1. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges being faced by Pakistani women today?
2. Do you think being at an advantageous position, you have played your part in uplifting women?
3. This Women’s Day, what would you advise women struggling to follow their own ambitions?
Architect, Architectural Historian, Conservationist, Humanitarian Aid Worker
1 Today more than 50 per cent of our population lives below the poverty line and has to survive in slums. In addition, Pakistan is the 5th most vulnerable country with high rate of displacement after every disaster. Since I work with the poorest of the poor, I know that the sense of helplessness and deprivations among women belonging to impoverished communities is beyond our imagination. While the issues confronted by urbanites would range from harassment in workplace and during travel, inhospitable urban environment with hardly any amenities or recreational places for women or children, lack of toilets or bus shelters to domestic violence, the rural woman is faced with innumerable indignities and sufferings.
2 I feel that I am trying but what I do is a drop in the ocean and my ambition is to reach out to all one million housewives that are estimated to be living shelter-less in Sindh alone. They have no protection, privacy or dignity in their lives. It is her right to have a dignified living – a safe room to withstand any flooding or earthquakes, a toilet for privacy instead of using fields or bushes, water supply so that she does not have to trek for miles to carry water, and an earthen Chulah smokeless stove that provides health benefits to cook clean food for her family.
I have developed open source tutorials in my Zero Carbon Network on YouTube which provides step-by-step guidance so everyone can build their own house and other structures. We are training non-literate women as artisans in making safe but affordable bamboo and earth structures.
3 My advice to young women always is: there will be hurdles and difficulties on the way, but don’t ever give up your dream. Keep steadfast and victory will come your way. At the same time my advice to fathers, brothers and especially husbands is: please provide them the support they need for them to achieve their potential and protect them from others who would wish to pull them down.
Justice (retd) Majida Razvi
First woman Judge of a High Court in Pakistan & Chairperson of Sindh Human Rights Commission
1 Women have a number of challenges that they face on a daily basis, whether it’s related to healthcare, mobility, workplace security to name a few. Nowadays, the biggest challenge is the extremism that is prevalent in every way which becomes a hurdle for women. In the last 2-3 years, we have noticed a rise in religious extremism. Some of the madrassas have now started affecting the mentality of the general public, especially those who are illiterate. To tackle this, we need mass and proper education that focuses to change of mindset, particularly children’s learning towards science and mathematics.
2 As a lawyer, I have been trying to spread awareness about the laws related to women, especially about knowledge of every days issues, how to get CNICs, passport, to register birth and deaths in the family, how and from whom get legal advice and help if needed etc. Since women don’t usually read much about the laws, I used to write about it in the form of stories to make it interesting. I use to go in the areas of Liyari, Khadda and talk to them about their rights under Islam and the secular laws. During the war of 1971, for 5 years I went and worked in Orangi, to provide help at the grass-root level. During my practice I use to give free advice and did many cases pro bono. When I became a judge, I continued to help within my mandate.
After my retirement, I was appointed as the Chairperson of The National Commission on the Status of Women in 2002 and my first priority was to review the Hudood laws. Now, these laws have completely changed. Since last 7 years, I have been chairing the Sindh Human Rights Commission to stop violation of human rights and provide relief to people who are victims of such violations. I am also involved in many other voluntary services to provide relief to people.
3 You should be brave, committed and dedicated to achieve your goals. You have to be resilient in order to move forward.
Theatre performer, classical dancer, social activist, founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan, and one of the organisers of Aurat March
1 I think the lack of recognition of women’s labour needs to be highlighted. Women work from the time they wake up early in the morning till the time they go to bed at night. This work includes all kinds of labour: physical, emotional, mental and intellectual. However this labour is unpaid and not even acknowledged. I feel that to get this concept accepted by our patriarchal society is a huge challenge.
2 Everyone has a role to play and as an artist I have always used my art in a conscious way to raise issues of women’s rights and the rights of all those who are vulnerable and marginalised in our society. My involvement in organising the Aurat March is part of this effort. We want to bring women on a joint platform so that we can collectively struggle to achieve our status as equal and free citizens in a peaceful and just society.
3 I think we women have to find our true strength, learn to become independent both financially and emotionally and stand up against oppression, so that we become liberated in all aspects of life.
Women Rights Activist and Director of Aurat Foundation
1 Along with poverty and illiteracy, the biggest challenge is shrinking spaces for women in every field in the name of religion as interpreted by mullahs which is against the spirit of Islam.
2 I don’t know whether I did or did not but wrote a lot about it. Worked hard for raising awareness about women and human rights and remained part of advocacy and lobby teams for pro-women laws and campaigns for political and economic empowerment of women.
3 My advice is never get married to a person who does not respect your aspirations and give enough time to understand each other or if the values of your families do not allow to meet him. Ask your parents to make it clear to them. An educated and empowered girl should not jump into this relationship without making sure the other party is empathetic to her. She should also behave reasonably and should carry on peaceful coexistence.
Journalist, TV personality and public diplomacy practitioner
1 In my opinion, low self-esteem and seeking external validation are the biggest challenges faced by women. We are conditioned to rely on others to validate and ‘complete’ us. This keeps us trapped in stifling compliance and never asking for what we truly deserve. We settle for the bare minimum because we do not know our own worth. Breaking the bias and shackles begins with challenging our own perspective and norms.
