7 Women Breaking Stereotypes in Pakistan

Pakistan remains one of the most male-dominated societies in the world, and women still tend to be portrayed or stigmatised as subordinates. In the patriarchal culture of Pakistan, women are often limited to doing domestic work and forced to hide the talents and skills they possess.

Recently, however, more and more women have been breaking stigma and stereotypes by doing and achieving things traditionally seen as being ‘only for men’.

Here are 7 Pakistani women breaking stereotypes like they should be broken! 

Namira Salim

Namira Salim is the first Pakistani woman to reach the North and South Poles and, as a Founder Astronaut for Virgin Galactic, she’s the first future Space Tourist from South Asia to travel into space. Salim started her own initiative, SpaceTrust, which promotes Space as the New Frontier for Peace via novel peace theme initiatives to inspire change, encourage dialogue and enrich education.

Samina Baig 

Samina Baig is the first Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest and the Seven Summits. She was awarded the Pride of Performance by the government of Pakistan, and runs initiatives that encourage women to take part in outdoor activities. Last year, Baig was appointed as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Pakistan by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Ayesha Farooq

“Instead of looking up to role models, become one yourself”Ayesha Farooq. Farooq is the first female to become a fighter pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. She’s also made history as the first woman to be assigned to one of Pakistan’s front-line dogfighting squadrons. 

Sana Mir

Sana Mir is the former Captain of the Pakistan national women’s cricket team. She was first female Pakistani cricketer to rank number one in the International Cricket Council bowler rankings, and led Pakistan to two gold medals in Asian Games in 2010 and 2014. Mir has been vocal in recent years when speaking out against body-shaming in sports advertising.

Zenith Irfan

Zenith Irfan is the first female motorcyclist to ride across Pakistan and an all-round bad-ass. After her father’s early death, Irfan decided to fulfil his dream to tour the world on a motorbike. The journey was a huge step in a country where it can be taboo for women to venture out alone, nevermind on a motorbike, and CNN have called her “Pakistan’s boundary-breaking motorcycle girl”. 

Tahira Safdar

Justice Tahira Safdar is the first woman chief justice of any court in the history of Pakistan, currently serving as the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court (Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province). In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, where the subject of law and the profession of judiciary are preserved for men, Tahira Safdar has set one of the finest and most inspiring examples for women in Pakistan.

Uzma Nawaz

Did you just say that car repairing can only be done by men? Well, Uzma Nawaz, the first female car mechanic in Pakistan, is here to prove you wrong.

These are just some of the women in Pakistan who have broken through in a society that’s still very much dominated by men. I find each of these women incredibly inspiring, and hope that they can be a source of inspiration for other women out there too. What are you waiting for?!

Fight For Girls, Not Against Them

It feels like just yesterday I was huddled outside my school classroom with five other pigtailed girls, swapping cards or singing along to good old Gwen Stefani. (Shoutout to Gwen for being my fashion inspiration and role model for pretty much my entire childhood.)

Female friendships start off as innocent, symbiotic relationships. As little girls, we seemingly have no worries and – if your childhood was anything like mine – days are filled with endless dress-up parties, goofy sing-alongs and formidable-fort-building. But at what point do we blur the lines and turn these innocent relationships into carnivorous competitions?

Welcome to the world of female competitiveness, where beneath the sisterly front runs an undercurrent of tough rivalry.

I think one of the reasons some of us fight so hard for women’s empowerment among women is because of personal experience of competition and backlash from fellow women. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to be sucked in – especially for young women. You may not even realize it’s happening, as it begins very subtly throughout teenage years. Whether it’s someone degrading you in front of others, talking about you negatively behind your back, trying to delay your success in order to accelerate their own, or doing something to make you look bad on purpose – you are a victim. It’s like a competition you never signed up for and didn’t agree to take part in – but the good news is, you don’t have to be part of it.

