Celebrating International Women’s Day with Pakistani Female Leaders from Lawyers to Trekkers, Models to CEOs, Bloggers to Entrepreneurs, who are constantly working to be empower other women and themselves through their strenuous efforts by challenging the patriarchy
By Asia Jamil
A few years ago, a survey by the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation had ranked Pakistan as the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women. The Guardian had also quoted this survey report in its May 9, 2019 edition.The Thomson Reuters Foundation, had reported: “Pakistan is ranked amongst worst countries for women in terms of economic resources and discrimination as well as the risks women face from cultural, religious and traditional practices, including so-called honour killings. The country also ranked for non-sexual violence, including domestic abuse. In Pakistan, 90 percent of women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes”.
Amid such inequalities and injustice against women, who would take on all the challenges and societal pressure to pave way for other women, who are the trailblazers in Pakistan?
The female Leaders of Pakistan are the ones, who despite the constant judgements, tags, gender-stereotyping, character assassination, rampant misogyny, prevailing discrimination and bigotry against them-they choose to fight such injustice and become the leaders of change.
International Women’s Day is celebrated this year on the 8th March, let us hail the five Powerful Women from Pakistan who are living to serve womanhood in their own ways.
Mehwish Muhib Kakakhel
From a remote village of Tangi, Charsadda in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ms Mehwish Muhib chose to study Law and join the High Court as an Advocate. Ms Muhib is the only Cyber Crime Expert in Pakistan. She is the member of special committee constituted under the anti rape Act 2021 in the supervision of the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Ministry of Law and Justice against rape act. She is also the Vice President of Pakistan Jurists Association (Female Wing) and the Director of Litigation Pakistan Human Rights Movement.
Born in a Syed Pathan family- known for their marked conservativeness, she was the only female in her family to go for higher education. Not just excelling in the field of education, but also playing Softball on a National level which was introduced for the first time in her city, during her time, she was catcalled for playing as a female. Muhib says, ‘’Each day would bring a new challenge as a female from studying with boys, to travelling out of the city for education. I faced judgements, but I stood strong because my purpose had been bigger than losing courage to such discrimination. I fought with my inner fears first and got the courage to fight external pressure.’’
According to Ms Muhib, another chapter of challenges popped up in her life after joining the courts. She says, “I was discouraged by lawyers, friends and close relatives that this is not a profession for women. Others would say that your father is a senior advocate, he has made a name in this profession but not everyone can be like him. As a female you should reconsider your decision.”
After Muhib’s LLM degree, it encouraged many women lawyers to pursue their degrees in law. Muhib says, “Women at shelter homes where I have worked, wanted themselves and their daughters to get educated and become like me. I was seen as a role model by many women”
Ms Muhib was the only lawyer who recently contested the election for the post of Joint Secretary which was previously considered a male post. She says, “I was told to contest for the seat of the member executive and that I would fail as a woman, could not win and would not get votes. But I chose to fight and got the second highest vote. After my election, female lawyers were encouraged to apply, Last year three women lawyers won elections and this year five female lawyers are applying for the elections of both Peshawar High Court Bar Association and Peshawar Bar Association. This would not have been possible if I had not taken the first step into the field of bar politics which showed people that women can also apply for important seats.’’
Ms Muhib has filed many public interest litigations, which has changed the lives of women and people in Pakistan. She has also filed a writ petition to construct public toilets for women in every department (public or private), every building and over specific distance on roadsides in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and also to ensure parking spaces are in every building.
She says, “I have also filed a writ for my client challenging the citizenship act where husbands of women are deprived to get citizenship of Pakistan, but any male who marries a foreigner would be given citizenship which is a sheer violation of the constitution of Pakistan and our constitutional rights.’’
Ms Muhib’s message for other women on this International Women’s Day is, “Never lose hope, believe in yourself, stay consistent. People who discourage you today will praise and follow you tomorrow.”
