Happy Woman’s Day!
Before I describe the true purpose of this blog post, I have a question for you: How many times have you observed a woman looking at someone’s wedding photos and thinking, “when will I get to be the bride?”? There is one more question: How many times have you seen a woman looking at an unmarried female succeeding at living a life and thinking, “when will I get to live”? Take a moment to think about this and tell me, do you see a problem here?
We have now been through the tumultuous, uncertain, disastrous year of 2020 and we are all eager to look ahead. Well at least in all other aspects of our lives! But when it comes to women, we must ask ourselves, are we eager to look ahead? Much more importantly, are we eager to look beyond what we, or the society, deems to be the criteria for a successful woman? Our society has unfortunately normalized that the only things that count as an achievement in the life of a woman are: (1) married; (2) has a son. The brutal reality is that these two things don’t even count as something individually, only both of them together: married “and” has a son. Sometimes we are generous and expand the second item in the list to: (2a) has kids. But I am here to tell you, everything else they do in their lives matters just as much.
Today I am writing this post to celebrate some of the miraculous unmarried women I know, who are no longer in their twenties, but are passionately engaged in a relentless yet happy pursuit of their dreams, ambitions and goals. This post is about what these wonderful women accomplished in the decade from 2010-2020 and how much it matters.
Going through the stories of these women, my friends, their inspiring list of accomplishments, the summaries of what their previous decade looked like, you will notice that it is not about marriage, or about having children; it is not about small things or big things; it is not about how long the list is; and certainly not about worldly perceptions of success! But that is the whole point though isn’t it? It is all about their individual journeys; it is about how they are using their capabilities and their time to contribute to this world in their own way, on their own terms; it is about these individual women living their lives to the fullest; it is about them being happy. It is about them, period; not the society, not us! We, men and women, don’t get to look at another woman and underappreciate the way she chooses to live her life, because it is her life.
There are so many minute details in here and notice how I refer to all of them as accomplishments because that is what they are. Each and every one of these things is an achievement. How is that for today’s affirmation?
Yes the trends are changing but they aren’t changing fast enough. So, let’s start and maybe you will find yourself in one of these stories too.
Everyone wants Kashmir but no one wants Kashmiris.
Aren’t I a miracle? A seed that survived the slaughter & slaughters to come.
I think I believe in freedom I just don’t know where it is.
I think I believe in home, I just don’t know where to look.
I am going to start with Farzana Yaqoob, a woman who continues to inspire me. She represents the next generation leadership of South Asia. Being a youth leader, social activist & entrepreneur from Azad Jammu & Kashmir, she believes in humanity and striving for justice. She is CEO and founding member of Mantaq Center for Research. She formerly served as Minister for Social Welfare and Women Development in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, having been elected in 2011. As a minister, creating access for women was the core value of her departmental procedure, where she chalked out a full-fledged policy to bring women within the folds of the decision-making process. Through establishing a separate directorate for Women Development in 2014, she created a framework ensuring equal employment opportunities to the female population in the formal and informal sector. This paved the way for her to have the AJ&K Assembly unanimously approve the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Harassment Against Women at the Workplace Act along with the Acid Crime against Women Amendment and the Domestic Violence Act. In addition to that, she established the first ever Drug Addicts Rehabilitation Center at Muzaffarabad, which serves hundreds of patients from AJ&K and Pakistan. Her services for women did not stop there; in collaboration with the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Bank, she launched a special finance scheme for women entrepreneurs encouraging them to start their own businesses. Farzana deserves this special mention because I genuinely want women of all ages to be inspired by her, her bravado, and her endearing humbleness. Here is what this past decade looked like for her:
- First woman in family to contest legislative assembly election.
- First woman in family and Tribe to win legislative Assembly elections
- First Kashmiri woman to become Eisenhower fellow focusing on conflict resolution and climate change mitigation strategies.
- First Kashmiri woman to become Young Global Leader.
- Member Advisory Group Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum
- MSc Mass Communication
- Mother of 2 amazing teenagers
- Established myself as businesswoman.
Certain people – men, of course – discouraged me, saying [science] was not a good career for women. That pushed me even more to persevere.”
Next up is Meenaz Mawani, an Epidemiologist from Pakistan. She started her career with a nursing degree and later got 4 years of experience in Cardiac ICU setting. Her aspiration to improve the health of populations instead of individuals brought her into the field of epidemiology and rest is all history. She is passionate to prevent and improve outcomes of cardiometabolic diseases. Besides work she loves to paint, indulges in music and travels to scenic places. This is what her past decade looked like:
- First one in MSc program at AKU to have received a competitive fellowship from NIH-Fogarty International Centers US.