RULE NUMBER ONE: Don’t let negativity take over your teenage years – I can’t stress this enough! There are far more important issues that need your valuable time and attention. People who want to succeed by seeing you fail just have selfish motives – it’s their problem – not yours. It’s easier said than done, but try to focus your attention on yourself rather than worry too much about what others are doing.

RULE NUMBER TWO: Whether or not you’ve ever been guilty of any of the above (most of us have, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time), it’s the responsibility of all women and girls to focus on empowering & uplifting each other. It’s such an important skill to be able to admit to our own mistakes and then actively try to change our behaviour. Don’t let pride prevent you from growing.

One question I’ve been thinking a lot about is whether we are actually competing with other women or, ultimately, with ourselves – with how we think of and perceive ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see a ‘better’, smarter or prettier version of ourselves. Do we even acknowledge the other woman as an individual? It’s like a mirror that reflects an inaccurate version of who we are, but we turn on the mirror itself because it’s easier than exploring the real insecurities behind the reflection we see. And so…

RULE NUMBER 3: You are enough. Don’t let anything or anyone make you believe otherwise. You don’t need recognition from others to believe it. You don’t need to pull other women down to believe it either. When we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win.

As women, we experience enough unfair competition, backlash and discrimination in our lives. We certainly should not experience it from fellow women, too. We are here to support, appreciate and encourage each other.

Our fight should be for, not against one another.

Five Afghan Women Who Made History

By: Maryam Laly

The history of women’s struggle for equality and liberation in Afghanistan is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Many still believe that the movement for gender equality in the country began in 2001, with the help of international forces. While Afghan women have reached unprecedented heights in many fields due to increased opportunities since 2001, we have a long history of fighting for our rights. We were never weak and voiceless. We have always found ways to speak up, even under the oppressive Taliban regime.

Here are five women who have made history in Afghanistan with their vision, service, and passion for progress and equality. These women have inspired generations of Afghans who are yearning for peace and justice for all, even when they lost their lives in the fight.


Gawharshad Begum was a renowned political figure during the Timurid dynasty (1370-1507). Living in the 15th Century, she was married to Emperor Shahrukh Timurid, but she was a change-maker in her own right. In addition to being a queen, Gawharshad was a minister and a leader in promoting arts and culture. She supported poets and artists, including female poet Mehri Herawi, and brought Persian language and culture to the forefront of the Timurid dynasty. Herat, the capital of the Timurid Empire, became the hub of cultural renaissance under her guidance. The architecture and arts of that era still remain a crucial part of identity in Herat and Afghanistan. She also built a religious school, mosques and a Khanaqah (spiritual center for Sufi Muslims).

Gawharshad was also a skilled politician. After her husband’s passing, she installed her favorite grandson as the puppet king and ruled the kingdom for 10 years.


Rabia Balkhi was born into the royal family in Balkh, Afghanistan, in the 9th Century. She is considered to be the first woman to have written poems in modern Persian. She is one of the most influential Persian poets so much so that it is rumored that a renowned male poet played in role in her murder due to jealousy. Rabia was killed by her brother for falling in love with Baktash, a slave of the kingdom. Her bravery to fall in love, something considered to be taboo for women, and break the class structure by loving a slave, and also write poetry about her love has made her an icon for fighting for equality and justice in Afghanistan.


Queen Soraya Tarzi is one of the most influential royal figures in Afghanistan. Queen Soraya was married to King Amanullah Khan, a progressive ruler who governed from 1919-1929. She was highly educated and a fierce advocate for women’s rights and girls access to education. Among other things, she opened the first school for girls, and founded the first magazine for women, Ershad-I-Niswan. Her vision for women in Afghanistan still inspires many women across the country.