Known as Rabi in her family and roaming Rabi in travel circles. She is from Indian Occupied Kashmir and lives in Pakistan. She holds an MPhil in Applied Linguistics and CELTA from International House. Ms Shafi is one of the rare solo female travellers from Pakistan, a mountaineer and a trekker.
Shafi’s instagram page is all about travel, travel destinations, travel advice, itineraries and connections, which are not only helping women travellers but also promoting tourism in Pakistan. She gets many queries from women and men regarding travel experiences. She feels like she has a purpose in life, where she is able to motivate people to take out time for themselves and especially for women who thought it was impossible to travel and trek mountains on their own. Shafi has paved the way for them to travel, trek, stay connected with nature and live a life on their own terms.
Although she dreamed of being an Airforce Pilot in her childhood, she was told by others, that it was not the profession for women. She wanted to be a singer , again it was not considered suitable for a girl from a good family in her society. She wanted to become an artist to draw and paint, but then it was considered haram(not allowed in her religion) to draw pictures.
Ms Shafi said, “I wanted to be a lawyer, but I would be killed if I did become one, my parents warned me. They wanted me to be a doctor following the path chosen by my elder sisters. I did not have any inclination to be one. I was more of a creative person. I did not have any plans by the time I was 18 about my life and what I was going to do about it. I went into the worst depression of my life, I started missing classes, not completing exam papers because I was felt so pressurised into being someone I did not want to be.’’
Shafi believes there is just so little that women can do in our society. Her life changed drastically after she discovered her passion for travelling. She says “After years of struggle I am a successful summiteer, I take people, especially girls with me to mountain expeditions to shed the fears associated with women climbing mountains by themselves, solo travelling and staying in camps. It is a whole new life experience.”
She shares, “Being independent and in charge of your own life always comes at a cost. You lose a lot of relationships on your way. I have had extreme challenges thrown at me, by family, by relatives, by friends especially when I chose not to follow their demands on who to marry, where to work, when to travel and deciding to steer my life my own way. Having a choice is the biggest challenge in our society. People around us feel challenged by that. Women are not expected to have a choice. They are usually expected to follow and be compliant.”
“I read somewhere that when a man says no it is a no but when a woman says no , it is the beginning of a negotiation. So, my life has been full of a lot of no’s and the struggles to make people realise it is one.”
Shafi is the first person, not just first female in her family to have an M.Phil degree. The First female to get a job, the first female to buy a car, the first female to drive intercity, the first female to file for divorce , the first female to travel abroad alone, the first female to get qualification from abroad and the first female in her family to climb 4000-5000 m high peaks.
Shafi says, “I have set a path for the rest of the girls in my family and community. They have an example to show to their parents now that this is possible, because I have carved the way for them. I take women to mountains and arrange for their stay and hike without fees to give them another perspective of life. I share travel stories and motivate women to travel through my instagram. ‘’
Shafi’s message for other women is, “Achieve ! that is my only message for women. Do not be afraid of anyone or anything. Be anything you want to be and achieve everything you want. The only hurdle is you !!”
Deeply influenced by the social inequalities around her and inspired by her father’s social work in her early age, Shad Begum has become a known figure both nationally and internationally. She earned the recognition for herself because of her determined struggle to improve the conditions of the marginalised segments, especially women of her community in the northwest of Pakistan, a deeply religious and conservative area where the Taliban publicly executed men and women on non-conformity to their version of Islam.
Begum is the founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation (ABKT), an organisation working toward the economic and political empowerment of communities in underserved areas of Pakistan.
Her organisation was uprooted during the Taliban take-over in Swat due to massive displacement of people in 2009-2010. Her resilience kept ABKT alive during enormous odds.
“I would like to strengthen and expand Women Voices Pakistan as a renowned and actively functional network across Pakistan to feature, connect and amply women voices across the board for an equal and just society.”
Ms. Begum previously worked with the UN Human Settlements Program as a consultant for the “Building Gender Ladder Project,” as well as with UNDP’s Women Political Participation Program.
To encourage women at the grassroots level, Shad contested local elections in 2001 as an independent candidate and served as councillor for five years in Dir Lower.
