Women are more powerful than we realize. A woman’s voice is often the deciding factor in how a family votes and the outcome of an election. Needless to say, without this demographic, a nation cannot go forward, let alone thrive. By making women and girls feel important, producing policies that encourage gender equality and supporting women’s organizations and groups in every country, we will heal the world holistically and bring about lasting peace.
In 2015, world leaders adopted “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals will we get justice and inclusion, economies that work for all, and sustaining our shared environment now and for future generations. Two key elements are essential for building a nation: good governance and development. Pakistan’s shift from being a security state to a welfare state and the country’s development depends on how much the role of women is enhanced in various sectors and how their abilities are utilized. In current times of economic uncertainty and political turmoil, it is ideal for Pakistan to move from a security state to a welfare state. A welfare state is characterized by social equality and equal participation in economic affairs. The welfare state goals can be achieved by creating more jobs, provision of education and health facilities, and women empowerment.
The Government of Pakistan has already taken many initiatives to empower women in Pakistan according to Article 34 of the Constitution of Pakistan: “Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all national and international forums”. One such initiative is the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), which aims to improve the status of women through policy reforms. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and the now Ehsaas Program are initiatives that aim to uplift women’s socio-economic status by providing them with financial assistance.
“We want to empower women, ensure their economic independence and provide them with equal development opportunities.”
These were the words of our Prime Minister Imran Khan in his first speech after becoming the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. The statement indicated how serious he is in ensuring women’s empowerment in Pakistan. A gendered approach has been adopted in Pakistan’s Vision 2025 to move towards a fair and equitable society, where women’s contributions cannot be undermined or ignored. There are five interlinked components of women’s empowerment embedded in Pakistan Vision 2025. These include:
- Empowerment through education and skills development
- Empowerment through economic participation
- Empowerment through the protection of legal rights
- Empowerment through political participation
- Empowerment by improving the health and nutrition status.
In conjunction with this, United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) has been working closely with the Women’s Commission in Pakistan to help develop and strengthen their capacity to respond to their objectives towards advancing the rights of women and girls. In this regard, UNFPA supported training for fifty staff members of the Punjab Women’s Commission (PWC), including five Commissioners. The training provided learning opportunities in strengthening evidence-based data collection and management skills for effective advocacy, engagement with key partners/stakeholders, mainstreaming gender through vital thematic areas such as ending gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) issues, women economic empowerment, and leadership development. Also, in this regard, the UNFPA Country Office has been supporting capacity-building initiatives for women parliamentarians through the National Assembly’s Women Parliamentary Caucus (WPC). The main objective of the collaboration between UNFPA and WPC has been to ensure that government policies, laws, and development programs advance gender equality and women’s rights.
March 23 and Pakistan’s Women
Pakistan boasts of having some of the finest armed forces in South Asia, but many people don’t know that the women who serve in the Pakistani military are just as brave. While the rules have changed dramatically over the years, women have always played a part in Pakistan’s military, from policing to fighting in combat alongside their male counterparts.
Today, women in Pakistan are serving with distinction in all three branches of the armed forces. The role of women as nurses and doctors is nothing new, but women’s active participation as fighter pilots and sailors is an extremely recent phenomenon. Subsequently, in a recent historic decision, the FC (Frontier Corps) Baluchistan has inducted female officers in Mand to help with relief efforts.
The Pakistan Air Force has recently welcomed its first combat-ready female fighter pilot. Ayesha Farooq is one of 19 female pilots in the force and the first to qualify for war.
As an aspiring female officer of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, Riffat Karim knows well that Allah has given her “certain responsibilities” to serve her country, not just as a fighter but also as a teacher for the next generation because “what you teach them is what they will practice”. Today, with over five thousand women working for the army and navy, she sees no reason why the number should not increase.
Women have always played a vital role in nation-building. There is no denying that without their participation, a nation cannot reach its zenith and become a significant power or even survive as an independent unit. Maya Angelou, a famous champion of civil rights had said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
The history of Pakistan bears witness to the fact that women had always taken part in the progress of this country, and even before Pakistan came into being, our ladies actively participated in the freedom struggle. Some even laid down their lives during those turbulent times when India was under British rule. There are many examples of successful women who have contributed to the development of their country. The most outstanding of these is Fatima Jinnah, sister of Quaid-e-Azam, who played an essential part in achieving Pakistan. She started a movement against the dictatorial regime of General Ayub Khan. Her speeches inspired the people to take a firm stand against the dictator. She was the first woman to contest a presidential election in Pakistan.
In one of her historical speeches, Fatima Jinnah said, ‘There is a magic power in your own hands. Take your vital decisions-they may be grave and momentous and far-reaching in their consequences. Think a hundred times before you take any decision, but once a decision is taken, stand by it as one man.’
