PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

The Global Social Network

Working Women Leading a Social Revolution in Pakistan

While Fareed Zakaria, Nick Kristoff and other talking heads are still stuck on the old stereotypes of Muslim women, the status of women in Muslim societies is rapidly changing, and there is a silent social revolution taking place with rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder in Pakistan.

"More of them(women) than ever are finding employment, doing everything from pumping gasoline and serving burgers at McDonald’s to running major corporations", says a report in the latest edition of Businessweek magazine.

Beyond company or government employment, there are a number of NGOs focused on encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship among Pakistani women by offering skills training and microfinancing. Kashf Foundation led by a woman CEO and BRAC are among such NGOs. They all report that the success and repayment rate among female borrowers is significantly higher than among male borrowers.

In rural Sindh, the PPP-led government is empowering women by granting over 212,864 acres of government-owned agriculture land to landless peasants in the province. Over half of the farm land being given is prime nehri (land irrigated by canals) farm land, and the rest being barani or rain-dependent. About 70 percent of the 5,800 beneficiaries of this gift are women. Other provincial governments, especially the Punjab government have also announced land allotment for women, for which initial surveys are underway, according to ActionAid Pakistan.

Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan's workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc.

Here are some statistics and data that confirm the growth and promotion of women in Pakistan's labor pool:

1. A number of women have moved up into the executive positions, among them Unilever Foods CEO Fariyha Subhani, Engro Fertilizer CFO Naz Khan, Maheen Rahman CEO of IGI Funds and Roshaneh Zafar Founder and CEO of Kashf Foundation.

2. Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms.

3. Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years, according to a report in the NY Times.

4. The number of women working at McDonald’s restaurants and the supermarket behemoth Makro has quadrupled since 2006.

5. There are now women taxi drivers in Pakistan. Best known among them is Zahida Kazmi described by the BBC as "clearly a respected presence on the streets of Islamabad".

6. Several women fly helicopters and fighter jets in the military and commercial airliners in the state-owned and private airlines in Pakistan.

Here are a few excerpts from the recent Businessweek story written by Naween Mangi:

About 22 percent of Pakistani females over the age of 10 now work, up from 14 percent a decade ago, government statistics show. Women now hold 78 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, and in July, Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, became Pakistan’s first female Foreign Minister. “The cultural norms regarding women in the workplace have changed,” says Maheen Rahman, 34, chief executive officer at IGI Funds, which manages some $400 million in assets. Rahman says she plans to keep recruiting more women for her company.

Much of the progress has come because women stay in school longer. More than 42 percent of Pakistan’s 2.6 million high school students last year were girls, up from 30 percent 18 years ago. Women made up about 22 percent of the 68,000 students in Pakistani universities in 1993; today, 47 percent of Pakistan’s 1.1 million university students are women, according to the Higher Education Commission. Half of all MBA graduates hired by Habib Bank, Pakistan’s largest lender, are now women. “Parents are realizing how much better a lifestyle a family can have if girls work,” says Sima Kamil, 54, who oversees 1,400 branches as head of retail banking at Habib. “Every branch I visit has one or two girls from conservative backgrounds,” she says.

Some companies believe hiring women gives them a competitive advantage. Habib Bank says adding female tellers has helped improve customer service at the formerly state-owned lender because the men on staff don’t want to appear rude in front of women. And makers of household products say female staffers help them better understand the needs of their customers. “The buyers for almost all our product ranges are women,” says Fariyha Subhani, 46, CEO of Unilever Pakistan Foods, where 106 of the 872 employees are women. “Having women selling those products makes sense because they themselves are the consumers,” she says.

To attract more women, Unilever last year offered some employees the option to work from home, and the company has run an on-site day-care center since 2003. Engro, which has 100 women in management positions, last year introduced flexible working hours, a day-care center, and a support group where female employees can discuss challenges they encounter. “Today there is more of a focus at companies on diversity,” says Engro Fertilizer CFO Khan, 42. The next step, she says, is ensuring that “more women can reach senior management levels.”