Nadiaa Anjuman was born in Herat in 1980. When the Taliban took over the city, Nadiaa joined other local women and began attending an underground school and literary circle, the Golden Needle Sewing School. Under the disguise of learning to sew, Nadiaa and other women were taught literature by Professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab of Herat University, because the Taliban did not allow women to go to school. As soon as the Taliban were ousted, Nadiaa started her formal education at Herat University. She soon became a prolific poet and published a book of her poems, Gul-e-Dudi (Dark Flower). Nadiaa’s talents and visions came short when her husband killed her for writing poems about women’s subjugation and attending events. Even in her death, Nadiaa inspires the women of Afghanistan as one of her well-known poems about women’s rights has been sung widely by popular musicians.


Lieutenant Colonel Malalai Kakar was the head of Kandahar’s Department of Crimes against Women. Working in a conservative community, she was a trailblazer for many women. Malalai came from a family who served– both her father and brother were policemen. She was the first woman to graduate from the Kandahar Police Academy and the first woman to become an investigator. She focused on cases of gender-based violence. On September 28, 2008, Malalai was shot and killed by a Taliban gunman on her way to work. Malalai’s courage and tenacity to serve in law enforcement have inspired dozens of women to join Afghanistan’s police force and paved the way for many others.

We are here because of them. May there be more trouble-making, groundbreaking, change-making, world-shaping women in Afghanistan and around the world.

Women In Politics: Moving From the Periphery Toward Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions

With our sights and Twitter feeds plugged into #2030NOW, the UN has amplified not only the Sustainable Development Goals but also asked us to consider the world we want to live in in 2030. Regardless of our political affiliations, government is highly influential in shaping our world and governance is reflective of societal norms and power dynamics. A low representation of women in government does not lend itself to the inclusive, transparent, and just governance systems we have pledged to achieve by 2030 via Sustainable Development Goal 16, which calls for Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

In excluding women from government, women’s preferences, voices, and citizenship are all disempowered. However, women advocates, UN organizations and others have stepped up and voiced these concerns and are actively working to increase female participation in government.

For example, UN Women’s primary goal is to empower women and girls and has used the platform of Goal 16 to elevate the importance of transparent, inclusive governance in empowerment. Their solution involves developing the capacity to conduct gender analysis, monitoring systems to track good governance and women in government and collecting adequate sex disaggregated data to assess gender equality and empowerment in nations around the world.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark spoke on increased government transparency for the betterment of women in September: “Advancing SDG 16 helps advance progress on all the other goals as effective institutions are central, for example, to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership.”

Clark herself has held a number of positions in government, not only as the head of UNDP, but also as the 37th Prime Minister of New Zealand, and a forerunner in the appointment of the next UN Secretary General. At the +SocialGood Summit, Clark spoke on her Secretary General aspirations with fellow female leader, Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda, “There is a job to be done here. That is going to take leadership and someone with a profile like mine. So I am standing my ground and hoping that I can be the one to get it done.”

Helen Clark’s confidence in her abilities and pursuit of leadership positions inspires young girls and women globally. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Gulley, New Zealand native, is inspired by Clark. As a young person, and girl advocate Ms. Gulley hopes women politicians be criticized for their politics rather their hair, hemlines and husbands, and in shifting the dialogue around women in politics young girls are inclined to become politically active and aware.

Rwanda has the highest percentage of female politicians with 64% of the Lower House and 39% of the Upper House, and one of only two countries with greater than 50% female participation in government. The First Lady, Jeanette Kagame, however, believes female participation is necessary in not only the politics but also the economics of government, saying,

“A global female leader, perhaps correctly, stated, ‘too many women, in too many countries speak the same language: silence.’ We see several girls lacking confidence, preferring to remain on the periphery of economic progress.”

Kagame has further refuted that economic success be hindered because of African culture, and stressed the importance of employing economic opportunities for female empowerment.

Former U.S.  Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright, famously said, “Every country deserves to have the best possible leader and that means that women have to be given a chance to compete. If they’re never allowed to compete in the electoral process then the countries are really robbing themselves of a great deal of talent.”

