“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. – Muhammad Ali Jinnah”
Throughout human history, historians, philosophers and theorists, have had different views regarding the role of women in a society. However, in both traditional and contemporary view, their role has remained integral and central as their participation and contribution is extended to all spheres of life. It may be true that their eminence has been neglected in the past but their prominence has remained hard to ignore. Women have always emerged to create an impact in society. Even against all odds, their presence can be noted remarkably in political, social, technological and economic evolution. Fortunately, in 21st century the efforts and role played by women are valued and recognised in a far more appreciative manner.
Pakistan has seen exceptional contribution by women throughout its history. Overtime, women have been actively participating in almost all domains of life while fulfilling dual roles. From raising a family to contributing socially, politically and economically through productive work, they have helped raise the state of collective life of the society. The contribution of women has been vital in achieving economic and developmental growth using full human potential in Pakistan since its inception.
In the past, many iconic women have had their share in shaping the fate of Pakistan. They have been highly influential in constructing the perception and ideas within Pakistan’s polity and society. Fatima Jinnah, famously known as ‘Mother of the Nation’, who stood beside her brother, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, played a formidable part in the creation of Pakistan and later on in its political sphere. Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan was a prominent figure in the Pakistan Movement and a career economist and prominent stateswoman. She was the First Lady of Pakistan when her husband Liaqat Ali Khan became Pakistan's first prime minister. As the First Lady of Pakistan, she launched programs for woman's development in the newly founded country. In 1952, Ra'ana was the first Muslim woman delegate to the United Nations in 1952. She served as Pakistan's Ambassador to the Netherlands, Italy and Tunisia and was also the doyen of the Diplomatic Corps. Following her return to Pakistan, Ra'ana joined Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan Government College of Home Economics as Professor of Economics and stayed there until 1973. She is also one of the most renowned female philanthropists that Pakistan has known.
Other women also played diverse roles like the very famous Urdu and Punjabi writer and novelist, Bano Qudsia who became well-known through her work in art and literature. Another, well-known figure is Parveen Shakir, who also served as a professor and a bureaucrat for Government of Pakistan.
Following in the footsteps of these iconic women, currently, the women of Pakistan are participating actively owing to the scope and encouragement provided to them. Pakistani women are rapidly becoming part of legal systems and government and non-government bodies. They are earnestly taking part in decision making bodies at local, provincial and national level. In Pakistan, around 39.78% of voters were female in 2018 elections. While the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament is 21% (World Bank Data). Moreover, their participation in military and security structures has received increasing attention in recent years. Over four thousand women are currently serving in Pakistan Army occupying responsible positions. In 2017, Nigar Johar Khan became the third female who was elevated to the rank of Major General in Pakistan Army. In this view, women’s increasing number in mainstream roles in social, legal, civil, political and economic sector allows them to ensure their presence in development processes. Through means of legislation discrimination has been restricted and their involvement in education and employment on equal basis is being promoted.
Women are now, participating in every field setting new benchmarks. Names of many exemplary women can be mentioned here who are breaking all existing schemes and providing their exceptional services in a range of fields. For example, Shabana Habib Tareen, serves as Deputy Superintendent Police, setting an example by keeping and maintaining order on the roads of Quetta, Balochistan. The young entrepreneur, Waliya Najib followed her dream and pursues a career in photography. Likewise, twenty-eight-year-old Fiza Farhan has co-founded the microfinance institution, Bakhsh Foundation, which aims to provide light energy to rural areas of Pakistan.
Furthermore, female school enrolment at primary level has reached to 70% (2017, Gender Data Portal, World Bank). With gross rate of female acquiring tertiary level of education at 9.4%. Gaining specialised education contributes to increase and effective economic growth. In Pakistan, according to British Council report on ‘Understanding Female Participation in STEM Subjects in Pakistan’, there are increasing numbers of female students enrolling into universities and completing higher education. Although, women are underrepresented in the field of Science and Technology, but they are still present. Jehan Ara, president of the Pakistan Software House Association for IT & ITES ([email protected]), is excelling in the field of marketing, communication, and media. Also, Maria Umar, founder of Women’s Digital League (WDL), is providing digital services to help women become more economically empowered.
Women of Pakistan have demonstrated excellence in diverse arenas. Their representation can be noted in a range of fields as athletes, artists, writers, and as public speakers. They can be seen taking prominent roles at important forums as ambassadors and diplomats. Pakistani diplomat, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, serves as Pakistan’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Another renowned National Goodwill Ambassador for Pakistan of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is mountaineer Samina Baig. She is leading efforts in building awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Pakistan, particularly those related to climate change, environmental protection and women empowerment. Similarly, Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, development economist, has served as Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and a senior advisor to the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations as the head of UNESCAP.
With Vision 2025, Pakistan is set to deliver an environment where women and girls can realise their full potential. This is not just important for the socio-economic state of the country but also vital for the overall well-being of women. In doing so, government, non-government, public administration and civil society, all are working closely. Progress is being made in terms of the total number of women in decision making bodies in various sectors in Pakistan. However, there is still room to take further measures to bring assistance and promote female empowerment. A more inclusive environment, where women can fully enjoy respect, protection and fulfilment, will in turn expose them to self-worth, and help them achieve their full potential as well as sustainably develop themselves and their country. Addressing the inequities through administrative laws and public policy is a way of formalizing the goal of gender equality. Addressing the gaps between what the law proscribes and what actually occurs often requires broad and integrated campaigns. Thus, it is also important that a greater effort on part of State and women themselves is made. HH
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