Scaling the Heights of Excellence
Women in Pakistan, are generally perceived to be confined to their houses in a tightly controlled society. Although, generally true, the trends are now changing. The 53% of total population is now finding avenues to express them and come out the shell they have been encased in for many centuries. However, there is a marked difference in their lives in urban and rural areas. While most urbanized women can now get from basic to masters level education, the women in rural areas are still struggling to reach up to secondary level of education.
The Rural Women count for the majority of female population. From daily household routine to joining their men folk in the fields at the time of harvest. However, they generally do not have a share in the income and lack adequate empowerment - but so do most women in the developing countries. Generally the rural women is not only subjected to financial discrimination, but they are also victims of inhuman customs and laws such as Karo Kari (the honour killing by relatives of the girl if she elopes with a man of her own choosing) and marriage to the Quran to save on the family property to being transferred outside the family. Though, now people are voicing concern about these age old stringent self proclaimed local laws, much still needs to be done. An active women specific NGO, "The Women's Action Forum" is playing a central role in exposing the controversy regarding various interpretations of Islamic law and its role in a modern state, and in publicizing ways in which women can play a more active role in politics.
Vocational and technical training for women
tended to increase lately and training schools in non-traditional fields such
as electric technology, computer technology, etc. are also increasing.
However, many of the training programs by the government still cling to
traditional fields such as sewing and embroidery where wages are low and
employment opportunities are few and opportunities
The Urban Women, specially the major cities are more independent, owing to greater exposure to education of their men and impact of media. Now most females find their way to schools, colleges, universities or scholarships abroad. Other than the medicine, which was once considered to be the only profession which women joined, now even the most technical spheres like engineering, architecture, communications and IT. However, medicine remains the most favoured field generally pursued by the women. Women can now be seen encouraging cricket teams and participating all kinds of sports from cricket to athletics and even marathon recently held in Lahore (though much to the disgust to a section of conservists).
Today, women in Pakistan hold high ranking positions as the CEOs and executives. Recently the president has appointed Dr Shamshad Akhtar as the first female governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. Two lady doctors of the Pakistan Army have also risen to the rank of major general. The female doctors joined hands with the male doctors in the most inaccessible earth quake hit areas in the northern part of Pakistan to treat the sick and wounded.
There are many names to be honoured - Fatima Jinnah, Jinnah's sister who stood by her brother when he was struggling for an independent Muslim state from the British India, Razia Bhatti, the courageous journalist who braved the man dominated media in Pakistan and won Courage in the Journalism award. Then there is Anoushka, who became the first women and Pakistani of course to have gone to the frozen Arctic region. And finally Raheela Gul, a young women who was a trekker, expeditionist and history maker - had it not been the mournful earthquake of 8 October 2005 struck and she succumbed to the tragedy, Raheela would have been still with us - happily preparing for her Amazon Rainforest expedition. Mehreen Jabbar, another promising women is making headlines in filmmaking these days. Her work has appeared in many film festivals around the world including The Hong Kong International Film Festival, The San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival, and The Leeds Film Festival in U. K. to name a few. At home, in Pakistan, her unconventional style of story telling has earned her much acclaim and several awards. Nafis Sadiq, physician by profession, has spent a lifetime working on the politically charged and non-glamorous issues of global population control and women’s health, issues which at first glance some may consider irrelevant to their daily lives. Yasmeen Lari has the distinction of being Pakistan’s first woman architect. After retiring from a career in architecture which spanned over thirty-five years, these days she is devoting her time to writing and serving as an advisor to UNESCO project, Conservation and Preservation of Lahore Fort. She is also the executive director of Heritage Foundation and the Chairperson of Karavan Initiatives, both are organizations devoted to historic preservation.
Left to Right: Fatima Jinnah - Jinnah with women delegation - Razia Bhatti - Women for their rights - Raheela Gul
Women as Pilots: Presence of women in the aviation has not a new phenomenon since there have been a number of women pilots in the national flag carrier PIA since long. PIA has some 548 and 6 female pilots and Miss Shukriya Khanum was the first female pilot of PIA, who was awarded with the commercial pilot license (CPL) as back as 12 July 1959. However, the women pilots had generally been the co-pilots until 25 January - 2006 when a completely female crewed Fokker of PIA operated from Islamabad to Lahore & Multan. The team captained by Miss Ayesha Rabia (below left), co-pilot Sadia Aziz, and flight attendants Shazia Kauser and Tauseef Ashraf flew a Fokker Friendship F-27 Flight PK 632 from Islamabad to Multan via Lahore. The passengers on board did not know of the First in Islamic Countries' History - making crew till it landed at Lahore airport and the crew was garlanded by the local PIA staff for their land mark achievement. Captain Ayesha Rabia Naveed, 48, already has 6,000 hours' experience flying as a co-pilot with Pakistan International Airlines, now aims to captain larger jet airliners for the national carrier.