The gender gap in South Asia remains wide, and women in Pakistan still face significant obstacles. But there is now a critical mass of working women at all levels showing the way to other Pakistani women.

I strongly believe that working women have a very positive and transformational impact on society by having fewer children, and by investing more time, money and energies for better nutrition, education and health care of their children. They spend 97 percent of their income and savings on their families, more than twice as much as men who spend only 40 percent on their families, according to Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women for Women International, who recently appeared on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria.

Here's an interesting video titled "Redefining Identity" about Pakistan's young technologists, including women, posted by Lahore-based 5 Rivers Technologies:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Status of Women in Pakistan

Microfinancing in Pakistan

Gender Gap Worst in South Asia

Status of Women in India

Female Literacy Lags in South Asia

Land For Landless Women

Are Women Better Off in Pakistan Today?

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror

Mukhtaran Mai-The Movie

World Economic Forum Survey of Gender Gap

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Tags: Pakistan, Women, Work

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 14, 2013 at 8:32am

Here's an AFP report on Pakistan Army's first female paratroopers:

Pakistan’s first group of female paratroopers completed their training on Sunday, the military announced, hailing it as a “landmark achievement” for the deeply conservative Muslim country.
Captain Kiran Ashraf was declared the best paratrooper of the batch of 24, the military said in a statement, while Captain Sadia, referred to by one name, became the first woman officer to jump from a MI-17 helicopter.
Women have limited opportunities in Pakistan’s highly traditional, patriarchal society. The United Nations says only 40 percent of adult women are literate, and are frequently the victims of violence and abuse.
But in 2006, seven women broke into one of Pakistan’s most exclusive male clubs to graduate as fighter pilots - perhaps the most prestigious job in the powerful military and for six decades closed to the fairer sex.
After three weeks’ basic airborne training, which included exit, flight and landing techniques, the new paratroopers completed their first jump on Sunday and were given their “wings” by the commander of Special Services Group, Major General Abid Rafique, the military said.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/life-style/art-and-culture/2013/07/...

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 18, 2013 at 2:47pm

Here's an open letter in The Guardian from Pakistani writer Mohammad Hanif addressed to TTP leader Adnan Rasheed:

Dear Adnan Rasheed,

I am writing to you in my personal capacity. This may not be the opinion of the people of Pakistan or the policy of the government, but I write to thank you in response to the generous letter you have written to Malala Yousafzai. Thanks for owning up that your comrades tried to kill her by shooting her in the head. Many of your well-wishers in Pakistan had been claiming the Taliban wouldn't attack a minor girl. They were of the opinion that Malala had shot herself in order to become a celebrity and get a UK visa. Women, as we know, will go to any lengths to get what they want. So thanks for saying that a 14-year-old girl was the Taliban's foe. And if she rolls out the old cliche that the pen is mightier than sword, she must face the sword and find it for herself.

Like you, there are others who are still not sure whether it was "Islamically correct or wrong", or whether she deserved to be "killed or not", but then you go on to suggest that we leave it to Allah.

There are a lot of people in Pakistan, some of them not even Muslims, who, when faced with difficult choices or everyday hardships, say let's leave it to Allah. Sometimes it's the only solace for the helpless. But most people don't say leave it to Allah after shooting a kid in the face. The whole point of leaving it to Allah is that He is a better judge than any human being, and there are matters that are beyond our comprehension – maybe even beyond your favourite writer Bertrand Russell's comprehension.

Allow me to make another small theological point – again about girls. Before the advent of Islam, before the prophet gave us the holy book that you want Malala to learn again, in the times we call jahilia, people used to bury their newborn daughters. They probably found them annoying and thought it better to get rid of them before they learned to speak. We are told Islam came to put an end to such horrendous practices. If 1,400 years later, we have to shoot girls in the head in an attempt to shut them up, someone like Russell might say we haven't made much progress.

Like you, I did a bit of research in Malala's hometown in Swat valley, and I remember a wise journalist warning your commanders that the Taliban might get away with slitting people's throats in public squares but not to try shutting down the girls' school. The government practically handed over the valley to your comrades, but their rule didn't even last for a few weeks because they ordered all women to stay home.

