M Omar Iftikhar
THE debate on gender equality has been underway for decades. During the last few years, the discussion has gathered force. Men in the societies – both eastern and western – enjoy the freedom to lead their lives according to their will. The women, on the other hand, have to follow protocols based on customs, traditions and most specifically the opinions of the elder males. Thoughts such as these and those about granting equal rights to women were recently discussed. The panelists included Sami Ahmed, VP, P&G Pakistan, Fareeha Ummar, Portfolio Manager, Women’s Economic Empowerment and Sustainable Livelihood, UN Women Pakistan, Javed Jabbar, former Federal Minister and Samina Baig, UNDP National Goodwill Ambassador and President, Pakistan Youth Outreach Foundation. While Fareeha suggested that the girl child must be given all opportunities to succeed, Sami Ahmed said that success stories of women must be shared with the public. The consensus at this discussion held in Karachi brought to fore several suggestions and opinions. Fareeha presented her view by saying that men must be imparted with the proper training to not only lead a successful life but also to accept women as they are. Gender equality, as observed around the world, has gained momentum especially with the rise of digital media. People are now well aware of the rights women have. The women, however, are divided when it comes to their exposure to digital media. The panelists were of the view that the rural women do not have access to the Internet and therefore they are left in the dark. The men residing in rural areas confine their wives and daughters within their homes where they complete household chores while remaining disconnected from the outside world.
The Internet, however, is the only means for them to acquire information and knowledge. Samina Baig, who has gained fame by becoming the first Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest and the Seven Summits talked about changing mindsets. She said that people do question family members when a woman steps out of the home in pursuit of her dreams. While Samina has been pursuing a sport that was meant to be followed only by men, she has proven the world wrong. During the discussion, Samina said that there is a need to change mindsets and how people view women and the work they do. She went on to say that changing mindsets is the biggest challenge. While many females in Pakistan – especially those belonging to the rural areas – can only dream of doing what they love, Samina has been doing it with dedication. She said that her success factor has been her family, especially her brother.
Javed Jabbar, when speaking his heart out in support of women acknowledged the courageous women of Pakistan. He said that the government of Pakistan had given women the freedom to vote since the country’s inception. While answering to a question he said that “Women are visible and assertive.” He said that the culture of communication and dialogue must begin and preserved for women to remain an integral part of the system and to provide them with avenues for growth. He mentioned that the 45% senior positions at P&G that are occupied by women are a testament that change is indeed coming. While commenting on the role of media, Jabbar said that the scriptwriters are not aware of the society as much as the people are. He said that women who are independent and working at leadership positions must be highlighted as lead characters in television dramas. Fareeha Ummar shared similar thoughts. She said that ordinary women from ordinary areas must be shown in the media. She also said that men and women are equally important to create a balance in society. They both must be educated while expanding their mental horizon regarding various social issues. Sami Ahmed suggested that the success stories of women in leadership positions must be disseminated among the public. He said that women aspiring to become great will learn from these stories and consider themselves to be worthy of success. Sidra Iqbal, the moderator of this event, said that during the last many years, perceptions for both genders have changed for each other. She said that men were seen as family heads and sole breadwinners over a decade ago. However, today, wives are also working and contributing to their homes and the national economy. She said that men and women – at home or the office – must learn to accept each other’s viewpoints.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Karachi.