By Muhammad Asad Ullah
The city has surely come back to life and it’s a thriller because there is no place quite like Karachi. After years of nothing happening and cynosure of fashion recently, there is a definite revival of sorts. If on one hand the fashion council is grooming a whole new generation into the finer purist points of fashion, there are people like Shenaz Ramzi who have taken some serious business into account.
A festival honouring women and paying homage to their altruistic and outstanding achievements making significant contributions was held recently in the cosmopolitan Karachi as part of a three-day event.
Divided in two sets of panel discussions each day, the first day of the Pakistan Women Festival 2017 was hinged on a total of 13 women. The first session featured those who broke the glass ceiling with their dedication, while the second session was about women’s health, and focused on liberation and freedom. In the race for justice, where women have leapt countless obstacles, the government of Pakistan is also dedicating its efforts towards women empowerment – the Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace Act being one of the finest examples.
Apart from a stellar array of women who were part of the panel discussions, what kept Breaking the Glass Ceiling session way more interesting was the diversity of the backgrounds from which these six women were invited from to elaborate on their struggles as women in this part of the world. Where it was an affair to invigorate discussion on important issues and ideas that matter to the women of today, Sultana Siddiqui of Hum Network, filmmaker Fizza Ali Meerza, Justice Majida Rizvi, Grade 22 Officer Rabia Javeri-Agha, journalist Uzma Alkarim and actress Mahtab Akbar Rashidi were part of the first session. The session served to spread awareness about programmes for the protection of women nationwide – focusing especially on when their male colleagues resort to character assassination, after being unable to compete with them and unwilling to accept their positions of authority. It won’t be erroneous to term exceptional the feats of these panellists in overcoming the obstacles their professions threw at them.
The presence of young and quick-witted Fizza Ali Meerza, from the Pakistani flick Na Maloom Afraad, shows that the struggles of the women of our last generation have not gone lost and are now in play to create a society that is more tolerant and encouraging for women then the one they grew up in.
Justice Majida Rizvi being the first woman judge in Pakistan, still feels the honour and need to promoting gender equality at workplace. When asked about her journey, she said, “It was really difficult to persuade my family for letting me out to practice law. I worked hard to establish the rights of women in Pakistan. It was Benazir Bhutto’s vision of taking women forward and my hard work that led me to the place where I stand today.” However Rizvi explained while these issues are slowly getting resolved, the battle for women empowerment goes on. “There are so many senior women lawyers in Pakistan but because of the gender discrimination they are neglected most of the time.”
With a stress on tenacity, focus, patience and the uncanny ambitions to achieve the heights of success and goals for any girl, the first day of Pakistan Women Festival ended on the high notes of Sajjad Ali and Asim Azhar at the opening concert.
The objective of Pakistan Women Festival 2017 remains to honour women, recognise their
contributions to society and discuss their issues, whether empowerment-related or health. Many women shared their initial sufferings that led to them making history: Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first woman architect, explained how the local building contractors shunned her for wanting to practice her career post-graduation from Oxford University in her inciting speech on ‘Creating sustainable economic independence for women in Pakistan’. This was followed by a panel discussion on the same topic.
The festival was not just limited to panel discussions on women empowerment as the name suggested – Day 2 ended with a powerful performance by Mai Dhai, Natasha Baig and Ali Zafar.
The last day of the Pakistan Women Festival 2017 hosted a series of panels and session discussing the importance of education, academic reforms, parents’ attitude towards their children excelling in studies and health.
To kick start Day 3, a motivational speaker session was held featuring politician Khushbakht Shujaat. Some very powerful words were heard, from even more powerful woman who have been supporting education and women rights with an urge that laws and rights of women should be added in the curriculum of schools. “What about talent, tastes, hobbies? Such things seem to have left our education system, please don’t pack up education in a square box. Let it spread like the fragrance of flowers,” said Khushbakht.
The senator’s inspirational talk was followed by a panel discussion titled ‘Women tackling challenges in education’. Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director of Oxford University Press, reminded the audience that there are some 60 million children of school-going age in Pakistan of which only 40 million attended school along. The other two panellists were FPCCI’s Standing Committee on Cyber Crimes Chairwoman Mahin Sahibzadi and Nargis Alvi. The literacy rate of women in Pakistan being the topic of discussion, the panel ended the session with the helplessness of children opting to the career paths that their parents pressurise them into, without paying any regards for their preferences. They discussed how private and government schools differed in rules and principals, and what could be a more effective way and efficient tools to make the environment of learning more conducive for the students.
Punjabi pop/bhangra band Stereo Nation, flanked by Zoe Viccaji and Amanat Ali got the audience up on their feet for the closing of the festival.
‘Women Empowerment’ is a word taking the world with a storm. With Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s winning Oscars to Malala Yusufzai bagging the Nobel Prize, women are definitely becoming empowered and thanks to PWF, it seems that they definitely have a lot more to achieve in the coming years.
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