March is the month when all across the globe International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated. The purpose is to underscore the fact that women are equal partners and have an equal stake in all aspects of life and their contributions can only bring immense benefits. Pakistan’s history is replete with examples of strong women who worked hard and made significant impact not just at the time but also for generations to come by becoming role models for them. Our peculiar cultural context did not hamper these women’s efforts, so it is safe to say the only empowerment our women need has to come from within resulting from a belief in their abilities and the passion to pursue their dreams.
This is not to say that there are no barriers; as in all societies, some segments in our society as well are finding it hard to keep pace with the changing world and so women from these segments tend to lag behind. But, this does not mean that they have no part to play, they just play more traditional roles. However, this scenario is fast changing thanks to policy decisions and legislation aimed at bringing more women into non-traditional fields so they can contribute to the growth of their communities and the country. The civil society is also playing its role in improving the economic, health and literacy situation of the women of our country.
But all this can only truly work if there is a positive societal shift in the way we perceive and assign gender roles. In today’s world, women are doing it all and that is what we as a society need to understand. No doubt in challenging times our women and society have answered the call; contributions of women in Pakistan Movement and in times of crisis after independence are a testament to this. This is not to say that female participation is not significant at other times; our women are making their presence felt in diverse fields on diverse platforms, adding to the prestige and economy of Pakistan. We have come a long way but more needs to be done if we are to emerge as a prosperous, peaceful nation.
For this, we have to look at our history and see how women have always been at the forefront whenever the nation needed them to be, just as it does now. They held their purdah, they abided by the cultural norms and made outstanding achievements. In the present as well there is a multitude of women who are accomplished and making their mark. Their accomplishments need to be highlighted so they can inspire other women in particular and the society in general. There is also need for unity of action: not just between the governmental and non-governmental institutions but by women themselves. The success of any woman is incomplete if she is not able to take other women along. In a traditional society like ours, women and their families find it comforting if they are surrounded by other women. This women-for-women strategy can help the less privileged women in pursuing their dreams and to find their place in national life. Support is all that is required and we can produce the best artists, journalists, researchers, entrepreneurs, decision makers, etc.
The improvement of women’s political, social, economic and health status is a highly important end in itself. In addition, full participation and partnership of both women and men is essential to help fuel sustainable development and benefit the society. These are goals that require unified focus. This year, keeping this focus in sight, IWD is an occasion to celebrate and recognize the extraordinary acts of women, and to stand together as a united force to advance others who need our support.
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