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?!

These Tools are Helping Me Handle Depression

Ok everyone, I have never ever said it publicly but here it is: I have depression.

I want to share a little bit of my story. I want to focus on the positive and contribute in my own little way to fighting stigma and promoting mental health awareness.

In recent months, I have tried every possible tool I could find to feel better. Counselling, medication, exercising, yoga, hillwalking, travelling, journaling, meditation and mindfulness, etc.… The good news is that some of it is working. Slowly, very slowly, but every step forward counts. Getting better is a journey.

First, you have to make the difficult first step: becoming conscious of how you are feeling, accepting it and making a decision to try to change it – to grow out of the pain and find balance again. After that you need many, many more little steps, time, trial and error, endurance and faith in yourself.

None of this is easy, I know. I am still trying and learning myself, but here are a few tools and tips I would like to share. Remember that depression is a very subjective experience, you need to find what works for you.

Commit to yourself. 

Choose to invest time, effort and maybe even money in your recovery. It will be worth it, I promise. Maybe instead of burying your pain in a pile of brand new clothes, use that money for a therapy session if you can? Make choices that will help you feel better inside.

Remember that you and only you can make the necessary internal journey to get better.

Not your medication, not your therapist, not your friends, YOU. I know you might feel totally unworthy, meaningless and discouraged, but remember you are not broken. Nothing in you wants to hurt you.

Be a friend to yourself.

Remember when your best friend last had a heartbreak and cried in front of you? Did you shout at her and tell her to be stronger? Did you blame her for being so miserable? No (at least I hope not!). Use that same kindness and compassion you can show others and show it to yourself.

Go online.

There are plenty of great professional or community groups that can support you out there, you are not alone. Fill your social media feeds with accounts that make you feel good.

Read books, listen to podcast or TED Talks, watch videos about mental health.

The more you understand about what’s happening to you, the less ‘unusual’ and alone you will feel.

Don’t keep pain to yourself.

One of the hardest thing for me was to open up and talk about how I was feeling. Informing a few trustworthy friends made things a tiny bit more bearable. Choose people that make you feel comfortable, people who can listen and respect you even when you cannot be your most ‘fun’ or ‘happy’ self.

You don’t have to tell them everything and you don’t have to talk about it all the time. But trust me, on a day when you feel like bursting into tears, it makes it so much better to feel safe and able to express your feeling instead of trying hard to hide them. There’s also the option of professional help, like a doctor or a therapist.

Try new things.

Surprise yourself and explore things you have never done before. It doesn’t have to be something big. Maybe you can choose an interesting documentary on Netflix instead of your favourite romantic movie? Maybe you can try some crafts? Dance alone, sing in the shower? Maybe it will make you feel a bit better for a few hours and create new interests and new curiosities in you? (Maybe it won’t, and that’s ok too.)

Make lists.

Lists are cool. They help clarify things a bit and are easy to read. For instance, write a list of things that help you when you are down. Break it down into different categories (e.g. Physical: keeping a healthy body, doing yoga…; Social: the friends you trust, online communities; Spiritual: your meditation and mindfulness practice; Material: your bed, essential oils, anti-depressant medication, etc.).

Next time your mind hurts, check your list and find your best helper in that situation. Maybe you need a warm shower, a good cry and your bed. Maybe you need to call a friend and get some fresh air. Maybe you need to arrange a new appointment with your therapist. A list can remind you that you have plenty of options to support you – just pick one that suits you best in that moment.

Be patient with yourself.

There will be times where you get angry and disappointed at yourself. Days where you feel like you are not progressing at all, where you are backsliding. You will wonder if you will always be depressed, if there is really a way out, if this is who you are forever. Maybe you will even start thinking that this life is not worth living and wish to stop everything for good. That’s ok. The pain can be truly unbearable and overwhelming, so it makes sense to think these things. But please, don’t give up on yourself. You are a unique and beautiful person, trust and be kind to yourself. You are so worth it.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, please reach out for help immediately. Suicide Stop has a list of suicide hotlines worldwide, which you can find here

Opinions and experiences published on girlsglobe.org are not medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek professional help from a doctor. 

3 Books to Turn You into a Women’s Rights Fighter

I have a whole stack of books which motivated me to dedicate my life to my biggest passion – fighting to end gender-based violence. Here are my top 3 recommendations:

1. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Be taken on an odyssey through Africa and Asia, meeting some extraordinary women along the way, in this fascinating book by two Pulitzer prize-winning authors. They portray the lives of different women –  survivors of forced prostitution, gang rape, acid attacks – and educate us about the abuse faced by many women around the world.

From the Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery, to the Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth, the reader is shown not just these horrendous experiences, but also a glimmer of hope. The Cambodian girl eventually escapes from the brothel and, with the assistance of an aid group, builds a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman has her injuries repaired and in time becomes a surgeon. The main message of this book is that the key to economic progress lies in freeing women’s potential. After all, “women hold up half the sky”!

2. From Outrage to Courage by Anne Firth Murray

This book is a bible in the world of women’s rights. In fact, it’s such a detailed study of women’s health in poor countries, that it became the blueprint for a course in international women’s health at Stanford University – which the author now teaches. The book features shocking but true stories about unequal access to nutrition and health care, demographic imbalances and the culture of son-preference, early childbirth and maternal death, all types of gender-based violence, the effects of war and refugee status on women, and the feminization of ageing.

What makes this book unique is that it does not simply state grim statistics. At the end of each chapter, the reader is introduced to positive stories of change grouped into countries, and short summaries of the work of NGOs. Anne Murray has travelled to majority of the places she is writing about, and knows her stuff – I once emailed her a question regarding a specific problem in Sri Lanka, and she replied to me with a list of people who could help!

Anne Firth Murray understands each and every problem down to the grassroots level, and has systematically organised this information into an invaluable textbook of the most urgent female health problems, which women face from birth till death.

3. Share: The Cookbook that Celebrates Our Common Humanity by Women for Women International

This feels like travelling the globe and popping into your head into different people’s kitchens – with a powerful story behind each recipe. Produced by Women for Women International, with recipes donated by many celebrities (such as Annie Lennox and Paul McCartney), the book also gives information on women’s lives in many war-affected countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kosovo.

It is such a gentle but powerful tool to bring the story of a sister from another part of our planet close to our hearts. “Like so many good things, this book began at a kitchen table” say the editors, and by reading we feel ourselves sharing a table with many women, and it is an empowering connection.

It doesn’t matter what kind of book makes your heart beat faster and encourages you to stand up for women, the important thing is that you do stand up.

My hope is that female oppression will be something our daughters only ever read about, and never actually experience.

20 Maya Angelou Quotes to Inspire You

Maybe you’ve already seen the Google Doodle, but today would have been the 90th birthday of the incomparable Maya Angelou.

A writer, poet, activist, singer, feminist and champion of civil rights, Maya Angelou’s life and writing continue to offer a rich source of inspiration and advice. Here are 20 pieces of wisdom from an extraordinary woman:

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.”
“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”
“Seek patience and passion in equal amounts. Patience alone will not build the temple. Passion alone will destroy its walls.”
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done, to try and love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.”
“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
“In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats – maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats – but we are much stronger that we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
“Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with acts of kindness. Continue to allow humour to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“I’m grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.”

To learn more about the life and work of Maya Angelou, treat yourself to one of her incredible books, or watch the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise