The woman by common consent is the custodian of a sacred trust, namely the best elements in the spiritual and cultural heritage of the nation. To be able to discharge this trust you have to be fully qualified and equipped.... according to the cherished values and concepts of your nation.
(Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah’s speech delivered at Women’s Industrial Homes, Karachi, June 1949.)
The widespread impression of Pakistani women in the world, though wrong and mostly due to western media, has been skeptical to negative. Pakistani women, in general, are seen as marginalized, oppressed, and secondary, but the reality is quite different. This perception is neither fair, nor true. During my studies at the London School of Economics and University of Cambridge, I came across an array of written materials that kept portraying Pakistani and South Asian women in stereotypical ways. Ironically, one anthropological research book by Patricia Jeffery described them in her title as, “Frogs in a Well” (or in Urdu, koohain kay maindak). However, my encounters with women from South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular, have been highly impressive. I have met politicians, business women, educationists and philosophers who have tremendous depth, vision, wisdom and empathy. They have not failed to impress me deeply. In contrast to the perception, Pakistani nation twice elected their female leader as Prime Minister of the country. The United States, commonly championing the women causes across the globe, have yet to give top slot of U.S. President to any woman.
In recent times, among many others names of two Pakistani women shine on the horizon in an unparalleled manner i.e., late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Nobel Prize holder Malala Yousafzai. In their own domain, both Benazir and Malala symbolize courage, commitment and devotion to the cause. We have women lawyers, judges, doctors, economists, academicians, and many other fields, where women have been able to leave their mark of excellence. My own understanding and humility has grown by meeting different Pakistani faith communities’ leading ladies: Toxy Cowasjee, Ratti and Perin, Dr. Seema, Rohaniyyih, Rabbaniyyih, and Dr. Sarah Safdar, and so many others. All their stories are of courage, determination and striving to spread goodness not only in Pakistan, but in the entire world.
Many of these women are nurturers, leaders and are highly educated in their own professions. They all contribute positively to build our society.
Whether it is passion for God (Ishq-e-Elaahee), the love of the nation, or the personal sacrifice to husband, children, home, family and society, Pakistani women have been the weavers and builders of the social fabric and national life of Pakistan. In fact, the women’s role as mothers — the nurturer — is a pristine role as the one who wears the crown of heaven. For the Prophet (PBUH), himself, in a famous hadith said, “Heaven (jannat) lies under the feet of the mother”.
Once seen from the western lenses, the role and conduct of a Pakistani woman is usually misunderstood. Our women are actually the custodians of our religious obligations and cultural ethos that places them at a higher pedestal as compared to women living in other parts of the world. Pakistani family values of respect and care are the symbol of our modern and educated women. Our women excel in the professions they chose, are empowered to take decisions, and their modesty is not a weakness but a virtue. However, despite these good examples, still much is needed to be done to end any kind of exploitation of women in our society. Women hold the most important position in God’s realm and that is why they have such a great responsibility in the society, yet they are sometimes mistreated by others under the misconstrued religious and cultural norms. Many people unfortunately do not understand the importance of respecting and supporting women in everyday routine conduct of life, and in the relationships. I believe if allowed to prosper and duly supported, Pakistani women are equally capable citizens of the nation.
It is imperative for a woman to seek knowledge and to teach it in a manner that encourages good character in their children and those around them. Building a blissful home, full of praise, encouragement and deeper understanding can lead to the spread of positive energy which, like a pebble in water, makes lovely ripples far and wide. Our young women, of course, can begin to turn the society from negative to positive and from violent to peaceful, but they need the support of their family members; both male and females.
With rising education standards of Pakistan’s female population, this vital segment of our society is expected to contribute significantly in all fields of national life in coming years and decades. They are harbingers of our bright and secure future carrying on our true values as well as professional excellence.
The writer is the Executive Director of Markaz-e-Ilm, the Centre for Dialogue & Action (CD&A) founded at the University of Cambridge.