Now the women have gone a step further. It was like making history in Pakistan, when four women pilots formally joined Pakistan Air Force on 30 March 2006. Saba Khan, Nadia Gul, Mariam Halil and Saira Batool (above centre) were among 36 aviation cadets who received their wings after three and a half years of intensive training, breaking into all-male bastion of Pakistan armed forces. The then Vice-Chief of Army Staff General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, the chief guest on the passing out ceremony at the PAF Academy Risalpur said, "The four had shown the spirit and courage to rise above the ordinary and break new ground for others to emulate." When asked how did they feel about being a fighter pilot, one of the women pilots remarked, "I want to fly fighter jets and prove that girls can equally serve our country in the best possible manner as men are doing." Seen in photograph above (above right) are Bismah and Fatima packing their chutes after a successful para landing exercise near Risalpur.
On the eve of 130th birth anniversary of Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan and commonly known as Quaid-e-Azam, the cadets of Pakistan Military Academy mounted guard at the tomb of the father of the nation on 25 December 2006. But the highlights of the this special guard was that it also included 6 FEMALE CADETS INCLUDING ONE SIKH presently under training at the Military Academy. The president of Pakistan, who was also present on the occasion said that it was the effort of the government to provide equal rights to all, whether minorities or women as every Pakistani was being provided equal rights in line with the principles of Quaid-e-Azam. He lauded the performance of a Sikh cadet saying that for the first time the contingent of Pakistan Military Academy has girls and a Sikh cadet. He also added that he would like to get more of them in future and that he took the opportunity to say how alert and vigilant they all were looking.
|The women athletes have shown their mettle in international sports events. In Pakistan’s female athlete Shabana Akhtar won two gold medals for long jump in the 1993 and 1995 SAF Games. Recently Naseem Hameed (left), the female member of Pakistani squad became the fastest women of South Asia in the 11th South Asian Federation (SAF) Games. The 22 years old clocked 11.81 seconds, 0.12seconds ahead of Sri Lanka’s Pramila Priyadarshani, and clinched the gold for her country in the women event of 100 meter race. Not only she became the fastest women of South Asia in the 11th South Asian Federation (SAF) Games, she also became the first female athlete to win the race in Pakistan's sports history. Another female member of the Pakistan squad Sara Nasir also bagged a gold in karate. The women cricket team of Pakistan, though in its infancy, is also showing promise in international matches and it would not be far when they too bring laurels for the country.
Efforts are now at hand to change and uplift the role and status of women in Pakistan. The Women's Division was founded in 1979 as the Women's Division of the Pakistani government. At the time of the Unite Nations Decade for Women, the Pakistan Government, which realized the necessity for the improvement of women's position, upgraded the Women's Division to the Federal Ministry of Women Development in 1989. It was merged with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education and reorganized as the Federal Ministry of Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education in the end of 1989. Among projects being implemented by MOWD, there are the establishments of community centres for women and the organizing of literacy rate improvement centres and cooperative associations. In order to promote women's participation in the development and to strengthen their roles by promoting equal opportunities for both sexes, etc. as urged in the Eighth Five-Year Plan, it is necessary for MOWD, as the supervisory organization, to enforce its organizational capability and provide the policy framework for promoting integration from the point of view of gender in the development processes from now on. There is a female federal minister who looks after the affairs of the women.
Adult literacy rates are 54.8% for men and 25% for women (Labour Force Survey 1996-97) and, especially, the literacy rate of women in rural areas (15%) is less than a third of that of women in urban areas (50%). Moreover, regardless of whether in cities and towns or farm villages, the older the age group is, the lower the literacy rate. The importance of women's education has begun to be recognized in recent years and the improvement of girls' enrolment rate in primary education is being stipulated as the most important task of the nation in the Social Action Plan. Literacy programs for adult women are being implemented utilizing books and posters, cassette tapes, radios, etc. by NGOs. Also, literacy education training for adult women and girls has been implemented with the support of UNESCO since 1988.
To enhance the avenues for the women's financial status and to encourage them to undertake micro-financing, The First Women Bank was founded in 1989 by the Pakistani Government as the first financing organization for women. The promotion of financing for women is linked with the founding of small-to-medium sized enterprises and the improvement of income, and is contributing to the elevation of women's economic and social situation. The First Women Bank also implements training for the management of small-to-medium sized enterprises for illiterate women. In addition, it implements financing programs in areas far from urban areas cooperating with local NGOs. Moreover, small scale financing programs for low income women have been started in rural areas by public banking facilities such as Regional Development Finance Corporation and Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan. Loan recovery rate is more than 90% and the reliability of financing for women has been substantiated.
There are a number of organizations, mostly managed and operated by women in Pakistan that are actively involved in raising the standard of living of women, specially the rural women, and addressing their pressing problems. One of these is Jazba.Org that narrates life and achievements of some of the women celebrities of Pakistan. Women Entrepreneur Information Network is another organization that provides information about women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Read More ..
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