IFWA (Islamabad Foreign Office Women Association): Role in Women Empowerment

IFWA was established in 1995 by foreign women around the world living in Islamabad, it is a non-political, non-profit charitable organization working on various social programs in Pakistan. It was formed by diplomat’s spouses stationed in Pakistan to give medical and educational support to underprivileged women and children.

IFWA is committed to support underprivileged women and their children; we want to strengthen girls by education.

(IFWA President Mrs. Ursula Keller)

There are several organizations and institutions; advocating for women rights, promoting legal and policy reforms and alleviating the status of marginalized women across Pakistan. Civil society of Pakistan and Pakistani feminists have established number of courageous non-governmental organizations and involve in proactive activism for women empowerment and prevention of violence against women. Among them Islamabad Foreign Women’s Association (IFWA) has made some remarkable achievements in raising awareness on women’s rights across Pakistan.

 

One of the objective of IFWA is to promote a better understanding of the social, cultural and economic life of Pakistan.  IFWA arranges different programs including exhibitions, cultural shows, and social meetings to promote intra cultural harmony and raising awareness and charities for social up gradation of underprivileged children and marginalized section of society. IFWA also aims to play an effective role in the social welfare activities and to raise funds for charitable purposes by arranging an Annual Fair and other programs. Since its formation IFWA have expanded their framework and targeted many areas for social work that includes

 

  • Establishing welfare schools to educate children from unprivileged families.
  • Create awareness among masses for gender equality and women empowerment.
  • Awareness on female health issues especially targeting on breast cancer awareness.
  • Worked on uneven distribution of information and communication in the society by reducing digital divide through various training and development courses.
  • Organize various Information Technology program and language learning courses
  • Raise awareness among masses on drug addiction.
  • Working in health care sectors and collaborating with different hospitals.
  • Providing financial assistance to orphanages.

Women empowerment in political, social, cultural and economic activity is essential for the achievement of sustainable development of a country. Women across the globe are fighting for their equal power relations to attain fulfilling and healthy lives that operate from their most personal to public life. Changing socio-political norms in a society requires rigorous program actions that will help improve women’s access to secure livelihood and economic resources, overcome barriers to their participation in public life, alleviate their housework responsibilities and raise awareness through effective means of education, mass communication and organizing different social events.

The status of women in Pakistan varies across different classes, regions, ethnicities, rural, urban divisions due to unequal distribution of socio economic resources and impact of societal and feudal norms on lives of women across Pakistan. However women in Pakistan still faces discrimination due to patriarchal structure of the society.

IFWA has successfully contributed to various dimensions of social life to uplift the status of women and underprivileged children in Pakistan by mainly focusing on education, health, media and social awareness. IFWA also covers international conferences, delegation and organizing visits for foreign guests.

The overall scenario of education and literacy rate in Pakistan is not satisfactory and in case of women’s education it presents more bleak picture, the educational status of women is one of the lowest in the world with very wide urban rural gulf. It also helps in limited number of scholarship grants from higher education commission of Pakistan.

IFWA is very active in raising awareness on women empowerment through social services and it has taken multiple initiatives and conducted various social gatherings with the involvement of women dignitaries from various embassies in Pakistan.

Annual charity bazar is one of the most notable event organized by IFWA under the cultural diplomacy initiative. The most recent bazar was held in Nov-2020 ; it also marked silver jubilee of IFWA. It drew large attention of people from all walk of life. More than hundred entrepreneurs and stall holders, the bazar provides them an opportunity to showcase their talent and it also provided an opportunity to the citizens of Islamabad to enjoy traditional cuisines of different countries. Cultural performance along with traditional cuisine was arranged to entertain different diplomatic missions. Number of private businesses have showcased their talent and hand crafted goods as a sign of cultural awareness to the participants. Asian, Continental and Central Asian cuisines along with their handicrafts drew larger attention of people. The Indonesian, Japanese and Maldives’s stalls target the ordinary visitors as their potential buyer and successfully achieved it. Thai, British, Austria and Hungarian stalls were also able to attract larger crowds to the traditional delicacies of their respective country.

