Last week, the first ever TEDWomen was held in Washington, D.C., bringing together men and women thought leaders to explore the question – How are women and girls reshaping the future? The two-day conference featured over 70 speakers that cut across disciplines and generations, from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to Ugandan “bean breeder” Annet Namayanja to social entrepreneur Sejal Hathi.
While I didn’t attend the conference, I was nevertheless inspired to think more about TEDWomen’s overarching question, particularly in the context of Pakistan. While being a Pakistani woman is a completely subjective experience, there are no shortage of incredible figures, women who are paving the path for the next generation and who are challenging societal norms and expectations. Below, are a few women that inspire me on a regular basis:
A renowned human rights activist, Asma Jehangir recently became the first female president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). Following her victory, Jehangir told reporters that the bar would not allow anyone to achieve vested interests in the name of the rule of law, noting, “All institutions should work within their constitutional limits.” The Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Jehangir also established the first law firm for women in Pakistan in 1980 (with her sister Hina Jilani) as well as the Women’s Action Forum, a group that campaigned against legislation that discriminated against women (like the Hudood Ordinance).
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Chinoy is a film producer and journalist, who has worked on 14 films for major networks in the United States and Britain including CNN, PBS, Channel 4 (U.K.) CBC, Arte and the Discovery channel. She recently won an Emmy for her recent documentary, Children of the Taliban, which investigated how terrorism is creating a generation of child militants in Pakistan. In 2007, she helped found The Citizens Archive of Pakistan; a non-profit organization formed to foster and promote community-wide interest in the culture and history of Pakistan. Below is Chinoy’s TED talk, “Inside a School for Suicide Bombers”:
A renowned Sufi musician, Abida Parveen recently participated in Coke Studio, which described her as: “A legend both at home and abroad for her grace and soulful Sufi strains, Parveen over the years has stayed true to her classical origins, which she mastered under the tutelage of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan… A recipient of the 1982 President’s Pride of Performance Award and the 2005 Sitara-e-Imtiaz, Parveen is indeed one of the foremost exponents of kaafi poetry and ghazal singing in Pakistan.”
A documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist, Minallah has been advocating for the rights of rural women in Pakistan for the last 20 years. As the founder of Ethnomedia, an advocacy-based media organization, she strives to shed light on social issues that generally receive little notice. One interviewer recently noted, “Samar doesn’t shy away from showing challenging aspects of society, but always does so from a positive point of view, through highlighting strengths and finding space for solutions from within the culture.”
Toor, who is from South Waziristan, is currently Pakistan’s number one ranked squash player (72nd in the world). As a young girl living in FATA, she would chop her hair in order to disguise herself and play sports with the boys. According to both CNN and Express, Toor’s father soon recognized that his daughter had talent, and moved his family to Peshawar where she could train and play more freely. His sacrifice, noted CNN early this year, “made her success possible.” Toor noted, “I think I have a great father — so broad-minded.” (And while we’re talking about Toor, let’s also make a big honorable mention to the Pakistani women’s cricket team, who won a gold medal at the recent Asian Games).
Roshaneh Zafar is the founder and managing director of Kashf Foundation, Pakistan’s first microfinance institution. The organization, which was established in 1996, now has 152 branches nationwide and has supported 305,938 families in Pakistan. In an interview with Zafar this past May, she told me, “Overall all, we have seen a successful ramping up of our program and since 1996 have disbursed loans to 1 million entrepreneurs across the country and provided US$225 million in working capital. We have also seen that over 60% of our clients invest in new businesses, which has a multiplier effect on the local economy.” Zafar recently received the 2010 Vital Voices Economic Empowerment Award for her work with Kashf.
I’ve written extensively on this blog about the issue of honor crimes and killings in Pakistan. In Honor: A History, author James Bowman cited the NY Times’ Nicolas Kristoff, who said, “On average, a woman is raped every two hours in Pakistan, and two women a day die in honor killings.” While it is difficult to corroborate these numbers, we do know that there are many faceless victims of honor in Pakistan. Mukhtar Mai, a woman who was gang-raped on the order of her village’s tribal council, was one of the few who chose to speak out. Today, Mai, who was Glamour Magazine’s 2005 Woman of the Year, has an organization that supports victims of karo kari – the Mukhtar Mai Women Welfare Organization (MMWWO).
I know what you’re thinking – Twitter, ugh. But I have honestly met and conversed with some of the most awe-spiring women (and men for that matter) on that online platform. These women – including incredible journalists Naheed Mustafa, Azmat Zahra, Naveen Naqvi, Beena Sarwar, Mehmal Sarfraz, Saba Imtiaz, and Huma Imtiaz, as well as witty bloggettes Sana Saleem, Tazeen Javed, Mehreen Kasana, and Rabayl Memon are constantly challenging norms, introducing nuance, and igniting debate about issues that often fall to the wayside. Twitter = sisterhood? Who knew?
There are obviously many women I have inadvertently missed or forgotten, so you tell me – who are your role models?