As a girl interested in politics, I of course hope to see more women and girls become political leaders. And by 2030, I do not doubt that we will have the first female leader of America, the UN, and all other major countries, but I am concerned that they will be the first and also the last. Besides electing women to politics, I hope we continue to inspire and empower young women and girls to becoming female leaders.

For us to achieve the objectives of Goal 16 and transform our government into transparent, inclusive institutions by 2030 we must empower young girls to be involved in every level of politics. And with the guidance of a generation of formidable female leaders like Madeline Albright, Jeanette Kagame, Helen Clark and many others, we can achieve #2030NOW.

Nurturing Spirits Indestructible: Women for Afghan Women’s Girls Leadership Program

Just five years ago, Sara would never have imagined she would pursue a graduate degree or even complete her high school education. She came to the United States with her family as refugees, fleeing from the seemingly endless conflict in Afghanistan. She is one of the first participants in Women for Afghan Women’s Girls Leadership Program in New York. Through the program, she was able to advocate for herself and pursue a college education—the first in her family.

Currently, she is pursuing a graduate degree in social work, illustrating a tremendous cultural shift that may have been impossible a few years ago. At an event earlier this year, Sara spoke about her experience and moved us all:

“Five years ago I thought I would be forced to leave school and get married. Women for Afghan Women inspired and taught me to become a leader. The life I have today is because of this organization.”


This year, Women for Afghan Women turns 15 years old. Founded by a small group of women activists six months before 9/11, Women for Afghan Women was originally established to advocate for Afghan women then living under brutal Taliban rule. The co-founders sought to build a movement for Afghan women that was inclusive of their collective experiences. Through their outreach, these women discovered a large Afghan community in New York City and quickly learned that women and girls in the community were facing parallel cultural constraints and enduring similar abuses as their sisters in Afghanistan.

Forced and underage marriage, domestic violence, isolation, and gender discrimination were too often staples in the households of Afghan families in New York City, yet nothing was being done at a systematic level to address these issues. The Afghan population in New York remains one of the most isolated and underserved communities in the city. They often arrive as refugees or asylum seekers fleeing decades of conflict in Afghanistan. With limited access to education in their homeland, most have few opportunities for advancement when they arrive, forcing them to live in poverty and isolation. Their lack of integration into the wider community often results in the preservation of harmful patriarchal practices that disproportionally impact young women and girls.

glp-5-centerpiece-to-printIn response to these distressing conditions in the Afghan community and under the leadership of local Afghan women, Women for Afghan Women launched its Community Outreach Program at the heart of the Afghan community in New York in 2003. Through its work, Women for Afghan Women began to understand that the issues that Afghan women and girls were facing were not isolated, but were tied to and compounded by the other issues plaguing the community including rampant poverty, lack of education, language barriers, discrimination, and lack of opportunities for assimilation. These issues were carrying over into the lives of younger generations and disproportionately impacting girls resulting in child marriage and lack of educational and career opportunities.

When Women for Afghan Women launched its Girls Leadership Program in 2005, our staff was aware that the issue of child marriage was a silent epidemic inflicting the lives of so many young Afghan women and girls. Each staff person had been personally affected by it through their network of family and friends. The Girls Leadership Program was designed to offer girls tools for empowerment and change. They participate in leadership opportunities and engage in a critical dialogue on culture, religion, and girls’ rights.

glp-1-centerpieceSince 2005, Women for Afghan Women has served over 100 girls through its Girls Leadership Program, none of whom have been forced to marry despite being at risk. Of the Girls Leadership Program participants that are old enough to pursue college, 100 percent are enrolled in higher education institutions and are pursuing their bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Every year, more girls are enrolling in the Girls Leadership Program. The program continues to grow and evolve to further develop the critical thinking and life skills of Afghan and Muslim girls in New York City, enabling them to use their capacities and talents to reshape their lives, and create the long-term, intergenerational social change that will combat the structural inequities that they face as young women.