- Fellowship training from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in injuries and trauma research
- Masters in Epidemiology and Biostatistics
- Conducted the first and the only large-scale research till date on outcomes of Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest in Pakistan
- Co-investigator on several international research grants
- 24 full text publications in peer reviewed journals
- Represented Pakistan in international scientific conferences (several oral and poster presentations)
- Won best research presentation award
- Shortlisted to present my paintings in Jubilee Arts National Competition Pakistan
- Fulbright Scholarship for PhD Epidemiology
- First in the family to be getting a PhD
- Learnt two new programming languages
Carve out and claim the time to care for yourself and kindle your own fire.
Meet Humay, a lovely young lady, and the sister of one of my friends. Given her individualistic personality and her cheerful aura, it did not take us even a day to become friends ourselves. You, the readers, are lucky because one, not only will you get to know her through this list of brilliant accomplishments, but two, you also get to be inspired. Here is a glance at the latest ten years of her life:
- Went to Turkey for an AIESEC internship to teach English and personal development to High school students. I also learnt the Turkish Language. (2011)
- Founded my own clothing brand by the name of Tzarina. I did several exhibitions, in Pakistan and in the UK, through my business partner. (2012)
- Worked in Advertising as a copywriter and explored my writing skills. (2013-2014)
- Worked as a journalist with The Express Tribune. (2015-2016)
- Wrote comedy scripts for Pakistan’s first superhero cartoon series with a female superhero, “Burka Avenger.” (2016)
- Participated in the ‘Girls on Bikes’ Rally in Islamabad which was organized by ‘Girls at Dhabas’, the event was covered by Al-Jazeera news whose representative interviewed me on the importance of Pakistani women reclaiming public spaces. (2017)
- Co-Founded a social media and influencer marketing startup. (2017)
- Started my travel blog and went to Baku, Azerbaijan to inaugurate it, wrote articles on the experiences I had there, one of which was published by The Express Tribune. (2017)
- Volunteered at Edhi homes orphanage. (2017)
- Hosted an anti-bullying seminar by the name of “time2heal” where dialogue was opened on how to overcome bullying and harassment at work, uni. or home (2018).
- Ventured into the exhilarating world of Standup comedy with “Auratnaak” and was dubbed as one journalist’s ‘favorite comedienne of the night’ for The Nation newspaper. Went on to do multiple standup-comedy shows in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. (2018-2019)
- Took my first trip to Europe to Italy. Visited Rome, Milan and Florence and had a blast of a time, got lost in the world of art, architecture, great food and people. Also learnt the Italian language, which I was delighted to converse in, with the locals. (2019)
- Founded a yoga and fitness studio by the name of ‘Replenish Fitness Studio’ where I teach women, Yoga, Pilates, HIIT and breathing exercises. (2020)
- Got certified as a Hatha and Vinyasa yoga teacher with the internationally registered Aliya Agha Academy of Internal Arts. (2020)
Amna Tariq Shah
‘If you don’t like where you are, move. You’re not a tree.’
Amna first came across those words about 10 years ago; they had a powerful impact on her, and completely shifted her approach to every facet of life. It made her realize the momentousness of the choices we make – one can either adapt passivity as their default response to life or be assertive and strive for change. Ever since then, she has chosen to ‘move’ and make things happen. And I bear witness to that testament. From our times together at CSA and all the way to having greasy pizza’s in our offices during lunchtime, I have seen how she grew. The last ten years have not only been challenging and demanding, but also very fulfilling and transformative. This is what they looked like for her:
- Qualified CSS (first attempt)
- Editor – CSA (The Commoner and 40th Common Year Book)
- Became an esteemed member of the Golden Key International Honor Society (based on top 15% academic achievement at Australian universities)
- Became an intermediate level French speaker
- Completed a master’s degree – Swinburne University, Melbourne (Australia)
- Declared the highest achieving graduate in class of 2019
- Learned to play the violin
- Awarded ‘the best tax research thesis’ prize at the reputable Australasian Tax Teachers’ Association conference at the University of Tasmania, Hobart
- Core Team member of Pakistan’s Federal Budget 2020-21 team (FBR)
- Commenced my PhD with Monash University, Melbourne (Australia)
No one knows what you have been through or what your pretty little eyes have seen, but I can reassure you, whatever you have conquered, it shines through your mind.