There was only one lesson to be learned: you can fight the Pakistani army; you can try and almost kill Pakistan's commander-in-chief, as you so heroically did; you might wage a glorious jihad against brutal imperial forces. But you can't pick a fight with the working women in your neighbourhood and hope to win. Those women may never get an audience at the UN but everyone – from cotton picker to bank teller – cannot be asked to shut up and stay home, for the simple reason that they won't.

It has also been suggested that your letter represents the mainstream opinion in Pakistan. But don't fall for this praise. You might think that a lot of people support your just fight, but there is a part of them that worries whether their girl will get the grades to get into a good university. And if you tell them there is a contradiction there, they might tell you to leave it to Allah...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/18/letter-taliban-...

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 1, 2013 at 9:58pm

"If war breaks out, I will be flying on my senior's wing as his wingman, well, wingwoman," she said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph at the headquarters of the Pakistan Air Force in Islamabad.....For Fl Lt Farooq, it would provide the ultimate chance to prove that women were every bit the equal of men in the cockpit.
"When I get orders I will go and fight. I want to prove myself, to show that I'm doing something for my country."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10279119/Pa...

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 15, 2013 at 10:21pm

Malala inspires girls school enrollment surge in KP, reports Bloomberg:

MINGORA, Pakistan — The Pakistani Taliban's attempts to deter girls from seeking an education, epitomized by the shooting of 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the face last year, are backfiring as school enrollments surge in her home region.

While Yousafzai missed out last week on the Nobel Peace Prize, her plight is helping change attitudes in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which lies at the center of a Taliban insurgency. The four-month-old provincial government boosted education spending by about 30 percent and began an enrollment drive that has added 200,000 children, including 75,000 girls.

Yousafzai's story "is certainly helping us to promote education in the tribal belt," Muhammad Atif Khan, the province's education minister, said by phone. "Education is a matter of death and life. We can't solve terrorism issues without educating people."

Taliban militants targeted Yousafzai in retaliation over her campaign for girls to be given equal rights to schooling in a country where only 40 percent of adult women can read and write. Though the Nobel award went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Yousafzai was showered with accolades in a week in which she published her memoir: she won the European Union's top human rights prize and met President Barack Obama at the Oval Office.

The shooting occurred a year ago as Yousafzai traveled home on a school bus in Mingora, a trading hub of 1.8 million people where a majority of women still cover their faces and girls aren't comfortable answering questions from reporters. The bullet struck above her left eye, grazing her brain. She was flown for emergency surgery to Britain, where she lives today.

The increased media attention on Swat since the shooting is pressuring government officials to improve educational standards and encouraging locals to send their kids to school.

Three days ago in Mingora, as local channels flashed the news that Yousafzai didn't win the peace prize, high school student Shehzad Qamar credited her for prompting the government to build more institutions of higher learning.

"She has done what we couldn't have achieved in 100 years," Qamar said. "She gave this town an identity."..
------------
"Taliban wanted to silence me," Yousafzai said in an interview with the BBC last week. "Malala was heard only in Pakistan, but now she is heard at the every corner of the world."

Sadiqa Ameen, a 15-year-old school girl in Swat, said she wanted to read Yousafzai's book, titled "I am Malala." The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, has threatened to kill Yousafzai and target shops selling her book, the Dawn newspaper reported, citing spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

"This is probably the first ever book written by a Swati girl," said Ameen, who lives near Yousafzai's school. "I am sure her story will be something we all know and have gone through during the Taliban rule."

Musfira Khan Karim, 11, prayed for Yousafzai's success in the Nobel competition with her 400 schoolmates in Mingora.

"I want her back here among us," Karim said in her school's playground. "I want to know more about her. I want to meet her."

http://www.registercitizen.com/general-news/20131013/taliban-intimi...

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 31, 2013 at 7:03pm

According to Pakistan's Federal Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women at work in the country has increased from 16.3% to 24.4% in a decade.

But activists say that despite this, many women still find it difficult to be accepted in the male-dominated workforce.

