Category Archives: Of Women Power

Amidst gender disparity, these women are re-defining Pakistan’s entrepreneurial landscape

women-in-tech.jpgWomen in South Asia face societal constraints and discrimination based on deeply entrenched values and perceptions about women’s role in the society which in turn significantly impacts their entry into businesses. Women still own less than 10 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Asia. Unfortunately, Pakistan is no exception in this regard.

Study conducted by the United Nations indicates that one third of the over 30 million working aged women in Pakistan are deemed economically active. Out of them, almost 80 percent of working women in the region are in vulnerable employment. Owing to deep-rooted gender disparities pertaining to availability of opportunities and resources, only a small number of women in Pakistan are able to start and sustain an entrepreneurial venture.

The alarming state of affairs definitely calls for a strong and vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past few years, a significant increase in the entrepreneurial activity has been observed. The entrepreneurship ecosystem is thriving in Pakistan relatively, which could have been next to impossible without the contribution of women who comprise of a larger chunk of the country’s population. Gender inclusiveness without doubt influences the entrepreneurial landscape positively.

As we end 2015, we celebrate some of the most extraordinary, successful and inspiring women tech-entrepreneurs who, despite all odds, proved their mettle and continue to contribute to flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan. They stand as inspiration and strong role models for every aspiring entrepreneur and constitute a healthy and innovative business community in Pakistan.

It is undeniably true that, without successful women entrepreneurs, vibrant ecosystems cannot exist and flourish. Here is a list of some of the most dynamic women entrepreneurs who rocked the tech scene in Pakistan in 2015.

1. Nighat Daad – Founder, Digital Rights Foundation

Nighat-Daad

Nighat Daad was always sensitive and heedful to the vulnerability of young girls and women in the online space. This is why Nighat founded the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) in Pakistan realizing the need to prevent the increasing instances of cyber violence against women.

Through her non-profit platform, she conducts awareness sessions for women to educate and train them about privacy and online security. Her endeavors to raise awareness about global rights and online privacy and thereby protecting women from online harassment have been widely appreciated and acknowledged.
For her remarkable work, she also received global recognition and thus was deservingly added to the list of Time’s Next Generation Leaders.

She is also very vocal against the laws that allow government to check the right to freedom of expression and privacy of an ordinary internet surfer. Not just that, she is simultaneously been partaking in extensive campaigns against the internet surveillance of intrusive nature and dissemination of personal information to state agencies and businesses without individual prior approval. She believes, “As a leader, you have to envision a future you believe in, and that is what I am doing.”

2. Hafsa Shorish – Program Manager, PlanX

Hafsa-Shorish

When it comes to entrepreneurship in Pakistan, the nation’s largest technology incubator Plan9 can never be overlooked since it has been contributing immensely to fostering the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.

Plan9’s offshoot accelerator program PlanX that was established to support the mid-stage startups is another landmark in flourishing the entrepreneurial culture. When we talk about the Plan9 and/or PlanX, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the brains behind its success. When Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) launched the Plan9, Hafsa Shorish was one of its first hire and thus one of its founding members. Since then, she has been playing a crucial role in grooming job creators instead of job seekers initially at Plan9 in capacity of Marketing and PR Manager and afterwards by leading the PlanX as Program Manager.

Coming from a background in media studies, the multi-talented Hafsa Shorish is changing the lives of thousands of techies despite being a non-techie herself. With her exceptional communication skills, she has visited all over Punjab speaking about the mission of her accelerator and incubator while also creating awareness about the importance of entrepreneurship. She believes, “It takes the right mindset and the right team to lead a startup to matchless success.”

3. Meenah Tariq – Accelerator lead at Invest2Innovate

Meenah-Tariq

A Fullbright scholar boasting a degree in strategy and entrepreneurship from Babson College, Meenah Tariq is contributing to building a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan as Accelerator Lead at Pakistan’s business startups accelerator Invest2Innovate.

Starting her first entrepreneurial venture, at the tender age of eight, of selling hand-made bracelets door-to-door, the young women knew no bounds and went on to claim a diverse portfolio of multiple startups to her name. Meenah Tariq has a vast experience of businesses and startups as a serial entrepreneur. In addition to that, she has also engaged in consultancy, financial analysis and project management.

