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Karachi

December 4, 2017

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From harassment to objectification, women discuss problems they face in workplaces

Despite the push for gender equality gaining momentum worldwide, it is still easier for men to pursue any profession of their choice, while people belonging to other genders still have to work hard to convince the world that they can perform equally well as leaders in any occupation.
This was the gist of the dialogue in a session titled ‘Gender and Work’ at the second edition of the Women of the World (WOW) Festival, which was organised by the British Council. The two-day event held at Alliance Francaise featured workshops, screenings, musical performances as well as mentoring sessions for those attending and concluded on Sunday.
Incidentally, the inclusion of only women as the panellists at the ‘Gender and Work’ session was quite contrary to title of the discussion, which then focused on the perils women face at the workplace ranging from harassment, discrimination and objectification to issues they face when they assume leadership roles.
Dr Faiza Mushtaq, the chairperson of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) moderated the discussion. The speakers included Saima Qamar, from the corporate sector, Dilshad Ashraf with the Aga Khan Educational Service and Farzana Ali, a senior print and broadcast journalist from Peshawar.
Saima, who is the chairperson of Kantar Insights Pakistan and has been in the corporate sector for more than two decades, said that she had been fortunate enough to not face sexual harassment at work, but had had to prove her mettle at every step of the way.
“The biggest challenge that I faced as a woman was to be taken seriously enough because I have been in a leadership position for many years now,” she said. “We need to understand that being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive, because this misconception creates problems at the workplace.”
Saima also added that the country needs more workplaces where working mothers can bring their children so that they

do not end up quitting their careers. “It is the right of every working woman to demand a space if she wants to bring her child. Instead of asking women to quit, we should be more flexible towards them,” she said.
Aga Khan Educational Service’s Dilshad, who works on gender issues with academic centres, shared her experience of starting work as a teacher in northern Pakistan and then moving to Karachi for higher education at a time when she was expecting a child.
“I still vividly remember that I was asked to sign a form which stated that if I underperform in my studies for three months, I would be asked to leave. This shows that even before a woman steps into the field, many hurdles await her,” she said. Dilshad added that she kept working hard despite all odds and not only proved herself but has now been helping other women find opportunities to acquire education and skills.
Journalist Farzana Ali had a lot to say about the struggles of being a woman, working in the field of journalism. Although now she is one of only two female news channel bureau chiefs in the country, Farzana said she has faced constant harassment at work from the time she stepped into the field and began to make a space for herself covering hard-hitting stories.
“I think the real troubles start once a woman breaks the glass ceiling. In order to hold us back, people resort to character assassination, but, thanks to the support of my close ones, I was able to progress [in my career],” she said.
Referring to last week’s terrorist attack at Agricultural Training Institute in Peshawar, she said that despite being at a senior position, she was in the field reporting without any protective gear as bullets flew all over the area.
Commenting on the notion that only a “pretty” face must make it to the television screens, Farzana said that once a bureaucrat had remarked that she was intelligent but wasn’t “hot enough”. “I told this man that I was a human, not a cup of tea,” she said.

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