ormara and I know of many who have cleared the ISSB and are undergoing training at Pakistan Naval Academy.
“Then PNS Darmaan Jah is another venture of Navy that is helping the local populace. Darmaan Jah means hospital in Balochi, and this hospital is open for local public free of cost, and this is another source of inspiration for Balochi people to join Navy.”
Well, it seems Navy is doing some really good work in Balochistan, which is arguably the most neglected province in Pakistan.
‘Here I am!’ - Lt. Asma
A Masters in Mathematics from Islamia Bahawalpur University, Lt. Asma Shaheen joined as Education Branch Officer in 2015. Her posting is at Naval Academy in Manora Island where she teaches naval cadets. A variety of subjects is taught at PNA: Navigation, Seamanship, Mathematics, English and Communication Skills, etc. “The Academy awards a Bachelors degree to cadets once they complete their training here. In addition to Pakistani cadets, we have a number of cadets from about 20 friendly nations like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Saudi Arab, Sri Lanka, Qatar, etc. The medium of instructions at the Academy is English, so a six-month language course is the first step for the foreign cadets. PNA trained officers have become naval chiefs in many countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, etc which is a singular honour for us,” Lt. Asma smiles proudly!
Lt. Asma also disclosed her reason for joining Navy. “I was brought up in Saudi Arabia. We used to watch Pakistan Day Parade on TV. One day, my father came home and said a Pakistan Navy ship was open for public visit! We went to visit the ship and it was really fascinating to stand on the deck of a ship. I became interested in Navy and after completing my studies I opted to join it and ... here I am!”
‘One sea battle is like ten on land’ - Lt. Shabina
A software engineer from NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, Lt. Shabina Kanwal joined Navy’s IT Branch. “I have always been fascinated by water. Being on ship is a unique experience - God above and water below! The feeling can only be experienced, not described. I am deployed at Naval Stores Depot, which is the backbone of Pakistan Navy, as it provides logistic support,” shares Lt. Shabina.
Explaining about her job and role of IT branch in Navy, Lt. Shabina says, “Pak Navy has automated all its systems, and we have to keep them running. It’s a 24/7 job. We are in continuous phase of operations ... and to keep our operational preparedness Naval war exercises are a regular feature for us. The exercises are mock but the operations are real so quite frequently we work till late hours. We have state of the art technology, weapons, destroyers, frigates, etc. and the training exercises ensure that everything runs error free.
“It’s a demanding job. I am an officer in charge of my section and my responsibilities are many. I have to manage my time as I have two young kids. My husband is stationed in Gawadar. Fortunately, I have a great support system. And on top of everything, I have this satisfaction that I am working in a force about which it is said that one sea battle is like ten on land,” adds Lt. Shabina.
‘My work is not different from civilian doctors’ - Surgeon Lt. Commander Faiza
A graduate of Sindh Medical College (SMC), Lt. Commander Faiza Kabir joined Navy out of sheer patriotism. It was her dream to join armed forces and she got the opportunity when she saw the recruitment advertisement. She cleared the required tests and was inducted in Navy’s medical branch about 10 years back. She was among one of the first batches of doctors directly inducted by Navy. Previously, doctors from army were deputed to Navy. In fact, the senior most doctors in Navy are the ones who were originally from Army. Surgeon Lt. Commander Faiza is stationed at PNS Rahat, but does stints in Balochistan from time to time.
Surgeon Lt. Commander Faiza is a mom of two kids who go with her when she is transferred elsewhere, while her husband visits her. The duration of her posting can be varied; from two weeks, to sometimes a month. She has served in Pakistan Navy hospital at Ormara for more than a year and has lived there without her husband.
Surgeon Lt. Commander Faiza is a gynecologist, but works as general physician, too. “My work is not really different from that of civilian doctors. Other than PNS Darman Jah in Ormara, we hold medical camps along the coast for the locals. In these medical camps, all civilians are treated free of cost. We regularly hold free medical and eye camps in various areas of Sindh and Balochistan. Specialists from Pakistan Navy hospitals conduct these camps and provide them treatment. If any further treatment or surgery is required the patients are referred to PN hospitals at Ormara and Karachi, where they are treated free of cost,” explains Surgeon Lt. Commander Faiza.
‘We work as hard as men’ - Lt Commander Faryal
After graduating from University of Karachi, Lt Commander Faryal Asif joined Navy in 2010. She is married and has a son. “Providing spares support for ships and aircrafts, clothing, food, etc. is my job. Depots are set up in different places; they purchase what is needed and we coordinate to keep the supply chain intact. I am the first lady officer performing in an executive officer capacity. I am second in command of my department. My work is very important, especially when we have mock exercises. During exercise, we have to be on duty 24/7. We work as hard as men - not less, not more. Of course, looking after home and family is extra work, but we manage.” Lt. Commander Faryal was the gold medalist of her batch, as was Lt. Ayesha. “Chances of progress are same for both men and women,” says Lt. Commander Asima.
The only difference in treatment seems to be that although women get the same intensive training, they are still non-combatants. Will that change in the near future. “Pakistan Navy is an equal opportunity provider but for now our societal norms might not allow the home makers to live on ship for longer periods, but policies can change some time and we can see our women working onboard ships and submarines in future” expresses Lt. Commander Asima.
Though they serve as non-combatants, women Navy officers are often responsible - along with their male counterparts - for providing logistics support, without which no Navy can function. A campaign needs a lot of groundwork which is done by women in logistics, IT, Admin, etc. In Pakistan Navy, women are now working at key positions. The day is not far when we will see them as commodores and admirals!