International Women's Day: Growing Presence of Pakistani Women in Science and Technology

It is International Women's Day on March 8, and its theme is "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality". It's a day to highlight Pakistani women's participation in science and technology. Nearly half a million Pakistani women are currently enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses at universities, accounting for nearly 46% of all STEM students in higher education institutions in the country. Several Pakistani women are leading the country's tech Startup ecosystem. Others occupy significant positions at world's top research labs, tech firms, universities and other science institutions. They are great role models who are inspiring young Pakistani women to pursue careers in science and technology. 

Clockwise From Top Left: Nergis Mavalvala, Maria Abrar, Maheen Adamson, Tasneem Zehra Husain, Sundas Khalid, Asifa Akhtar  

Pakistani Women in Science: 

Growing numbers of Pakistani working women are making a contribution to science and technology. Some of the highest profile names include Dr. Nargis Mavalvala and Dr. Asifa Akhtar. Mavalvala is the dean of Harvard University's School of Science and Akhtar is a vice president of the prestigious Max Planck Society in Germany. Dr. Maheen Adamson is a senior research scientist at Stanford School of Medicine. Tasneem Zahra Husain is a theoretical physicist in Cambridge Massachusetts known for her work on string theory. Hibah Rahmani is a rocket engineer at NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration).  Dr. Sania Nishtar is a former commissioner of the World Health Organization and she served as special assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  Dr. Syra Madad is an epidemiologist currently serving as the Senior Director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program in New York City. 

Selected Women-Led Startups in Pakistan in 2022. Source: Katalyst Lab 

Pakistani Women in Technology: 

Maria Abrar is a data scientist at Reality Labs of Meta (Facebook), a research lab in Toronto, Canada. She has been ranked among Canada's top 25 women in artificial intelligence by ReWork, an Artificial Intelligence (Al) and deep learning content producer based in London, United Kingdom. 

Sundas Khalid is a data scientist at Alphabet (Google) in the United States. Forbes magazine has named her a "trailblazer" in its trailblazer series. 

Kalsoom Lakhani, a co-founder and general partner of i2i Ventures, is helping build Pakistani tech startups ecosystem. She and co-founder Misbah Naqvi are passionate advocates for women-led tech startups in the country.  So, too, is Jahan Ara, the head of Katalyst Lab accelerator. 

Several women-led startups have raised venture funds in Pakistan in 2022. These startups offer solutions in Fintech, Edtech, Healthtech, and Logistics, among others! These are led by Tania Aidrus of DBank, Maha Shahzad of Bus Caro, Vladimira Briestenska of Neem, Meenah Tariq of Metric, Saira Siddiqui of MedIQ, Aiman Bashir of Outclass, Anusha Shahid of OkayKer, and Fatimah Zafar of Remoty. 

Male-Female Ratio of University Students in Pakistan. Source: HEC

Pakistani Women Freelancers:

A 2020 global survey conducted by Payoneer, a global payments platform company based in Silicon Valley, showed that Pakistani women freelancers are earning $22 an hour, 10% more than the $20 an hour earned by men. While Pakistani male freelancers earnings are at par with global average, Pakistani female earnings are higher than the global average for freelancers. Digital gig economy is not only helping women earn more than men but it is also reducing barriers to women's labor force participation in the country. The survey also concludes that having a university degree does not help you earn more in the growing gig economy. The survey was conducted in 2015.

Freelancers Hourly Rate by Gender. Source: Payoneer

Male-Female Ratio of University Students in Pakistan: 

Nearly 46% of over 3 million students enrolled in Pakistani universities are female. The proportion of female enrollment has been rising over the last 5 years.  The ratio of female enrollees in STEM education is also about 46% of the student body. 

Over a million students, about a third of total 3 million students (1.4 million women, 1.6 million men) enrolled in Pakistani universities and degree colleges, are currently studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM Education), according to data released by the country's Higher Education Commission (HEC). Of these students, 415,008 are studying natural sciences and mathematics, 276,659 are in information and communication technologies (ICT), 178,260 are in health sciences and 166,457 are in engineering. Pakistan produced 157,102 STEM graduates last year, putting it among the world's top dozen or so countries. About 43,000 of these graduates are in information technology (IT). 

Student Enrollment By Field of Study at Pakistani Higher Education ...

Acceptance Rates in University Admissions: 

Acceptance rate in Pakistani universities and degree colleges was just 13.5% last year. Only 541,043 students were accepted from 4,085,185 students who applied. The country produced 471,306 university graduates in 2020-21. Of these, 157,102 were in STEM fields, including 43,000 graduates in information technology (IT). 

Pakistan Higher Education Admission and Graduation Statistics. Sour...

