When was the last time you heard the name of a Pakistani female firefighter on the news? Or when did you last see someone actually be excited about a female cricket match? Disappointingly, our nation has failed to provide its women with the honor and recognition they deserve. Instead, women are treated as inferior to men in workplaces with their professions rarely ever taken seriously, which is one of the reasons many Pakistanis are still reluctant to encourage their daughters towards building their own future. And even though the number of employed women has drastically increased, the idea of their bahu or beti being a firefighter or a cricketer is simply outrageous for most Pakistanis.
A few days ago, as I desperately tried to avoid studying for my SAT (we’ve all been there), I saw a tweet mansplaining how women are rarely ever successful at what they do. Henceforth I have considered it to be my rightful duty to arrange a list of Pakistani women whose contributions to their nation remain largely unappreciated.
(Please note that this list is not in the order of precedence.)
- Shaista Suharwardy Ikramullah
Have you ever wondered why there is no legitimate law protecting women’s rights in a workplace pertaining to issues like workplace harassment? Well, that’s probably because women weren’t usually seen around workplaces until the late 1950s in Pakistan and when they finally attempted to lead a self-sufficient life, all heIl (or should I say paradise) broke loose for men. It’s no surprise that female efforts and achievements were greatly neglected in that era, just as they are now (*sigh*), which is why we have rarely ever seen names of women like Ikramullah in our textbooks. A diplomat, freedom activist and author, Begum Shaista Suharwardy was the first female representative in the National Assembly of Pakistan. In an era where women weren’t even allowed to dream of an independent life, she served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Morocco and worked on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a delegate in the United Nations. However in my opinion her greatest achievement was setting foot in a male dominated workplace and carving a path for many women to follow.
- Dr Nergis Mavalvala
Born in Lahore and raised in Karachi Dr. Nergis Mavalvala was an ordinary student, just like us trying to cope with A levels. Oh, except for the fact that she’s an astrophysicist, an MIT graduate who played a major role in discovering gravitational waves which was deemed almost impossible by Albert Einstein himself. (Just standard prodigy things, am I right?).
In an interview with Dawn, Mavalvala states,
“I grew up thinking women can, must and should do anything and everything”.
This ideology is what played an integral role in making Dr. Nergis Mavalvala, successful in her discoveries. She is not only a role model for aspiring female scientists in Pakistan(go Women in STEM!) but born to a Parsi family she is an everlasting beacon of hope for religious minorities in Pakistan.
- Sana Mir
On the rare occasion when someone brings up a female cricket match, Sana Mir is the first name that comes to mind. This cricket commentator and former cricket player, girl-bossed her way through 226 international matches, 137 of which she played as the team captain. An inspirational feat in a country that strongly condemns female participation in sports. However her achievements and accolades remain largely ignored and unappreciated by the general population who gravitate towards cricket matches played by male players highlighting the gender disparity in sports. It is names like Sana Mir that normalize female participation in sports, encouraging young women to continue to aspire and strive for more, especially in fields dominated by women.
- Shazia Parveen
Picture this: a hijabi superhero running through the streets of Lahore, chasing after the bad guys? (not talking about the burka avenger) But the bad guys in this case are both domestic and wildfires and the superhero is Shazia Parveen, Pakistan’s first female firefighter. Born in a small town in Vehari, Shazia joined the 1122 Emergency Services in 2010. According to Parveen, her profession is her life’s passion as she had been brought up to help those in need. (A true superhero.) In a society obsessed with associating fragility with femininity, professions which break such strict gender norms are considered taboo and women who engage in such professions are the target of heavy criticism. But fear not! If she can fight fire, she can definitely fight off the haters.
Conclusively, Pakistan is failing to make use of its most valuable asset by undermining the ability of women to reach their utmost potential. In a world where women are subjugated in all aspects of their lives, it is icons like these who pay way for the advancement of women rights. Henceforth, it is vital for us to recognize and appreciate their efforts so that we set an example for those to come after us.