Mahvish is a central banker by profession and a philanthropist at heart. She swears by a magical elixir – equal parts continuous learning and personal growth. She believes in setting long-term life and career goals because having a sense of direction keeps you on track, especially when the journey gets bumpy. She questions the status quo and refuses to accept the “second-class citizen” status of women. The following lines dictate what she has been up to these past ten years:
- Got selected in SBOTS program of SBP (2010)
- Policy work at SBP received media coverage (2010 – 2014)
- Anti-money laundering training in Jordan (2011)
- Peace Fellowship in Thailand (moto: world peace through inner peace) (2012)
- DAAD scholarship for Master in Germany (Master in International and Development Economics), graduated with distinction (2014-2015)
- First in family to go for a PhD (2017 – to date)
- Research collaboration with the Central Bank of Brazil, research stays in Brasilia and Belo Horizonte (2017 – 2021)
- Research collaboration with the Deutsche Bundesbank (central bank of Germany) and research visits (2019 – 2020)
- Presented my research at several international seminars (2017 – 2020)
- Research paper publication in the journal of Economic Inquiry (forthcoming, 2021)
- Learned German language
- Volunteering for “Aids Hilfe” Germany since 2017 (social work)
- Living independently since 2010
- Travelled several countries, including some of my dream destinations: Venice, Tulip fields in Netherlands, Lavender fields in southern France, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (Sambadrome)
The measure of a man, or woman, is not so much what they have accomplished, though that has weight. It often is much more though what that man or woman has overcome to accomplish what they have.”
Aqs-e-Ali is the definition of all those things that we need to celebrate about the women around us. She is the living embodiment of true perseverance, the balance, the strength, the courage and substance that a woman is truly made of; every woman! The biggest lesson that I learnt from her, though we haven’t been together that much, is that no hurdle is big enough to stop a woman from going after what she wants. This is no small feat! Sometimes we look at people and see how much they have achieved but what we don’t see is the struggle, and the hurdles in spite of which they are where they are. Today I want us to celebrate Aqs-e-Ali and her amazing achievements from the past decade.
- 2021 – Second year of PhD.
- 2019 – Fulbright scholarship.
- 2017 – Successfully completed MPA from Melbourne university.
- 2014 – Ausaid scholarship.
- 2010 – Started career as AAG in AG Punjab.
- 2009 – Joined CSA.
- 12 years of service in Pakistan audit and accounts service.
- 2019 – learnt driving and got my license.
- Visited four countries in last decade as an independent empowered individual.
Sarwat Malik Habib
“Beauty you’re born with, but brains you earn.”
The case with beauty is that more often than not, people fail to look past the obvious and focus on the person. It is also another one of those weird social stereotypes where people attribute all of a persons’ accomplishments and achievements to only the way they look. It takes credit away from the hard work, the commitment, the willingness and determination with which a person pursues their dreams. More importantly, for women, it diminishes the importance of individual identity given that it means everything especially in a world that assigns merit to a woman for just two things: marriage and children. That is the thing about this world though, it will go all the way around but it’s never truly fair, never giving full measure to the things that matter the most. Meet Sarwat, one of my dearest friends with a heart of gold, and I wouldn’t say that for just anyone. She is a devoted civil servant, the likes of whom you probably won’t find anywhere, and I would know because she is family to me. Here is what her last ten years looked like:
- She is a single independent woman.
- First lady CSP officer in her family.
- Finished her MPhil in Public Policy from NDU.
- Served as a visiting faculty at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.
- Appeared for CSS and joined the Civil Bureaucracy of Pakistan.
- An animal lover currently providing home to three adorable dogs and a rescued cat.
- Went to the US for the Professional Fellow Exchange program where she worked on policy matters with a broad range of international agencies and organizations, independently representing Pakistan.
- First lady officer who worked on Anti-Money Laundering cases for the FBR.
- Active participant of the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF).
- As a bureaucrat:
- She is the first woman Deputy Commissioner Headquarters for RTO Islamabad in 17 years for three of the largest government run offices of the Federal Board of Revenue in Islamabad where she manages administration and budgets single handedly as well as commanding a human resource of 500 plus federal government employees.
- She conceptualized goal-based revenue recovery teams within RTO Islamabad that revolutionized tax enforcement procedures within the field office.
- Served as Deputy Director in the Intelligence and Investigation wing of the FBR, as the only female officer at one time overlooking tax related raids and prosecution proceedings of tax evaders pan Pakistan.
- As part of the tax administration, she conducted raids to unearth massive revenue; arrested absconders while dealing with political pressures.
- Been an active member of the Perveen Shakir Trust for the promotion of arts and culture.
- An active contributing member of the Ladies Taxation Club.
“The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.”
Stories of bravery, endurance, and of courage in the face of adversity, aren’t always wrapped in glamorous packages; they aren’t always available as a Netflix original series, or a New York Times bestseller. Some of the most inspirational stories are just there around you, if you choose to look & listen. Hina is my cousin and therefore I admit that there is a bias in the admiration with which I look at her and her life. But I will let you guys be the judge of that. Hers was a case where it was important to look at more than just the past decade. So, when I asked her to share a list of her achievements during the past ten years, I received not a list but a tale. And to do justice to this tale, I want you guys to read it in her words, not mine! However, before you click away to her individual post, here is a glimpse of what awaits you.