Over 15 years, Women for Afghan Women has grown into a women-led institution with over 700 staff members (a third of which are men) and is the largest sheltering organization in Afghanistan. Beyond its sheltering mandate, Women for Afghan Women has dedicated its existence to securing and protecting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls on all fronts, in both Afghanistan and New York, through a bustling Community Center in Queens, New York, 31 facilities across 13 provinces in Afghanistan, and an advocacy office in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the organization and its mission, visit: http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/

Celebrating Women Changemakers Should Be A Concerted Effort

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Recently, Marie Claire introduced a “20 Women Changing the World” magazine section in honor of its 20th anniversary. In a list including Chelsea Clinton, Eva Longoria, and Melinda Gates, Marie Claire spotlighted “20 movers, shakers, mavericks, and badasses who are boldly, bravely, audaciously blazing new paths for women and girls.” From Kimberly Bryant’s founding of Black Girls Code to empower young women of color through technology education, to Rachel Lloyd’s establishing of GEMS to help victims of domestic trafficking reintegrate into society, these stories were nothing short of amazing, wholly affirming my passion and deep sense of purpose in the movement to empower women and girls.

Moved by these women’s untiring efforts to effect positive change, I immediately thought about one of my favorite extracurricular pastimes: running a weekly “Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight” column as a volunteer with Women LEAD, a nonprofit organization that provides girls in Nepal with education and leadership development training. Nearly a year ago, I started conducting interviews for this column on Women LEAD’s blog because I wanted to highlight the efforts of female community and organizational leaders across the world. At the same time, I wanted to know more than what I could find on a biography or a nonprofit website. I hoped to learn, on a personal level, about a woman leader’s philosophy for change, why she believed her toils and struggles to enact women’s empowerment were worth it, and what advice she had to offer current and future generations of women leaders.

I have been able to interview women leaders working in Hong Kong, where I live, and in the US, Canada, UK, Sweden, Laos, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Guatemala through Skype calling and emailing. These women leaders include journalists, entrepreneurs, academics, medical professionals, authors, high school and college students, who are all united by a common passion for removing bulwarks to gender equality.

My weekly experiences canvassing these women for their views on issues including reproductive rights, violence against women, maternal health, and gender pay gaps have been so refreshing and enlightening, offering me alternate perspectives that contribute to my overall understanding of women’s issues. I’ve acquired an intimate knowledge of organizations that expedite women’s empowerment in both developing and developed countries, and the various socioeconomic forces that blockade gender equality in the communities where these organizations are based. The words that these women speak and write never cease to inspire me to continue fighting for women’s empowerment worldwide.

Yet, as I interviewed these women leaders, I noticed that beyond the occasional celebrity spotlight in a magazine, there rarely is an active effort to regularly underscore the untiring work of women advocates and changemakers, whether online or offline. Girls’ Globe, a blog I write for that advocates and raises awareness of issues concerning women and girls across the world, frequently features blog posts about organizations and women working to secure a gender-equal future, and even organized a “Women Who Inspire” blog series to highlight the enlightened efforts of women changemakers. And The NextWomen, a women’s business magazine where I am an Editorial Assistant and Regular Contributor, boasts a “Female Heroes” section that specifically accents women leaders pursuing business and entrepreneurship-related paths. But excepting the few platforms that emphasize the power of women changing the world, where is this much-needed coverage?

I call for a concerted and regular effort to celebrate the work of women changemakers for the very reason I love conducting weekly interviews for Women LEAD’s Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight column. Spotlights like those in Marie Claire and on Women LEAD’s blog have the potential to encourage nascent women leaders to fight for the causes that matter to them, irrespective of any discrimination they may face, because they are armed with the knowledge that someone else has been there before them, succeeded, and inspired others. And when someone feels empowered by these personal stories of hope, passion, and resilience, who knows what phenomenal things they may be able to accomplish for women and girls now, or in the near future?

Read these Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlights with our Girls’ Globe bloggers and partners on Women LEAD’s Blog!


Featured image photo credit: Gates Foundation Flickr Account