In absolute terms, Pakistan probably ranks among the top dozen or so nations producing university graduates in STEM and IT fields. However, the country lags significantly behind its lower middle income peers in terms of percentage of students enrolled in universities. Only 12% of young people in the 18-25 age group are currently enrolled in higher education institutions. This is about half of the 25% average for South Asia. The data from the Word Bank shows that the higher education enrollment rate was extremely low in Pakistan until 2000 when late President Musharraf decided to significantly boost investment in building universities and hire faculty to rapidly increase access to higher education in the country. 

Tertiary Education Enrollment Rates. Source: World Bank


As Pakistan struggles with multiple serious crises,  there is a growing presence of women in science and technology. These young women and men now studying in the nation's universities and colleges offer hope for its bright future. In fact, the vast majority of Pakistanis, particularly women, feel that they have better lives than their parents did, and they think their children will have even better lives than theirs, according to a Gallup International Poll of 64 countries conducted from August to October last year. The poll asked two questions: 1) Do you feel your life is better, worse or roughly similar to that  of your parents? and 2) Do you think your children will have a better, worse or roughly the same life as you? The answers to these questions reveal that Pakistanis are among the top 5 most positive nations among 64 countries polled by Gallup International. Anecdotal evidence in terms of packed shopping malls and restaurants in Pakistan's major cities confirms it. Such positivity augurs well for Pakistan's prospects of successfully dealing with the current crises. It will drive the nation's recovery. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on March 7, 2023 at 7:03pm

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Careem — a ride-hailing service operating in Pakistan — announced its plan to launch a new women-driven motorbike service, catering exclusively to its female customers.

The company announced that the service will commence in Karachi and make its way to other cities in Pakistan, urging women — who are interested in working as female captains and getting access to flexible income opportunities — to get themselves registered.


Pakistan ready to write new chapter in women's cricket history

tar-studded Amazons and Super Women will go toe to toe in a three-match series on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; Women’s League exhibition matches will start at 2pm and will be followed by HBL PSL 8 games, which will commence at 7pm; tickets for men’s matches will be valid for women’s fixtures also
PCB to utilise matches to celebrate International Women’s Day, create awareness about breast cancer and promote women’s empowerment
Some of the world’s leading sport networks to televise the three-match series live; SNTV to distribute Video News Releases (VNRs)
PCB to also live-stream matches and post-match pressers on its PCB and HBL PSL YouTube Channels; will also provide ball-by-ball scoring on its corporate website, action images and match reports
Video interviews of local and foreign internationals, as well as Marina Iqbal, Sana Mir and Urooj Mumtaz, and other Behind-The-Scenes content is available on the PCB YouTube Channel
Series hashtag is #LevelPlayingField

Comment by Ameer Alam on March 8, 2023 at 11:04am

Dr Sania Nishtar

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 8, 2023 at 8:36pm

National Dialogue on Women in Science - Pakistan

According to UIS data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. UIS data also show the extent to which these women work in the public, private or academic sectors, as well as their fields of research. But to truly reduce the gender gap, we must go beyond the hard numbers and identify the qualitative factors that deter women from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Numerous studies have found that women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less for their research and do not progress as far as men in their careers. However, there is very little data at the international or even country level showing the extent of these disparities.

Similar is the case of Pakistan where women and girls are underrepresented in all STEM fields.

Some Facts about Pakistan

Education Pipeline: While more women are enrolling in university, relatively few pursue careers in research. There are many leaks in the pipeline – from stereotypes encountered by girls to the family-caring responsibilities and bias women may face when choosing a career.

- Bachelor’s students: Women 47% - Men 53%
- Doctoral students: Women 36% - Men 64%
- Researcher: Women 34% - Men 66%

Breakdown by Sector: Women researchers tend to work in the academic and government sectors while men dominate the private research sector, which offers better salaries and opportunities for advancement.

- Public Sector: Women 9% - Men 91%
- Academic Institutions: Women 36% - Men 64%

Breakdown by Field: In most countries, women focus on the social sciences and remain under-represented in engineering and technology. To level the playing field, girls must be encouraged to pursue math and science.

- Natural Science: Women 40% - Men 60%
- Engineering and Technology: Women 21% - Men 79%
- Medical Sciences: Women 45% - Men 55%
- Agriculture Sciences: Women 12% - Men 88%
- Social Sciences: Women 36% - Men 64 %

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 8, 2023 at 8:37pm

Thank you Ameer! 

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 11, 2023 at 7:26am

Pakistani women in AI

Pakistani women have been making their mark in the STEM field nationally and internationally. Moreover, they are bridging the gender gap in tech quite rapidly. Aqsa Kausar is a great example of such talented, smart, and hardworking women that have made immense contributions to the field of science. She is the first female Google Developer Expert in Machine Learning in Pakistan.

Aqsa has arranged various workshops in several events, like Google DevFest 2018 and Google Cloud Next Extended 2019; both conducted in Islamabad. Furthermore, she also participated in Google’s Machine Learning Train-The-Trainer session held in Singapore recently.