Qualified driver Aliya Bibi spoke to the BBC about her struggle to find employment in Rawalpindi.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25421606

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 31, 2013 at 7:13pm

Women participation in the work force in Pakistan has increased to 25% from 16% a decade ago. Jobs held by Pakistani women range from airline pilots, fighter jet pilots, military generals, soldiers, police officers, parliamentarians, ministers, business executives, doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, fast food workers, taxi drivers, farm workers, etc etc.

Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/09/working-women-seeding-silent-social....

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 8, 2014 at 8:23am

Forbes magazine released its third annual "30 Under 30" list on Monday, "a tally of the brightest stars in 15 different fields under the age of 30," and three Pakistani women made the cut in the Social Entrepreneurship category (ET). The most well-known woman on the list is Malala Yousafzai, who became an international champion of girls' education after she was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in October 2012. She is credited with co-founding the Malala Fund, which aims to increase girls' enrollment in formal education in the developing world; her co-founder, Shiza Shahid, is also on the list. Shahid, a graduate from Stanford University, was also listed on TIME magazine's "30 Under 30" list in December 2013. Rounding out the list is Khalida Brohi, who founded Sughar, a non-profit organization that helps women start small businesses so they can become more financially independent, after witnessing the death of her friend in an honor killing.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 6, 2014 at 9:12am

Here's a VOA report on a woman chef in New York:

NEW YORK — Few women make it into the top ranks of chefs in New York City. It’s even harder for women who are not U.S. citizens, but one young Pakistani woman has broken this barrier.

Fatima Ali is the sous - or assistant - chef at the famous Café Centro in Midtown Manhattan. She is also one of the very few Pakistani women to graduate from America’s top culinary institute, the Culinary Institute of Arts.

But what makes Ali even rarer, according to a VOA survey, is that she may be the only non-American female chef in any of 70 top New York restaurants.

Ali grew up in Pakistan, and she says there’s so much for her to take back to her home country.

“There’s so many things that I've been exposed to in the U.S., that I may not have been exposed to in Pakistan. Like the plethora of ingredients that are available here," she said. "But it’s been really interesting, taking what I have learned in America and then whenever I go back home to visit, cooking for my family and friends with the ingredients that I love from there.”

In July, Ali competed with other chefs on the Food Network TV show, "Chopped." Her blend of Pakistani spices and Western cuisines won her the top award of $10,000.

“The fact that I won, I suppose was such wonderful validation, all like the sacrifices that my family has made to put myself through school, and to be away from home for so long and the biggest thing for me was to inspire other young Pakistani girls to follow their dreams,” explained Ali.

“She has great potential, and I give her another two to three years, and she definitely will be a master chef,” said Jan Hoffmann, executive chef at Cafe Centro.

Ali wants to make a difference through her cooking. She was first inspired by poor children at her mother’s charity organization.

“I think I was 12 or 15 when I set up my first food stall at one of my mother’s festivals to raise money for these kids the fact that I had made even a small amount of difference cooking for somebody, I think that’s what just sealed the deal for me,” Ali added.

Ali hopes to return to Pakistan and establish subsidized kitchens where poor families can enjoy low-cost, organic meals - and where teens can learn cooking and other job skills.

http://www.voanews.com/content/pakistani-woman-makes-it-big-as-new-...

Comment by Riaz Haq on Monday

Humera Ashique created history after becoming the first Pakistani woman to clinch gold in an international event in Nepal on Sunday.

The 24-year-old judoka took gold at the South Asian Judo Championship in Kathmandu as she defeated a Nepalese athelete to clinch the 48kg event.

The Lahore-based athlete is happy to realise her dream after training hard at the national camp since November. "I'm just relieved now," said Humera.

"I was so tired of failing to win the ultimate title. But after so many years and hard work I've finally managed to win a gold medal. Before leaving for Nepal I told my parents that I'll succeed. I performed sensibly and outplayed very tough opponents."

Meanwhile, Pakistan took second position in the overall championship with three gold medals, three silver and six bronze, next to India on the top, while Nepal finished third.

http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/humera-first-p...

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