- She wanted to pursue higher education, but she didn’t so that she could earn to support her family.
- She had ten years of work experience which she could not use to find a job.
- She is the only daughter and the sole breadwinner for her family.
- Her younger brother had to undergo 16 surgeries, but at the time, she was unemployed.
- But now, she is Head Bridal Consultant for Maria B, the biggest clothing brand of Pakistan.
As is the case with all journeys, hers to took guts. Read it here.
The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within me. And even though I have to face the prospect of being a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority.
It is not easy being a brown, curvy woman in Pakistan where the obsession with “Fair & Lovely” is considered the gold standard of a beautiful woman. Add to this the fact that Sania belongs to a minority within the country. All things given, if I were to assign a movie title to the day she came into this world, I’d say “A Star is Born”! It sounds like mighty praise but think about it, and about the usual plight of such women in our society having to deal with judgement, day in and day out. But she took all that and spun it into hand-woven success for herself. Sania was born with complicated issues of the spine and backbone including herniated disc and disc bulging. The panel of neurologists that consulted on her case advised two years of bedrest, but she powered through within 3 months, baffling even the biggest medical minds. Fighting and then winning against the odds, here is how incredible her past ten years were:
- She graduated with honors and was the first position holder in Mass Communication.
- Launched her own career as a journalist.
- Worked as an assistant reporter to the National Assembly in Pakistan.
- Worked as journalist for Dunya News.
- Established herself independently, financially and otherwise.
- Works as a vocal advocate and volunteer for the promotion of:
- Awareness against Body Shaming.
- Empowering and Investing in Women.
- Importance of Financial Independence for Women.
- Counselling patients with Spinal injuries.
- She pays her own bills.
- Works internationally as a digital marketer.
She hasn’t married yet but not for lack of possibility. Despite not fitting into the impossible beauty standards of the modern world, she has had lots of admirers. However, she is determined to not settle down till she finds someone that will understand her journey and add value to her life as she sees it. She continues to be a majority shareholder in the business of her own life, even if it stands in stark contrast to widely accepted social norms. If you met her, you would see that it is this power that shines through her whole personality.
“Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
Lastly, I mention myself. But if I am being totally honest, I find my true self reflected in small parts of all these big, beautiful stories. I bet every woman would!
Well, I guess my decade began with that oath I took, my right hand raised above my heart, with the national anthem booming in the background, vowing to serve Pakistan, a pursuit that continues to this day. It wasn’t a unique moment because after all, another two hundred people were also standing there with me! But it stands out for me because it forms the trajectory upon which I have now aligned my whole life’s journey. This is how the past decade turned out for me:
- Cleared the CSS on my first attempt and started my career as civil servant.
- I did my MPhil in Public Policy.
- Completed 21 years of formal education excluding my current doctoral program.
- Did my first Umrah (It was a spiritual journey that was deeply intimidating. There are very few places on earth that can really compel you to come face to face with your own self! The true you! And the House of Allah is certainly one such place for me. It is easy to get lost in the ways of the world and forget to think about your actions and intentions as long as the means justify the ends. Not there though, standing in front of the Kaabah, you cannot pretend. And it took courage to not pretend!)
- I went on a World Bank Tax Reform training to Beirut, Lebanon (my first international trip as an independent adult).
- I started my own trust fund which funds the education of young girls, provides food to those in need, helps small businesses, and currently financing the construction of a house for an underprivileged family.
- I launched my own clothing brand “Zehra Farooq Couture” and held a fashion show at Marriott Islamabad. 50% of the proceeds go to the trust established.
- I got the Eisenhower Fellowship 2019.
- I visited Jordan – my first ever unsponsored leisure trip to meet my middle eastern friends, it is an achievement also because it is the first time I swam – well floated – on the dead sea, getting over my fear of open waters.
- I started my own online Blog to document my life.
- I taught and trained a whole batch of FBR tax inspectors for the field.
- Served as a guest speaker at 4 universities in Islamabad.
- Became bilingual: learnt to speak Spanish.
- Got awarded the Fulbright Scholarship.
- Came to the US to get a PhD in Economics.
- I moved across the seven seas to live independently for the first time ever in my life.
- I gave the most important exam of my life, my PhD Comps, while surviving alone through the uncertainty as well as separation anxiety brought on by COVID and the subsequent lockdowns.
- I achieved a new spiritual milestone by finishing the translation of the Holy Quran.
I hope that all the women, and in fact all the men, that read this post realize that it is time we stop trying to push women into complicated marital situations before we allow them to be celebrated. Let’s start to celebrate women for everything that they do to sustain, to live, to flourish and to grow. Let’s start now.