Aqsa has always believed that the right mentorship can lead people to immense success, and she was fortunate to get connected to mentors at GDE. Currently, as an employee of Red Buffer, a Machine Learning and AI software services company based out of Islamabad, she plans to lead the team and new talent in the right direction.

Read more:

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 11, 2023 at 7:33am

How artificial intelligence is changing the way girls in Pakistan discuss reproductive health

Saba Khalid writes about creating a chatbot to answer girls’ questions on typically taboo health topics in pakistan.
It all started one day with a backache. I didn’t know where it came from and I didn’t know how I could ease it, but every day it was getting harder and harder for me to breathe. The body has a strange way of communicating what the heart wants. And when you don’t listen to it, the body tries to aggressively wake you up to it.

Looking back, I think what my heart needed was a sense of purpose. All of my life, I had tried to find purpose through love and relationships, travel, high-paying yet mind-numbing jobs, servitude to family and friends. But I hadn’t discovered it yet.

In 2016, I started looking for role models, hoping they would help me on my quest for meaning. That landed me at a tech incubator in Karachi called The Nest i/o, where young women were daring to start their own tech businesses. I spent four months learning from these incredible young female leaders.

During that time, I had been thinking about how progressive topics about women’s empowerment aren’t often discussed in Pakistani society. I wanted to find a way to start those conversations. Inspired by the strength and determination of the women I met at The Nest i/o, I decided to make an animated heroine whose superpower would be the ability to talk about the least discussed topics in our society. I named her Raaji.

My team and I began by creating one-minute animated videos about Raaji on typically taboo topics. Honor, toxic masculinity, child marriages, lack of women’s mobility, sexual harassment and women’s reproductive health, Raaji voiced it all. We thought an animated series with fictional storylines would help us ease into conversations with girls on these subjects.

When we screened our Raaji videos in classrooms all across Sindh, we realized we had opened Pandora’s box. Young girls started to ask questions — hundreds of questions. Some they asked in person, others landed in our social media inboxes while others came from phone calls, texts and emails.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 13, 2023 at 4:58pm

Engaging women and girls in STEM is fundamental to inclusive growth in MEA
According to the State of Science Index (SOSI), within STEM equity, gender disparity remains an issue


Building an inclusive economic framework is not about being nice or fair. It has a fundamental role to play in catalysing and accelerating national and intra-regional economic growth that is creatively diverse and sustainable. Getting there requires a root-and-branch recalibration of women and girls’ involvement in industries tied up in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).


In Pakistan, only 21 per cent of those working in engineering and technology are women – and they make up only 40 per cent of people working in natural sciences. UNESCO suggests that issues affecting women in STEM in Pakistan include “Gender stereotypes and biases women may face when choosing a career.” Yet Pakistan is brimming with notable female role models breaking the mould in the sciences. Nergis Mavalvala is a Pakistani physicist known for her research in gravitational waves detection.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she comes from the kind of ordinary background that most girls could relate to and has spoken about issues of gender roles. “I grew up in a family where the stereotypical gender roles were not really observed.” She also speaks about how people in Pakistan can break down gender roles and stigmas if they wish to do so: “Anybody should be able to do those things. And I am proof of that because I am all of those things.”

A global challenge

Whilst the race is on to engage more women and girls in STEM in places like Pakistan, Africa and Saudi Arabia, the reality is that the challenge is one that all regions face. It remains a global task. According to the State of Science Index (SOSI), within STEM equity, gender disparity remains an issue; more than two thirds (70 per cent) of the survey felt that there are negative consequences to society if the science community fails to attract more women and girls. The overall agreement is that more needs to be done to keep women and girls engaged in STEM education (87 per cent).

It is clear that across the Middle East and Africa region, stereotypes are being dismantled, barriers broken, and glass ceilings shattered. The passion for science across Africa and the Middle East is everywhere to be seen and 87 per cent of people surveyed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agree that science brings hope and makes the future brighter. That is why together – in education and in industry – we are presented a brighter reality powered by a more inclusive economic model with women and girls in STEM.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 13, 2023 at 9:02pm

Countries by IQ - Average IQ by Country 2023

Bhutan: 87.94 Rank 68 among 199 countries

Sri Lanka: 86.62 Rank 79

Pakistan: 80 Rank 120

India: 76.24 Rank 143

Bangladesh: 74.33 Rank 150


Here are the 10 countries with the highest IQ:

Japan - 106.48
Taiwan - 106.47
Singapore - 105.89
Hong Kong - 105.37
China - 104.1
South Korea - 102.35
Belarus - 101.6
Finland - 101.2
Liechtenstein - 101.07
Germany - 100.74


Intelligence quotient (IQ) is a measure of human intelligence. People who want to have their IQ measured take standardized tests and receive a score that ranks their intelligence level. The higher one's IQ score, the more intelligent that person is considered to be.