The very aim of the bazar was to raise funds for underprivileged and differently- able children. The event presented amalgamation of different cultures and targeted to promote and create awareness on Pakistani culture. A number of stalls were also put comprising local and traditional jewelry, souvenirs, handicrafts and home decoration items. The purpose of setting up these stalls was to raise funds for donation to a private school established by IFWA for unprivileged children. The event was noteworthy as dignitaries from different embassies operating in Pakistan. The beneficiaries of this year’s bazar were Al-Firdous Welfare Association (AFWA)  and Vocational Center for less privileged youth and children of Sunbeam School System.

The participants lauded the efforts of IFWA to generate resources for the children of poor families who wants to get education but aren’t able to do so due to financial constraints. They also requested that society should join the cause and make such initiative for the betterment and welfare of these children. The Participants were optimistic about the future prospectus of IFWA for underprivileged children.

IFWA has multiple partners and it has collaborated with different institutions to set up schools for underprivileged children. Sunbeam School System is a financially sustainable chain of school set up in different villages to educate the unprivileged children.  Charity and donations of 25th annual bazar were given to sunbeam school. Sunbeam school with the collaboration of IFWA not only helps to educate the children from poor families but it also provides staff for other such initiatives.

Al-Firdous School in Barakahu Islamabad is a philanthropic foundation set up by Miss Janat-ul-Firdous in the year 20212. The school is managing its activities and educating the needy and poor children in the surrounding areas. IFWA collaborated and collect charity from the annual charity bazar and donate it to the noble cause initiated by Miss Firdous.

“Zubaan” training is an initiative in collaboration with IFWA for teaching of Urdu as foreign language to diplomats and their staff. It caught attention and became one of the top institute to teach and train in Urdu language. Zubaan provides services in business and communication trainings, intercultural courses and workshops, translation and interpretations and development. Zubaan has expanded its products and services for expats in Pakistan and abroad.

Another cultural diplomacy event was held by the wives of 50 foreign envoys in Islamabad and a joint cookbook was launched titled “Culinary Diplomacy: Sharing Recipes, Building Bridges,” that contains 143 recipes from 50 different countries. Many diplomats stationed in Islamabad and many foreign dignitaries graced the event and put stress on closer ties with Pakistan. The event also featured live cooking and a feast of international cuisine prepared from the recipes in the book. A few copies of signed book by Mrs.Arif Alvi (President of Pakistan) were auctioned.  The revenue generated was donated for charity purpose.

IFWA has successfully conducted different events to raise awareness on women empowerment and promotion of culture and local Pakistani cuisine. It is the higher time to shrug off this immature notion and belief that women have not the potential to bring a positive and notable change in any country. IFWA is a leading example and a successful venture set by foreign women living in Islamabad and how they along with local partners are bringing a positive change in the society of Pakistan. There is greater need to realize that women are equal participants in development process and no state can progress without the contribution of women.

Indeed IFWA has organized number of outstanding social events and represent Pakistani culture as an act of nation branding and cultural diplomacy along with charity and fund raising for assistance of unprivileged families. Such initiatives and cross cultural harmony is much needed for the state of Pakistan. Although IFWA has made remarkable efforts in women empowerment and nation branding yet there is a lot more to do as women in Pakistan face many problems that includes gender inequality, patriarchy, rape , forced marriages, female child infanticide, socio-cultural pressure, access to basic education and lack of economic activity etc.

No country can achieve success unless its women are empowered. Women empowerment requires holistic efforts from civil society, academia and policy making apparatus through education, skill development and enabling women to articulate their needs in political process. At the platform of IFWA there is a greater need to adopt the policy of engagement and participation of women, it also needs to initiate self-awareness among masses and acceptance of women role as an important factor. Cross cultural engagements on this platform will help to mitigate gender stereotypes in Pakistan. IFWA should also focus on positive image building and nation branding by organizing different cultural exhibitions, folk music concerts and culinary diplomacy means. IFWA also needs to expand their charitable work to less developed provinces of Pakistan and initiate clubs and societies as gracious givers for worthy wellness of the less privileged section of society.

IFWA have successfully organized various programs including exhibitions, cultural shows, and social meetings to promote intra cultural harmony and raising awareness and charities for social up gradation of underprivileged children and women of Pakistan.

 

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Sobia Khursheed
About Sobia Khursheed 1 Article
Writing enthusiast with strong insight on social and political issues. Accomplished various sustainable development projects and lecturer of international relations in NDU Islamabad.