Another noteworthy contribution was that of Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan. Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan played a vital role in the Pakistan Movement. She was a lady of great caliber and capacity. Her personality was so strong that she won the hearts of everyone who contacted her. Due to her strong will-power and determination, she emerged as one of the leading woman figures in the Pakistan Movement. She played a significant role in the independence movement of Pakistan. She was appointed as a member of the All India Muslim League Working Committee by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah himself, which shows how important role did he consider her in making Pakistan. She helped him in all his activities. Without any hesitation, she accompanied him whenever he visited different cities of India to spread awareness among Muslims and make them join the All India Muslim League. She was also the first woman governor of Sindh Province, serving from April 19, 1948, to March 17 1953. In addition, she served as the President of the All-Pakistan Women Association (APWA) from 1948 until she died in 1990.
Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to serve as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was educated at Harvard and Oxford and worked tirelessly fighting for democracy in her country. In 1988, she became the first female leader of a Muslim state, serving as prime minister until 1990. All South Asian women take pride in this contribution. Malala Yousafzai has become a global symbol for the right to education and is recognized by world leaders for speaking out on the importance of universal access to education. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and the right of all children to education. She was also the youngest person ever to win this award. She has been leading the younger generation towards a progressive way of life through her campaigns on education for girls.
However, the contributions of Pakistani women are not just limited to education and politics. The women of Pakistan have developed their capabilities and skills in various fields of life. They have the opportunities to come forward and participate in activities like education, politics, social welfare, economic uplift, scientific development, and other fields. Besides, they have also proved themselves as good teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers and managers. In every field, they have shown tremendous zeal and dynamism. They are showing their talent in our own country and foreign countries. As a result of these developments during the last ten years, the number has increased tremendously.
On January 4 2020, the first-ever Pakistani Female Engagement team in any United Nations (UN) mission worldwide received UN medals for serving in the Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Maj. Samia Rehman’s role has been pivotal in ensuring this.
Moreover, another moment of pride for Pakistan was when the first female ever, Lt. Gen Nigar Khan, rose to the rank of a three-star general and the first woman in history to lead as Colonel Commandant of the Army’s Medical Corps (AMC). Her services for the nation are unmatched. The current First Lady of Pakistan, Samina Alvi, has made tremendous efforts for the Pink Ribbon campaign to fight against breast cancer. Also, she has been continually stressing the need for women to come forward and join the field of ICT in order to become financially inclusive. 2021 has also seen significant advancements in financial contributions for the nation by female-led startups. Mina Salman, the founder of Bagallery, raised $4.5 million in Series A Seed Funding. Furthermore, Sehat Kahani, led by Dr Sara Saeed and Dr Iffat Zara, raised another $1 million for their telemedicine startup. There are many other examples where women in tech and business have contributed heavily to the economy.
However, despite this progress, there are still many problems for women in Pakistan. The reasons behind this backwardness are many, but it is clear that there is no dearth of talent among Pakistani women. It is also important to note that Islam has greatly emphasized women’s education, but unfortunately, our society has ignored this critical issue.
In the coming years, the role of women in Pakistan will increase. The strategic importance of the country and the growing role of women in its economy means that this trend is likely to be reinforced. Various government agencies and civil society organizations must continue to work together to train and educate women to take advantage of emerging opportunities.
There are no easy answers here as solutions need to be found at various levels: Pakistan needs to become more prosperous, more vital institutions need to be established, the education system needs to be reformed, and a reduction in gender discrimination must come from within Pakistani society. The law on domestic violence against women needs to be more stringent and publicized at the national level. The government should take steps to enhance service providers’ capacity, such as police, prosecutors, and judges, through training for better implementation of the law.
This year, on a landmark occasion, Justice Ayesha Malik was sworn in as the first female Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This is a step in the right direction. However, the Government of Pakistan should adopt a multi-pronged strategy to improve the overall status of women. The strategy should have a strong legal framework and effective mechanisms to implement the laws and social and cultural measures to change mindsets. It is also important to involve men to break the stereotypical mindset about women’s role in society.
The media’s role in increasing awareness about violence against women, particularly domestic violence, needs to be recognized. The government should also initiate a public debate on the issue of domestic violence, climate change, STEAM education, and female reproductory health through seminars, conferences, and talk shows on electronic and social media.
PM Imran Khan has taken a great initiative to give freelancers a tax holiday. This will encourage women to work from home to earn a decent living for themselves. However, more rebates and loan schemes focusing solely on female entrepreneurs need to be introduced.
The role of women in developing countries cannot be ignored. Women should be given equal rights. They are just as much a part of the world as anyone else. Their opinions, ideas, and support, along with their husbands and other family members, should be considered when planning for the future of a nation, culture or community. Many women are working day and night towards peace, harmony and prosperity of Pakistan. They play a pivotal role in social development and empowerment in every sector and aspect of the economy, community or social activities.