IQ and Education: Two Sides of the Same Coin

IQ scores typically reflect the quality of education and resources available to people in their local geographic region. Areas of the world with lower IQ scores are typically poorer and less developed, particularly in the area of education, compared to countries with higher IQ scores. Many researchers also use IQ to determine the smartest countries in the world. The IQ map above shades each country depending on how high the average IQ score is. A darker shade of violet indicates a lower IQ score. Conversely, countries with a higher average IQ score appear red-orange in color.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 16, 2023 at 10:11am

Sarah Qureshi - The Environmentalist Aerospace Engineer From Pakistan

In today’s world, aviation is a seriously big deal! Whether it is taking millions of passangers from one place to another for relaxing vacations, wonderful sightseeings and important business trips or bringing products from far away right to your doorstep, air transport is the most convenient and effective way to move people and cargo as fast as possible through extremely long distances.
Aside from the commercial side of travel which consists of transporting civilians and all kinds of goods all around the world, aviation has a central place in military as well. Not only that but also there are hobbyists who pursue aviation in some form as a passion, such as hot-air ballooning, aerobatics and aerial photography.

But just like anything in life, there is a price to be paid for all the comfort and convenience that the aviation industry provides us and along with the advantages that it brings, the impact of air transport on the environment is undeniable. Because aircraft engines use fossil fuels to work, they emit carbon dioxide and in turn, reduce air quality at the local level and contribute to global climate change.
World Health Organization considers global warming the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century and due to the serious impact of air transport on the climate we need more environment-friendly aircraft engines with less carbon dioxide emissions.
There is no need to worry, though. Just like the countless innovators and scientists in the history of air travel that came up with ingenious ways to overcome intricate problems, there are many visionaries today that are seeking to find solutions to the most recent problems we face in aviation such as this one.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 22, 2023 at 7:37pm

DigitAll: What happens when women of Pakistan get access to digital and tech tools? A lot!
by Javeria Masood – Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Pakistan

We recently visited South Punjab to explore the digital landscape through ethnographic research. The three aspects we intended to explore were:

Mobile phone and internet penetration through a cultural and behavioural lens: what limits and facilitates women with better access and how does this impact their lives?
Decision-making and available opportunities: what are possible economic avenues available to women once access is provided and how do they leverage these?
Impact and influence of digital tools at a community level: what differences emerge because of access to digital tools made available to women vs being limited to men and how does that contribute at the community level?
We covered 11 areas of the underdeveloped South Punjab area, also known as the Siraiki Belt. We explored three districts: Rajhanpur, Muzafargarh and Dera Ghazi Khan. The listening was done through consultation sessions, community visits and bilateral interviews.

Here are some key insights from the field:

1. Women think at a community level and prompt behaviour change
Samina, from Muzafarghar, is taking training to start a livestock business. She wants to become an example of economic empowerment and plans to include other women and young girls in her livestock business.

‘People taunt me that I have no one to take care of me and my three daughters are a liability. I want to educate and empower them. I am working toward making a world where all girls are as accepted, empowered and enabled as the boys of my area’.

2. Women understand climate vulnerabilities, are more responsible in the management of resources and are strong in face of adversities
Recent floods have left a devastating and lasting impact in South Punjab. It has damaged houses, fields, and livestock at a magnitude greater than in previous years. Samina shared her story with us. The initial weather warning did not convey the scale of the threat and thus did not encourage people to move. Once the flood was underway, she used her husband’s phone to raise awareness for herself and other households in the neighbourhood.

‘We stock dry food and frugally consume it throughout the year. In addition to the loss of our crops on the field, if our stored food was also damaged due to the floods, we would have died of hunger. I made my neighbours aware in time and we moved our food and resources at different heights and directions numerous times to avoid the flood water. Access to information helped me in making informed decisions.’

3. Access impacts behaviour and reduces gender inequality
Shumaila Ashraf (UC Sikhaniwala) took a course for ladies' parlour services in 2015 to economically empower herself but wasn't successful. In 2022, digital literacy enabled her to learn new techniques and meet the demands of her clients. Her business is now flourishing. She is seen as an example to follow for self-improvement and the economic upscaling of a household.

‘I didn’t know how to use a mobile phone very well. Once I learnt, it was a struggle to get access to it as the men in my family did not let me. My husband now shares his phone with me; he sees the value it brings. I am used to using the internet now, and watch videos to build and capitalize my skills. I will be able to save enough money so we can send our daughter to schools as well.’
We also met numerous women skilled in crafts that all have the potential to become businesses. Limited finances force people to make unfair choices and prioritize their sons over daughters. The systemic injustice toward women requires multifactorial solutions and access is proving to be a strong factor.


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