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?!

It’s Time to Talk About Vulvas

Three years ago I went to the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre in London. I saw a fabulous illustrator called Jo Harrison who handed out colour-by-number, annotated vulvas. I took mine home and put it on my fridge. My friends would come round – educated, feminist, female friends – and they’d look and squint and tilt their head and say, “Oh! So that’s what that bit’s called.”

I was pretty horrified. It turned out that not many of us knew what our vulvas actually looked like, let alone what all the flaps and holes and mounds were called. This just didn’t sit well with me. If we don’t have the language to talk about our own bodies then how can we speak up and speak out about them? And if we don’t know, or like, what we look like, then aren’t we missing a very important part of ourselves?

So, I set up @thisisavagina, an Instagram feed dedicated to vulvas of all sizes, shapes and colours, to help us know what they look like and love them no matter what. I was utterly shocked to learn that girls as young as nine are going to doctors to ask for labiaplasty in the UK. The fact that young girls dislike themselves so much at such a young age, so much so that they want to have invasive surgery to change themselves, broke my heart.

These days, we gain much of our knowledge of vulvas from porn, an industry based around fantasy. Far from seeing a variety of normal and hairy vulvas as we grow up, many of us have never even looked at our own genitals in a mirror. Yet, somehow we still feel there is something wrong with them. Asymmetrical, too big, lop-sided, sticky-out – not the neat, little, ever-smooth Barbie vaginas we see so often. 

As well as making vulvas visible, I talked about vaginas. A lot. At work, with friends, with partners, with my parents, at parties with people I didn’t know. It became seriously apparent that the words ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ are words we loath to use, or even to hear. Most people prefer to mutter ‘down there’ and flutter their hands around their crotch or blush and stammer out the word ‘fanny’.

To be so embarrassed by such an integral part of you that you can’t even utter its name is restricting and sad and perpetuates the problem. It’s also detrimental to our health: 66% of 18-24-year-olds don’t go to see a doctor about vaginal problems because they are too embarrassed to even use the word ‘vagina’.

Alongside regramming work from brilliant artists on @thisisavagina, I created my own vulva artwork, including the geometric vulva that I use as a logo.

I fell in love with it because I think it looks like a vulva and a strong woman with her hands on her hips and a superhero motif all in one.

It represents everything I feel about being a strong woman. It started life as a screenprint on a t-shirt and as I wore it to parties, the pub, work and the gym, I had people asking where I got it and whether I could make them one too.

And so I did. I used a company called Teemill because they are ethical and sustainable and I couldn’t put my vulva on anything that wasn’t organic (a general lesson for life, too). Before long they were whizzing off t-shirts from the little print factory on the Isle of Wight to people all over the globe.

I wanted my fierce little vulva to go out into the world and start up more conversations. The more we talk, the more we know and the less embarrassed we become. And the more we can make women and girls love their bodies for what they are and what they look like, the better. We have enough to be fighting for without having to fight our own bodies.

I donate half of the profits to Bloody Good Period, a fabulous organisation that collects and delivers menstrual products to asylum seekers and homeless women in the UK. They are utterly brilliant – I’ve never met a group of people who throw the word ‘vagina’ around more than I do.

My t-shirts are a symbol of pride and love for vulvas. They are a way to start conversations about why it is important that we can use the words ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ without blushing or looking away. And they are, hopefully, a tiny step in helping women and girls to love their vulvas no matter what they look like.

So buy a t-shirt and join the vulvalution!

What Girls’ Globe Means to Me

It was September 2016 and I had just started my first semester of graduate school and living in New York City, and was looking for opportunities to work with international NGOs with a focus on women and girls. In my research, I ended up coming across the opportunity to become a blogger with Girls’ Globe. Having worked as a writer and editor for a women’s online magazine in college, and having always enjoyed writing and even considered becoming a journalist as a teenager, joining Girls’ Globe as a blogger was the perfect opportunity for me.

Girls’ Globe has given me a platform to talk about issues that are important to me and issues that I believe are important for others to know about as well, from more personal issues such as mental health and the problem of violence against women in my home country of Brazil, to issues I’m studying and researching in my graduate career such as sexual violence in conflict.