At invest2innovate, Meenah Tariq has been leading the accelerator and consulting entrepreneurs and not-for-profit startups. With her impressive expertise in the areas of business plan development, she renders consultancy on managerial and strategic skills to young entrepreneurs. Her past experience includes design and execution of the marketing research campaigns for various products and services. Through her work, she has been successfully partaking in the social and economic uplift of the country with special focus on youth empowerment and capacity-building. In addition to that, she is also teaching Entrepreneurship at NUST, Islamabad.

4. Maryam Mohiuddin – Director, Social Innovation Lab

Maryam-Mohiuddin

The strong headed and comfortably selfless, Maryam Mohiyuddin is the founder and director of Social Innovation Lab (SIL) which is a social enterprise incubator housed at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

A lawyer with as prestigious alma mater as University of Berkeley, she is of the opinion that she finds more fun and meaning in contributing to social justice and prosperity through working at SIL than she would at a 9 to 5 job that she had to forgo in order to come back to serve Pakistan. The SIL, that houses the social enterprise incubator called ‘The Hatchery’, is a centre for social innovation in Pakistan which has different wings including the Community Engagement Wing in addition to the Consultancy and Research Wing.

Maryam was also the co-founder of a magazine called ‘Literaty Pakistan’ which had a whole section devoted to social entrepreneurship that explored redress of social dilemmas through innovative solutions. Through SIL, Maryam Mohiyuddin provides the socially driven entrepreneurial startups not only mentorship and investment opportunities but also ideas with a testing platform, building connections and a nurturing environment.

5. Sarah Tariq Gillani – Program Manager, Tech Hub Connect

Sarah-Tariq-Gillani

Super passionate about making things happen and the women with the motto, “hard work is never wasted but compensated in ways one cannot even fathom”, Sara Tariq Gillani is the Program Manager of the Tech Hub Connect which is Pakistan’s first ever co-working space designated for freelancers.

Tech Hub Connect is a government of Punjab supported initiative. The platform is continuation of initiatives for boosting up the entrepreneurial culture and supporting the technology ecosystem developed at the Arfa Software Technology. It brings together people from the academia and the IT industry. Sara Tariq Gillani is putting in her endeavors to formulating a mechanism to create successful IT startups in Pakistan.

Before working with the Tech Hub Connect, Sara was responsible for designing and implementing Plan9 Tech Incubator’s core incubation program where she was able to produce almost 85 technology startups through a tailor-made six-month program.

6. Farieha Aziz – BoloBhi

Farieha-Aziz

One of the most staunch advocates and highly vocal about the right to freedom of expression, Farieha Aziz is Co-Founder and Director of Bolo Bhi (Speak up) and a Karachi-based journalist who writes for one of the leading daily newspapers of Pakistan.

Bolo Bhi is a not-for-profit organization engaging in advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy. Before working with Bolo Bhi, she worked at the Newsline as the Assistant Editor from 2007 to 2012. During that period, she also received the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008.

Fareiha Aziz is a petitioner in a case filed in Islamabad High Court on behalf of the Bolo Bhi against what she believes as the Government’s censorship of Internet and Internet regulation. In past, she has also served as amicus curiae in a case filed in the Lahore High Court that challenged the Youtube ban.

7. Sheba Najmi – Code for Pakistan

Sheba-Najmi

Running Pakistan’s chapter of Code for America. A good chunk of startups have come out of Code for Pakistan hackathons in Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Karachi.

One of the most vibrant strategists and mentors, Sheba Najmi is the founder of Code for Pakistan which is non-profit initiative building a non-partisan civic innovation ecosystem to improve quality of life across Pakistan with a vision to increase civic engagement by encouraging the opening of government data, and supporting innovation in the public domain. Starting off her career as a TV Anchor in Pakistan to her eventful journey to the Silicon Valley, the dynamic Sheba Najmi has worked for Code for America as a 2012 fellow and Yahoo as the Lead Designer. She studied Symbolic Systems while investigating Humans and Computer interaction at the University of Stanford.

Sheba Najmi has also the privilege of being in the Board of Advisors of Go-Fig Solutions and a User Experience Design Instructor. In addition to providing consultancy services to the World Bank, she has remained part of several notable projects like “Honolulu Answers” and “Social Media handbook for Cities”.

