How the modern Pakistani woman is taking national matters into her own hands
Fatima Jinnah must be smiling in the heavens, watching the daughters of her beloved nation strive to rebuild it — just the way she did herself. Having given up her career to support her brother’s fight for Pakistan and helping the community otherwise as well, the dentist, biographer and stateswoman contributed immensely towards social work and encouraged women to participate in politics of the era, launching wave of change that fueled the fight for freedom further.
Sadly, this flame that shone brightly back in the 1940’s simmered down soon after and politics became a no-go area for women. Although resilient, the average Pakistani woman was forced to alienate herself from such a male-dominated field and confine her expertise to the family and home.
Re-entering the political arena
But nowadays, the winds of change have finally stirred again. The present-day state of Pakistani politics has rekindled a spirit of nationalism once again — not just amongst men but women too. Tired of playing silent spectators to social and political dramas, they seem to have awoken and taken it upon themselves to better the country and make the masses heard. Gone are the days when Pakistani women would passively accept their fates; they are now prepared to fight for what is right and will let nothing stop them.
Political worker Sarah Ahmad is one such individual who has broken all taboos and carved herself a niche in the local political scene in just six years. As a Women’s Coordinator for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), Punjab and the Social Media Head for NA122, Sarah is living proof that with a little hard work and perseverance, women can achieve whatever they wish. From organising PTI’s first ever youth meeting at her house in Karachi to the current door-to-door campaign she is conducting in Lahore, Sarah never lets negativity become a roadblock.
However, she faced discouragement in her initial days in the field. Her parents and many others advised her to rather utilise her degree and pursue a regular job elsewhere but she remained steadfast. “Today, I have garnered respect from those very people! They are proud of me, listen to me and are inspired to do something positive for our country too,” says Sarah proudly. For her, any resentment from others, is a great source of motivation. “I have stuck by the words Khan sahib said to me when I initially started off. He said that, ‘Whenever people criticise you, it means you are going up the ladder and closer to success.’”
Other women like Sahar Abdur Rehman — a supporter of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) — are lucky enough to have familial support for a political career from the beginning. For her, entering the arena was a family tradition as her mother and grandmother had done the same. In the quest towards a flourishing Pakistan, Sahar encourages everyone to try and make a difference by selecting the right leaders first. “This is the reason I do everything in my capacity to further party activities,” claims Sahar, who has organised election campaigns and even sat in protest for 100 days at Sea View in Karachi.
Participating for a cause
The days of pointing fingers and blaming the government for its shortcomings are indeed long gone. The population has awakened from its comatose state and sprung into action with unprecedented enthusiasm. “We are in a state of emergency right now wherein no matter how much we do, it will still not be enough,” explains Almas Taufiq, who has been providing religious and secular education pro-bono to underprivileged children for the last 11 years. “If we want to uplift society, we cannot rely solely on the government anymore. We have to get up and contribute in whatever capacity possible,” she states. Almas believes that every human being has a personal and social responsibility towards their country and should try their best to be an effective citizen. Almas appeals to the educated middle-classes to utilise free time and share their knowledge with others. “Giving something as simple as education is a highly pleasurable, energising and rewarding,” she says.
In fact, interior decorator Samar Godil makes it seem rather easy to manage a personal, professional and social life. Despite her hectic schedule, Samar takes out time to volunteer at an old age home to satisfy the urge to help others. Her work involves generating funds, supplies and organising activities between students and senior citizens to bring them together. “This way I know I have started a chain of activities through which I have connected likeminded people,” she says. She believes that every society has its iniquities but it is up to each individual member to choose whether they will be its victim or creator. “I have chosen to be a creator,” claims Samar. “Giving donations is just one way of helping out. Making time to share your skills and love means much more. We should realise the privileges we have which can help improve things for those who do not and ourselves too.” Samar also provides career counseling for children at The Citizens Foundation.
Most recently, a new generation of social workers rose to the forefront in July when Karachi was affected by deadly heatwave that killed over 1,000. The situation had gotten so bad that it had become near impossible to get a shroud or burial space in the city. This prompted women across the city to come together and devise a solution. “When I saw the images of the havoc the heat wave was wrecking in my city, I had to do something to stop it,” says Sofia Hassan. To help, she lead a relief drive to collect bottled water, towels, stretchers, beds, medicines and other essentials that were required by the hospitals and sending them over. She was also present at the hospitals physically lest a helping hand was needed.
However, Sofia does not approve of those who wait for a disaster to strike before taking action and wishes that they would begin working in the present. “Be on your toes! Be prepared! Join a cause if you want but don’t let the devastation spread so far that you are affected too,” she warns. “I did everything through social media, spreading awareness, recruiting volunteers and collecting donations, etc,” says Sofia, adding that the drive was so successful that the donations and supplies received overflowed.
Working in the present for the future
The past couple of years have seen a tremendous rise in the number of women taking to jalsas and dharnas, in order to show their support. “Women, irrespective of cast or creed, are united at these jalsas and nothing stops them, even disabilities,” shares Sofia who attended some jalsas in Karachi recently. The politically active youngster says, “Women who were in a state beyond paralysis have awakened and are ready to make a difference at all costs. Standing in the open, with thousands of strangers with only love of their country at heart, is a highly overwhelming feeling.”
The recent elections also saw an encouraging turnout of women — even those who previously didn’t have the remotest inclination towards politics. Almost everyone stepped out to cast their votes in 2013. What prompted them do so? Ayesha Khan says that she felt she had tolerated enough injustice from society and thought that voting was the only plausible way to end it. “Women have to be part of change. Not utilising the power of the vote is a grave mistake and exactly what gives a free hand to the corrupt,” says Ayesha. “We owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to make an educated decision and select an honest and competent leader who can eliminate the ills that plague it,” says Ayesha.
We have already witnessed at the time of Pakistan’s inception what nationalism and selfless dedication can do for a nation and its people. The participation of women is a potent factor in bringing about this change. Now that this segment of the populace has come into action once again, with a renewed passion to contribute, challenge, demand and lead, it is expected that the vehemence will soon catch on and ultimately, renew the very fabric of the country.
Rahat Kamal is a contributing writer at The Express Tribune and Independent PR writer and editor. She tweets @rahat_kamal.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, October 4th, 2015.