But Girls’ Globe is more than just a platform for me to share my experience and knowledge: it’s also a platform where I can learn about women’s issues in other parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise know about. So many times, in reading posts by other bloggers on their experiences as women having to deal with pressure to get married or the reality of how vulnerable we are to sexual violence, I feel less alone.

Girls’ Globe has truly become a community to me: a community which has supported me and encouraged me in some of my darkest moments.

Since early this year, my mental health issues have taken a turn for the worse. It’s not easy for me to share my struggles with anxiety and depression as I always fear people’s reaction, but when I did share them with different women from our Girls’ Globe community, I was met with nothing but kindness, understanding, and encouragement.

Even when I struggled to write posts and felt ‘guilty’ – I love to write, and I found it especially hard when I had an idea and the material to write a post, but was unable to complete it because I was ill – I was met with messages of encouragement to take care of myself and not to worry about anything else.

When my depression was at its worst, and I felt utterly useless and like I had no reason to get out of bed, it was knowing that my fellow bloggers care about me as a person and thinking that there is still so much I want to do with and for Girls’ Globe in the future that gave me a much needed ray of sunshine in my dark days.

At Girls’ Globe, we encourage the potential in every one of our contributors, and we believe in each other and our power to make a positive difference. It isn’t about some unrealistic ambition that we will completely change the world for the better for women and girls (although, hey, we might!), but it’s an understanding that despite our limitations (such as mental health issues), we can all make a positive impact, no matter how small.

This is the heart and soul of Girls’ Globe to me: that we truly believe in the potential of each and every girl and woman in the world to be an agent for good.

I have recently been accepted into a PhD program – a dream come true for me and the opportunity of a lifetime – and I wholeheartedly believe that I wouldn’t have achieved this incredible milestone without the academic and professional opportunities and the personal encouragement and friendships that Girls’ Globe has given me.

Thank you, Girls’ Globe, for everything. For believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself, for being there for me when I felt alone, for helping me grow, and for giving me hope that there is indeed good in the world.

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Girls’ Globe is crowdfunding to be able to keep raising voices in 2018. Please support us so that we can continue to share our stories and reach every corner of the world! 

Feminist Friday: Women Who Inspire Me

The world is full of inspirational women, but today I want to focus on those who are making a difference in the political or media realms. These four women continue to make progress related to women’s rights and the media attention that women’s issues receive. I believe they deserve our applause and appreciation!

Leanne Manas

Leanne Manas is one of the most esteemed personalities on the South African media circuit, having won multiple awards as a TV presenter and radio host. Manas has interviewed some of the most accomplished public figures of her time, from Oprah Winfrey to Nelson Mandela, who chose her before his passing as one of his 46664 ambassadors.

Manas played a vital role in the lead-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and her ability to report on hard-hitting news stories has built her career internationally. Driven by her love for her country and fellow South Africans, Manas is inspiring because of her tenacity to represent the best of her country while reporting on the worst of it. Her strong desire to make her country better saw her summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2015 on Nelson Mandela Day, to raise money for Caring for Girls.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris, previously attorney general for two terms in California, is no stranger to breaking the archaic barriers which have formed the structure of American politics as we know it.

Harris, whose parents are Indian and Jamaican immigrants, is smashing through that proverbial glass ceiling. Her most recent win on November 8 2016 makes her the first Indian-American and the second black woman ever to be a U.S. Senator. And while she only started her new career on Capitol Hill in December – she has already promised to challenge Trump on his ideas regarding immigration reform.

Harris represents a demographic which is usually maligned by the undercurrents of prejudice in patriarchal institutions. As Jada Patchigondla, a San Jose State University lecturer stated, seeing Kamala Harris elected “gives me hope and encouragement… I hope she will inspire many young Indian-American women to get involved in politics.”

Gretchen Carlson

A news anchor, author, and public speaker, Carlson is an acclaimed broadcast news anchor and journalist. Her best-selling book, Getting Real, and her thoughtful yet candid voice on women’s leadership earned her a spot in TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” list for 2017.