Under her leadership, a good number of Startups have come out of the Code for Pakistan. A series of events under its ambit called Civic Hackathons have also been arranged in the capital cities including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. The Hackathon is a gathering of a cross-functional group of people who come together to brainstorm about city-related problems and try to find tech-based solutions for them.

8. Jehan Ara – The NEST I/O & P@SHA

Jehan-Ara

Jehan Ara is President of all Pakistan Software Houses Association and heading NESTiO an incubator in Karachi.

A seasoned information and communication technology expert, motivator, entrepreneur and a social activist, Jehan Ara is one of the most prominent and widely known names in the tech industry of Pakistan. Starting her career as a journalist over 30 years ago, she holds a diverse experience of working in advertising, marketing, PR and communications before becoming involved in multimedia and interactive media. Since 2001, Jahan Ara is the President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), the representative trade body of IT and ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services) businesses in Pakistan.

Under her leadership, PASHA’s own technology incubator, The Nest I/O was established with Google and Samsung as its funding partners. The incubator supports in creating a networking, mentorship and investment opportunities for young entrepreneurs by providing an enabling and conducive environment. She is a prominent speaker, writer and a staunch advocate of legislation against cyber crimes, right to privacy and data protection. She is also collaborating with socially cohesive projects like Take Back the Tech and Women’s Virtual Network which are striving to eliminate all forms of violence against women and ensure women empowerment respectively.

This blog originally appeared on here.

Advertisements

Women’s Political Role

Women are one of the most disadvantaged groups of society who are a victim to discrimination and all sorts of violence at every single stage of their lives.

The Constitution of Pakistan however guarantees non-discrimination irrespective of sex, color, caste, or creed, ensures complete gender equality and ensures all rights for women. Islam also puts a special emphasis on gender equality and justice.

In addition to that Government of Pakistan is signatory to the international Conventions and Treaties like CEDAW, ICCPR, and Beijing Platform for Action, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which mandate women’s empowerment; and which the government continues to implement and reports progress in the periodic reports.

Notwithstanding over 50 percent of the world’s population, it is quite alarming that women remain underrepresented as voters, political leaders and elected officials in every region of the globe.

The world bears witness that the woman’s contributions towards reforming and building societies are well-documented. It is highly important to realize that women’s meaningful participation is essential to building and sustaining democracy. It is evident that countries with the highest levels of gender empowerment have been able to provide their citizens with the highest standards of living. Increased women’s political participation has quite positive effects on democracy which include greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and more sustainable peace.

It has always been very difficult for women to sustain a significant place in a patriarchal society like Pakistan. Rather, they are losing ground in public spaces and confining themselves to fit to certain patriarchal norms and boundaries set down for them. It is high time that women reclaimed spaces previously receded. It is equally important for political parties to realize that women are a political constituency and their interests must be safeguarded and fought for, not only in parliament but also in the party ranks.

Quotas for women reserved seats are crucial in ensuring women’s political space in the legislative bodies. It is ultimately the key to women’s economic, legal and social empowerment impacting the sustainability in the national development. With 17.5% women’s quota for reserved seats in the National Assembly, the overall current percentage of the women in the National Assembly rose to 20% that includes women who came to the Assembly through general elections. The house has witnessed remarkable contribution by women legislators in past.

In order to make it more effective, it was unanimously agreed upon in the National Round Table Conference organized by WPC that the political parties need to review their rules and respective structures to include women in the mainstream decision making processes and to also allow minimum of 10% quota for women in respective parties for the general elections on winnable seats.

The fact cannot be denied that Pakistani women still have a difficult time obtaining positions of leadership within Pakistani political parties. As of currently, not even a single women is a Federal Minister while only two Minister of State.

A prominent women’s rights activist believes that social stigma discourages women from taking prominent positions which might involve public appearances and contact with strangers. Patriarchy and religious conservatism vehemently argue that women are not fit to be leaders, and that they belong only in the home, looking after children, and supporting their spouses.

The inclusion of women in political parties is a wise move on all counts. But having women in senior positions of leadership is essential for countless reasons. These women serve as role models for other Pakistani girls and women; they show them that their voice and vote matters, that they too have ownership of the country and their participation is vital to the successful functioning of the nation.