Shad Begum is Ashoka fellow, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at National Endowment for Democracy and Acumen Fellow. Shad is the recipient of numerous awards, including the U.S. Department of State’s “International Woman of Courage Award” (2012) and the “Prize for Creativity in Rural Life,” awarded by the Women’s World Summit Foundation (2008).
Shad is a TED speaker and has given her first official TED talk in Palm Spring, California on November 29, 2018.
In 2019 Shad has founded Women’s Voices Pakistan, an initiative to feature, connect and amplify the efforts of Women and Girls for an equal and just world.
“I would like to facilitate and train the young emerging women political from Malakand region to establish a woman led and women centered political party.”
Her message for other women on this International Women’s Day is, “Overcome your fears, face the challenges and step out of your comfort zone for yourself and others like you.”
An Actress, Host and Model from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-Meena Shams. She has been working for the last 17 years in multiple channels with multiple languages and is honoured with an Iron Lady title in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan.
Choosing a career in Modelling or Hosting on television is not an easy profession to join in a patriarchal society. In 2016, the murder of first social media star Qandeel Baloch from Pakistan had made headlines around the world.
Qandeel Baloch, was killed at the age of 26 by her brother in July 2016. It was honour killing as her brother was convinced that her videos and photographs posted online brought disrespect to their family.
Sadly, here are countless cases of (reported and unreported) murders in the name of honour in Pakistan and females who choose to join the professions of singing, modelling, hosting are an easy target. Ms Shams says, “I do face challenges every day in my life, but I have never given-up, nor will I ever give-up to such people who stop women from their right to choose for themselves.”
Miss Shams has been hosting a show called, Khyber Sahar for the last five years to support Women Empowerment. In her show she interviews the women leaders from her region and gives them the confidence to chase their dreams fearlessly. She says, “I have trust in our women, they have potential dreams to be the heroes and lead the community. They just need to focus on their dreams rather than choosing to subjugate through dependency on others.”
Ms Shams message for all women on this International Women’s day is, “Believe in your dreams and one day you will be able to touch the skies. Let us believe in ourselves rather than what others tell us. We are the captains of our life’s ships and we know where and how to sail. If we do not know sailing, we will learn from our mistakes. Therefore, let us accept our mistakes and ourselves unapologetically.’’
Afrah Sattar Khan
The social media influencer and the community Leader Ms Afrah Sattar is 27years old. She was born in Qatar but brought up in Peshawar, Pakistan. She graduated in international business from Newcastle business school-UK.
Ms Sattar is the founder of The Pakistani Sisters which is a women empowerment social media platform and aims to empower the women of northern Pakistan. Ms Sattar said, “As I originate from there, I always wanted to empower and help the women out my area, hence I came up with an idea of forming a Facebook group that can be their secret tool to success. The main aim is to shed some light on the hidden gems residing up north and to give them a voice of their own. “
Ms Sattar said, “Our community aims to support, encourage & empower women from all walks of life by providing them physical and emotional support wherever needed. The group offers a secure & personal space to women where they can discuss their day to day problems, work, social life, marital/relationship queries, taboo topics that the society is reluctant to address and much more. Our closed group consists of 39,000 + strong women who have been through several ups and downs in life and have proudly made it through. To date, the group has proved to be a big source of support and encouragement for women out there with 300K + conversations per month. They’ve named it their personal google.”
Ms Sattar is actively working to create safe spaces for women where they face no judgements, societal pressure and get freedom of expression. She wants to help women in need and through her Facebook group, many women have received legal help wherever needed and even their lives are saved from being killed in the name of Honour.
Ms Sattar’s message for all women on this International Women’s Day is, “Women should stick together, they are one another’s strength. We must support other women and work together to end the patriarchy. We must know that we make half the population of the world and this means if we are together, we can easily fight all the injustice done to us based on our gender. Remember, men can not live on their own, they need us, just as we need them. So , believe in your strength and go ahead. Together we can and will grow.”