Carlson is an admirable and impressive person all-around. A hard-talking and insightful political reporter, she also volunteers at her church and sits on the board of several charities, including the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, Connecticut.

However, perhaps most importantly, Carlson is a light in the woods for female survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, and a champion of gender equality in general. She recently commented that sexual assault and gender inequality “is not only a women’s issue. It’s a societal issue. Men need to hire more women and put them in higher positions of power within organizations.”

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth broke a host of barriers when she won election to Congress four years ago.

Duckworth, who lost her legs and injured her right arm while serving in the Iraq war, became the first disabled woman to reach the House. She’s also the only female U.S. Senator to have seen combat and the first member of Congress who was born in Thailand.

As army veteran Taylor Vialpando puts it, “It’s refreshing to see someone who truly cares for all people and has so much life experience and personal sacrifice to back it up.”

There are inspirational women all around us. Although we’re conditioned only to celebrate certain virtues that women have, the truth is that females have tremendously varied talents and skills. Women and girls are just as capable as their male counterparts, and you deserve to feel proud to be a female.

Poetry is Not a Luxury: Art, Activism & Peacebuilding

I was no captive dove
on a flight of fancy flouting
and flaunting a plumage
of atrophied wings
I knew the cost of flight
the craft of steering clear of glass
– Marion Bethel, “Tobacco Dove” from Bougainvillea Ringplay

 

When Bahamian women’s rights activist Marion Bethel saw poet and The Color Purple author Alice Walker read in London, her life was fundamentally revolutionized. “I was memorized, fixated, captivated,” she told The Nassau Guardian. She dropped out of her law school exams and spent the summer writing a book of poetry. The experience taught her an invaluable lesson: “That writing was a way to be a cultural activist.

Bethel went on to write a second book of poetry; write, direct and produce a documentary – Womanish Ways: Freedom, Human Rights & Democracy 1934 to 1962 – on Bahamian women’s suffrage; and serve on the Committee of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. She sees her art and activism as inexorably intertwined, and creative expression as a way to ensure that the stories of women fighting for peace and justice aren’t lost to the generations to come. In an interview with Peace is Loud, she told us:

My community in the Bahamas and the Caribbean was shaped both by the injustices of genocide, the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism, and by the struggles of my ancestors and foreparents for freedom, human rights and social justice. My engagement in peace work is about confronting these injustices through activism and art and affirming the imagination, creativity and work of my community in social transformation.

This kind of social transformation is exponentially enhanced by art, which has the ability to cross socioeconomic and geographical borders like few mediums of its kind. History can be selective, favoring the voices of the loud and powerful, but art is a great equalizer, ensuring that everyone has a voice. To be truly inclusive, movement-building needs a creative mechanism that does not discriminate based on education, income, or one’s place in a power structure.

Poet and women’s rights activist Sonya Renee Taylor, Founder of The Body is Not an Apology, echoes this sentiment in an interview with Autostraddle:

…Art is an essential element of how we make the messages of activism accessible and how we invite new people into the dialogue and how we open up new minds to the issues. Everybody isn’t going to go to the lecture, everybody is not going to go to the 400 level class, everybody is not going to go to a protest. But you can find someone at the spoken word event, at the art gallery, picking up a poet’s book, and being changed by what they hear or read. It’s a more subversive way to change the minds of the masses.

Taylor’s peace activism comes in the form of fighting against the physical and emotional violence inflicted onto our bodies, and viewing self-love as a radical form of healing and justice. Her movement began from the tremendous response to her spoken word poem, The Body is Not an Apology, which led her to start a digital media and education company of the same name. The Body is Not an Apology now reaches half a million people each month with the powerful message: “We believe that discrimination, social inequality and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, our own and others.