Women political leaders are best placed to formulate policy that affects both Pakistani women and men in a positive way; they’ve been seen to give priority to social issues, education, health, and population welfare that have been overlooked for decades.

Mindset needs to be changed. Awareness programs are indispensable in this regard. As one of the major Newspapers reported that, 78 per cent of Pakistanis think that women should attend to their domestic responsibilities prior to doing any sort of political work at all.

Permitting a lack of political representation and insisting that only men can represent the concerns of half the population in the public realm is hence denying a reality that already exists and condemning half the population to political invisibility.

All political parties should follow suit. They must strive to increase representation of women and groom them to leadership positions so that all the women of Pakistan see faces they can vote for in the upcoming elections.


Fidelity! Thy Name is Woman

Nobody in their lives, at one moment or the other, might have escaped love lighting their heart and soul. A single fiery touch of love causes the ship of life to sink or stay afloat. In love, beloved is all is seen, no other sense seems to support. Worldly routine no longer matters. However, it’s neither mere looks nor skin-deep beauty that’s mesmerizing to the loving beholder. Love knows no rationale, sets no condition or criterion. Notwithstanding her dark complexion, Laila was no inferior than the beautiful rose-petals or a sizzling starry-night to Majnu. Love knows no bounds and assails without warning. Eyes, drowsy or awake, reflect of the light of love. Even a single thought of love is extraordinarily overpowering; it’s transforming.

If love is so domineering, some questions however are very daunting. What leads to break ups or who is to be blamed for broken hearts, shattered dreams and lonely frustrating nights?  Man blames woman for that, so much so that William Shakespeare, one of the greatest English poets is no exception to it. Out of distaste and distrust he proclaims:

“Frailty! thy name is woman.”

In contrast, the 17th century magically mystic poet of Sindh Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai advocates against Shakespearean notion. In his work “Shah-Jo-Risalo”, he has written scores of poems in praise of woman’s fidelity and devotion.

Shah Bhittai talks about Sohni who just for the fragrance of Mahiwal, plunges into the deadly waters with words:

“What if I sacrifice my life under the feet of my Love.”

It portrays how intensely she, until the end, holds onto loyalty. She exemplifies that waters no longer frighten and woods no longer threaten when one is in love. Roaring waves, however uncanny, cannot even dare shatter the sheer determination which love confers.

Talk about devotion and another exemplary character Sasui comes to conversation. Sasui, to celebrate her allegiance, to prove her eternal love which she cherishes with Punhu, treads the treacherous deserts and wounds her tender feet. Her heart abounds in the longing for love. Love so much entrances her that she forgets all. She conquers, all by herself, the deserted paths and patches. Loyalty of both these icons of love, Sasui and Sohni, which Shah Bhittai depicts, is quite lofty.

Laila implores for a meet-up but Chanesar would not see her. She keeps waiting, and wailing, crying for Chanesar until Death comes knocking at her mortal door and takes her breath away.

Sur Moomal of Shah Jo Risalo also boasts about women’s cronyism. Rano would sneak through “Kaak” (a small village in Sindh) and see Moomal. Once he fails to see her for so long and leaves her longing for a mere glimpse of his. Moomal, in order to appease her craving for her beloved and to solace her soul, disguises her sister Soomal to appear like Rano while she herself rests by her sister’s side. Fortunately, Rano visits her but unfortunately mistakes Soomal presuming as if she were a man. Infuriated at the scene, he forsakes her forever and sets for Umarkot never to see her again. Saddening distrust so weakens her, tears her heart asunder that shedding tears of separation she decides to die and jumps into inferno.

One of the best amongst rest is the epic tale of poor, patriotic Marui who ends up being abducted by Umar, the lord of the area. Umar attempts to entice her to be his queen, live in a comfy palace, put silk attires on, and own all alluring jewels, but to no avail. She prefers her plain native “Shaawl” over gems-adorned velvet attires because she believes her “Shaawl” had a sweet scent of her soil.

The exemplary daughter of Thar says no to every luxury simply to keep her sanctity secure and her faithfulness to her kinfolk intact. Obsessed with her motto of devotion and patriotism she protests. Eats and drinks naught, prefers death to infidelity, until she turns into a cadaver. She entreats:

“O’ Umar! If I die, take my body to my native abode Malir and bury me there.”