2 My life, my story and experiences and especially my work in media, is dedicated to inspiring girls and women to be their best. I celebrate and highlight their stories of grit and compassion. I am particularly focused on supporting women athletes and sports stars. I also advise incubators and connect women entrepreneurs and their enterprising business ideas to relevant networks and resources. My most favourite bit is to make time for schools and professional universities and meet their students. I volunteer to mentor them in a safe space about their queries through my talks. I am a firm believer of women supporting other women as a force to uplift society.
3 There is only one person you need on your side to reach for the stars and create the life of your dreams: YOU. Believe in yourself. Cast aside your fears and claim your spot in the limelight.
Director/Executive Producer at Uks - A Research, Resource and Publication Center
1 Women are continually challenged by gender biases, injustices, by harassment of all kinds, especially sexual harassment, both at home and workplace. Having to balance work and home can be quite severe for working women. Then there’s the challenge of how to live their lives freely and independently and not be bogged down by the ‘what will people say’ factor.
2 I’ve been able to change the mindsets of quite a few mediapersons through a continuous, committed and proactive advocacy for gender-sensitive media content – be it news, entertainment or even advertisements. I’ve been monitoring and analysing the media with a gender lens and then take my analysis to those who produce the content. It’s a tedious process and also very challenging.
3 Be vocal, be pro-active and fearless and continue to follow your ambitions. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but unless you become all of the above, you’ll be pushed back, suppressed and exploited. Try to build a strong foundation with the bricks others have thrown at you. Never give up!
Tara Uzra Dawood
CEO of Dawood Global Foundation, Ladiesfund & Educate a Girl
1 Continue to face challenges of self-motivation in face of cultural norms, comfort and welcome to female employees (including some eminent companies still not have a woman’s bathroom), struggling to have a network of market players with inside job market information including salary prices, and traditional work-life balance issues amplified due to lockdowns and home-schooling of kids during Covid-19.
2 To date, Ladiesfund has worked with 12,000 women and youth in Pakistan, and Educate a Girl vocationally trained 4750 young women in Pakistan and Nigeria. There is always more to do.
3 Believe in yourself. If you know what you want, go for it; the entire universe will adapt around you.
Dr Rufina Soomro
Head of General Surgery Department at Liaquat National Hospital
1 The most important challenge is surviving at workplace. Unfortunately, workplace harassment, which exists across all fields, is a big challenge that young girls have to face at times. I also feel sometimes women are probably made to work more than their male counterparts. Not only professionally, these women are tackling work as homemakers as well.
2 When I was a resident, I was the only woman in the female surgery department. But now there are more doctors in medical colleges, so there are more female doctors any way. Now, surgery is totally dominated by women and they are doing a brilliant job. Efforts are being made to give support to working women so they are able to achieve their goals like having nurseries at workplace. Similarly, we continue to encourage women to help them move forward and that does help.
3 I’d say whatever challenges come your way, stay steadfast, honest and sincere to your work. Do what is ethically and otherwise right. If you are on the right path, all the barriers will eventually fall one by one.
First Badminton player from Pakistan to have qualified for the Olympics
1 In my opinion, the main challenge faced by women in sport today are that the first priority of the family is not the sport itself due to which many talented women don’t opt for professional sport career.
2 I believe that I have been successful to uplift the women out there to some extent as I am the first Pakistani Badminton Olympian. This would definitely motivate women to keep faith in themselves and keep working towards their goal as it is definitely possible for us to reach the highest spot.
3 I would encourage all the women out there not to give up too soon just because of society’s pressure. They should believe in their ability to strive and shouldn’t be scared to follow their ambitions.
Social entrepreneur, CEO of CIRCLE
1 Pakistan is ranked 153 out of 156 on the Global Gender Gap as per World Economic Forum, which needs to be addressed, because no nation has progressed without the participation of its full workforce which includes women. There is a big digital gender divide which I feel is critical to bridge. Most women don’t have access to internet, digital tools like smartphones which disconnects them from market opportunities, economic livelihood and skills. Mobility is another concern for women.
2 I have been involved in advocating for women empowerment through tech and entrepreneurship, working on financial inclusion and now digital literacy. All of this has been really rewarding and every time I engage with women from the communities and at different levels, it’s exciting to see the impact. Our goal is to touch 10,000 women with basic digital literacy, business and life skills using smartphones. I feel that access to internet and basic digital literacy is now a human right. The pandemic has shown us how important it is and that is what we want to shift to and support in Pakistan in creating a digital Pakistan. By 2025, our goal is one million women with the support of our stakeholders and help Pakistan prosper.
3 It’s really important to start believing in yourself and discovering what you really like. Surround yourself with positive people who will uplift you. And remember to work on your well-being as one can often neglect themselves amid responsibilities.
CEO of Shaan-e-Pakistan
1 In my candid view, Pakistani women face many challenges in this chauvinistic society where all major organisations, mostly government, are headed by men. Usually, women are taken for granted and their hard work goes unnoticed. Men are intimidated by strong women and view them as their rivals not partners. Being the CEO of Shaan-e-Pakistan, I have also encountered a lot of challenges myself.
2 I am on a mission to mentor people, guide and direct them and share my experiences. I feel this is our moral and ethical responsibility to show the right way to other women. I feel we have been untiringly working on campaigns like ‘Together We Grow’.
3 I would advise you to keep fighting and follow your direction. No one can help you except you to achieve what you aim for. Take advice and lessons from mistakes, better to take advice from your seniors or mentors.
By Team YOU!
Erum Noor Muzaffar
Adeela Akmal & Wallia Khair