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?!

Not Today

This smile made you believe that everything was fine, but not today.
For today, my lips have learnt to rest the gentle curves of this fake smile.
These eyes made you believe that the hurt was momentary, but not today.
For today, my veiled eyes have learnt to feel relief for a while.

These hands held yours, ever so tightly to fix your broken pieces, but not today.
For today, my hands have learnt to liberate the pain.
These footsteps followed your path for a long time, but not today.
For today, my steps have learnt to find their way back home again.

This soul filled your deep, black void endlessly, but not today.
For today, my exhausted soul has learnt how to take it slow.
This heart has been your solace all this time, but not today.
For today, my lonely heart has learnt to love itself; also to let go.

These words lit up your darkest days, but not today.
For today, my whispers have learnt not to utter false accolades.
These thoughts craved your delight and safety always, but not today.
For today, my mind has learnt to paint my thoughts in happier shades.

This spirit carried your burdens during bleaker times, but not today.
For today, my kindred spirit has learnt to no longer be enslaved.
This strength in me, fought your battles through long nights, but not today.
For today, my inner strength has learnt that not everyone can be saved.

I gave my mind, body and soul to make you whole;
To complete your being, I gave you unconditional control.
At each mistake, I absolved you of all crimes;
So, today, I head my own way. Today, I let go of past times.

I lied, I made excuses, to justify why your actions don’t match what you say.
I now realize, at first slight I should have walked away.
And you took, and took, and never once thought to give back.
So, for today, I refuse to be my own setback.

This side of yours, my beloved, I did not foresee.
So, from this day on, I’m for me, and only me.

She Chose to Walk Away – #YoungWomenSay

This blog post was originally published by The Torchlight Collective and Say It Forward as part of the #YoungWomenSay campaign.

Being born into a Pakistani family, it’s not easy to stop listening to what people are saying about you: about the way you dress, you walk, you talk, or you smile. I had to choose between walking away or giving in to people’s expectations. I chose to walk away from the negative aspects of my life and find myself. I believe that taking a stand and leaving behind everything that’s hurting you is the only way to grow, so that’s what I did.

She knew she could struggle, but she had the choice to sparkle.

She knew she could beat herself up, but she had the choice to praise herself instead.

She knew she could hide the scar, but she had the choice to be the star.

She knew she could cry again, but she had the choice to try again.

She knew she could not avoid the existence of pain, but she had the choice to believe in the existence of gain.

She knew she could give up, but she had the choice to act up.

She knew she could lose hope, but she had the choice to cope.

She knew she could keep lingering on, but she had the choice to keep forging on.

She knew she could fade away, but she had the choice to run away.

She knew she could keep waiting, but she had the choice to keep walking.

She knew she had the choice;

And so, she chose to walk away.

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She Chose to Be the Best Version of Herself

Opening all the closed doors
And finishing her undone chores.
She chose not to stand still
She wouldn’t let her dreams be killed.

Breaking stereotypes like glass bottles
And working to become the perfect role model.
She chose not let anything stop her
She fought every demon that might harm her.

Saying goodbye to negative remarks
And trying to make a more positive start
She chose not to be scarred
She wouldn’t let her soul be bombarded.

Walking over every hurdle and climbing every wall
Bearing every hardship and making it through every downfall.
She chose not to let misery lead the way
Working on her potential with every new day.

Not pausing her life because things went wrong
And doing everything in her power to stay strong.
She chose not to blame her luck
A beautiful flower that couldn’t be plucked.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Malala Yousafzai

Today is Malala Yousafzai’s 21st birthday. As an activist, advocate for girls’ education, champion of human rights and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala’s words and actions offer inspiration and hope to people all over the world.

In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala as she travelled home from school. She was 15-years-old, and had already been advocating for girls’ right to education in her home country of Pakistan for several years.

One year later, on her 16th birthday, Malala gave a speech at the UN that cemented her position as one of the most inspiring, influential and important young people alive today. In the 4 years since that speech, Malala has turned personal passion into a powerful international movement working to transform the future – not only for girls and women, but for the world at large.

The same summer that Malala spoke at the UN, I graduated from university. In the 4 years since that speech, I have been working to build my career in gender equality and women’s rights. As I’ve done so I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about what it takes to create change in the world and what it means to be successful.

Some of the most invaluable lessons I have learned so far – in both my professional and personal life – have been from the women I admire and look to as role models. Women like Malala.

And yes, she may have only just turned 21, but the world seems finally to be getting the message – underestimate young women at your peril. I believe there is so much we can learn from Malala Yousafzai, and so in honour of her birthday, I’ve made a list of 5 lessons she’s taught me in my career so far!

1. Speak up

“We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

It can sometimes be easy to take the freedom to raise my voice, and especially the freedom to do so in safety, for granted. Malala reminds me that there are millions of girls and women without that luxury, and if we can do so must use our voices to make sure that that those who are silenced can be heard.

2. Be brave

“There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.”

Malala’s story is one of immense courage. She has continued to fight for what she knows to be right in the face adversity that many could scarcely imagine, and she stands up time and time again against fear and threats and violence. Her bravery encourages me to be more bold and her refusal to give in to fear reminds me that I should do the same.

3. Be determined

“I’m just a committed and stubborn person who wants to see every child get [a] quality education – who wants to see women having equal rights and who wants peace in every corner of the world.” 

No matter what else is happening around her, Malala never wavers from her commitment to girls’ education. I often feel frustrated when it seems that change happens far too slowly – but Malala shows me the value of dedication and conviction.

4. Be knowledgeable

“None of the nine biggest countries in Africa, Latin America and developing Asia have increased their education budgets. Several are even making drastic cuts, putting more girls out of school.”

Malala’s knowledge when it comes to her cause reminds me that if I want to change something, I have to understand how it works in the first place. It’s clear that Malala understands the issues facing countries around the world preventing girls from accessing education, and it’s that knowledge that makes people listen up and take her seriously.

5. Be humble 

“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.”

Despite her many achievements, awards and fame (she is the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Prize) Malala always speaks and acts with kindness, grace and humility. It might not be specific to work in gender equality, but it’s a quality I admire and try to replicate all the same!

Feeling inspired? Follow Malala on Twitter, make a donation to the Malala Fund, watch He Named Me Malala or check out her interview with David Letterman

An Ode to HER

She has a fragile heart
Which is tearing her apart
But she bears it all
To make it through the downfall.

She has a sensitive soul
Which is slipping from her control
But she stays strong
To withstand the storm.

She is emotionally scarred
And feels nervous when it rains hard
But she’s constantly wrestling
Because she will not be settling.

She is physically abused
And her compassion is misused
But she keeps telling herself
That she belongs somewhere else.

Her world is crumbling
And every word she says comes stumbling
But she searches for hope
In stars through a telescope.

Her eyes are bleeding
And her heart barely beating
But she is walking on her own
Healing her soul and the world as she goes.