Consequently, impressed by her unflinching loyal stance and eternal love for her land, Umar in her awe liberates her.

Woman stands by her man through thick and thin. She’s paid back in solitude and sarcasm, betrayal and blame. She leaves everything once she enters into wedlock. The return is her in-laws’ angry looks, harsh remarks, her husband’s illicit affairs with other woman and what not?

Shah Bhittai talks about women liberally even in not so enlightened times. He talks about women living and dying in and for love. That surely puts modern man to a thought trial. If man in seventeenth century could be as liberal as him, why can’t a man of twenty first century be?

Notwithstanding an alarming increase in love marriages, we cannot deny altogether the exponential number of failed marriages, altercations among spouses, separation and ultimately divorce. A slightest thought and it comes to realization that people no longer neglect each others’ faults, or understand and trust each other. In comes a sane voice which says, “Love and trust are inseparable – you cannot have one without the other.” A bond, however stronger it may be, intolerance and distrust simply ruins it.

A loving heart should be forgiving. A heart with such attributes never rusts away and souls entering into blissful garden of love will never enter blazing fire of separation.


Women Power – a fundamental power

Women power is a fundamental power to make our world a better place to live. Women, with their unique traits of maternal instinct, selflessness and unflinching determination can be true change agents, models of resilience and advocates of peace. Empowerment of women means empowerment of whole society.

The focus should be to improve the lot of women by sensitizing them. Initiatives need to be taken to increase awareness on importance of women’s empowerment in the society in order to change the stereotypical outlook of women in a patriarchal society like that of Pakistan.

Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Universal Declaration of Human Rights also advocate equal rights and opportunities for women. The Universal Declaration of Democracy, adopted by the Inter Parliamentary Union’s Council sets the guidelines for all governments by concluding that:

“The achievement of democracy pre-supposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society.”

Pakistan was created as an expression of the free will of the people and our Founder of the Nation, the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisioned Pakistan as an equal-opportunity where the strength and contribution of women would be duly acknowledged. The founder was one of the staunch advocates of women empowerment. He once said:

“No nation could rise to the height of glory, unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners.”

The chance for welfare of the humanity is next to impossible unless the condition of women is improved. An advocate of women empowerment states:

“The state is considered as a bird along with two wings; man and woman to fly in the air. But through the centuries, societies in the world over have been trying to fly on only one wing, denying women their rightful place.”

However, things have been improving and need to be further improved on grassroots level. That is the reason why, we can see more than 17% representation of women in the Parliament of Pakistan. The democracy in Pakistan has taken concrete measures to empower women. Over the 67 years of Pakistan history, it has been witnessed that the induction of women takes place at the highest decision-making offices which include first woman Prime Minister and the first Speaker of the National Assembly. The Constitution of the Pakistan grants women not only equal rights but also attempts to make up for the past by promising to make special provisions for the protection of their long-neglected interests.

South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular has made great strides over the last two decades in narrowing gender gaps in education, health, employment and political participation. The female population was last reported at more or less 50%. Today, there are more girls in schools, fewer women dying in childbirth, more women are in wage employment outside agriculture and more women are serving in national Parliament of Pakistan.

Each one of us must stand committed to ensure equal rights of women; the right to be independent; to be educated; to have choices in life, the opportunity to select a productive career; to inherit property; to participate in business; and to flourish in the market place.

The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus has been at the forefront in highlighting the issues confronting women at the heart of the national development agenda and taking measures to empower women by active legislation and oversight.

In its historic National Convention of Women Parliamentarians in 2010, WPC reaffirmed its commitment and resolved to empower women to promote the spirit of reconciliation and dialogue to bridge the gap between ideologies and political philosophies of the 21st Century. Efforts are also being taken to work on strengthening women in political and legislative processes and in policy making of political parties.

A thought from Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto sums it up beautifully:

“We should not shrink from responsibility; we should welcome it — welcome it on behalf of women all over the world, in cities, in rural villages. For all who suffered before, and for all who come after us, we are privileged to be in this special position — in this special time — with this extraordinary opportunity — to change the future.”