American Muslim author and gender activist Samina Ali also sees art as a way of opening minds, as well as eliminating stereotypes and bridging divides. As the curator of the International Museum of Women’s virtual exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices, Samina illuminated the multi-dimensional realities of women’s lives to challenge fears and misconceptions of Muslims and Islam within and beyond Muslim communities. There could not be a more poignant time for this kind of project. Regarding the exhibit, Samina told us:

The sad reality is that many of us have grown accustomed to –- and comfortable with –- seeing Muslim women portrayed as victims. Yet each and every one of the women included in the exhibition is noteworthy — a cutting-edge artist or writer, a revolutionary who is upending her community’s and the world’s limited notions of what a Muslim woman is capable of doing, a pioneer fighting for women’s and girls’ rights. It’s these women who are the answer to extremism, who are leading the global jihad for peace!

Samina hopes that through Muslima and stories like those in her novel, Madras on Rainy Days, audiences and readers will discover that building peace is a process that comes from dismantling misconceptions, especially those attached to women. Madras on Rainy Days, which was the winner of France’s prestigious Prix Premier Roman Etranger Award and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award in Fiction, focuses on a young woman’s arranged marriage and political awakening in a poignant, deeply personal way.

I believe that change must begin from within,” she said. “But we don’t suddenly change. We change because we see a piece of art that moves us to imagine a world we hadn’t believed possible before.

In its purest form, art is not simply entertainment – it is a conduit for sharing life experiences, connecting people across divides, and, as the women here have shown, building the path forward to the peaceful and equitable future we all deserve.

#BeBoldForChange: Lerato the Youth Advocate

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, I have conducted a series of interviews celebrating women I feel have had positive influence on society. The third woman is Lerato Morulane.

I‘m Lerato, a 21 year-old youth development advocate from Pretoria, South Africa.  My advocacy focuses on the areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), HIV prevention, substance abuse prevention, LGBTI rights and youth participation within the Sustainable Development Goals and African Union’s Agenda 2063.

I started my activism work at the age of 12 in Atteridgeville, in the west of Pretoria, focusing on sexual violence the community.  Later, I worked on a teenage pregnancy awareness programme with two secondary schools in Atteridgeville. I serve as a member of the African Youth and Adolescent Network for Eastern and Southern Africa, and I also serve as the Chairperson of the National Campaign for Young Women and Girls in South Africa; SHE CONQUERS. Apart from advocacy, activism and my academic background in mechanical technology, I am determined to pursue a Law degree, with fervent intentions of becoming the African Union Chairperson!

  1. What does it mean to you to be a bold woman in the year 2017?

Being a bold young Pan African woman means being able to merge my feminism with my African roots. It means allowing others to explore safe practices in terms of SRHR and also being able to educate other young people that there is nothing wrong with being different or doing things differently. What matters in life is what makes you happy, and being able to be bold but humble.

  1. What important roles do you think women around you, including yourself, play in society?

Women are able to bring people together. They are the ones who can end new HIV infections if they stand together in solidarity. Women are able to end a lot of the social ills within and outside our continent because they can come up with innovative solutions.

  1. How does your career or job you do show that women are capable of achieving excellence?

It shows that women are capable of leading at the back. My job requires me to be vigilant, observant, and creative whilst also being a team player. There is no self-made woman though, and so in order to reach your goals you need to be able to communicate with others and believe in their abilities too.

  1. What mistake (s) have you made in life that you think young girls could learn from?

I used to doubt my abilities and believed that maturity comes with age, however, I’ve learnt that you don’t need other people to approve what you can do. Every day is a learning curve and never compare yourself with the others but keep on beating your own record every day.

  1. What advice do you have for young girls who want to be as bold as you are?

Never be ashamed of where you come from. Find something you love and work on it until you excel because people will always belittle you and try to bury you – show them that you are a seed and grow to be a better person. Never search for perfection in another person or be ashamed of your body, the perfect body is what is staring back at you.

  1. What changes do you hope to see, with regard to economic, social and leadership inclusion of women, in the next 10 years?

One of my goals is to become the African Union Chair and what I would like to see is equity. Many people put women in leadership positions because it is mandatory or a policy, not because women are capable. Therefore, they end up with women who have no passion or interest for that position. Women must choose what they want to do and not be forced into being something because of policies and laws.

Follow Lerato on Twitter:  @leray1995

Cover photo credit: Dakota Corbin