Pakistan is blessed to have as many equally, if not more, talented intelligent and hard working women as men. We have Oscar as well as a Noble prize winning females in the country. We have Shiza Farhan, who added to the global recognition of Pakistani women’s talents by making it to Forbe’s list of 30 under 30 entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, when it comes to how well women fare in empowerment and decision making in general, the situation in Pakistan is not encouraging. Women in Pakistan have failed to break free from the shackles of the patriarchal structures at household and societal levels that stringently govern their lives. As a result, power and influence of women in the private and the public domain is severely impacted. Gender biases, coupled with widespread poverty and illiteracy aggravates the situation for the females. The distinction emanates from birth of the child, with sex marking the distinctive line. Social injustice towards females perpetuates deeper and deeper till the person is laid to rest. As a result, what we see around us is a case of missing leadership of women. Women are disproportionately absent from political leadership and the public life. They are denied equality of opportunities, which is a prerequisite to empower them into becoming strong and confident individuals.

Benazir Bhutto was the first prime minister of Pakistan. She wielded adequate authority and influence and was able to command respect through her contributions to the country. Her government was at par with the standards of modern democracy and comparable to any other male led regime of the country. Looking at her as a success story, it wouldn’t be wrong to recognize the strong family support and encouragement behind her that gave her the mettle to enter national political arena and acquire a high stature. Ms. Bhutto’s political rise, thus, teaches us an important lesson- if support, encouragement and enabling environment is provided to Pakistani females that is at par with the males, nothing can stop them from rising to the top.

The challenge then is to provide females equal opportunities and that can’t happen until and unless we change societal norms towards and expectations from females. While female focused policies, gender sensitive budgeting and ensuring access to quality public services are all important factors that determine the empowerment of the females, the real challenge will always be how the patriarchal structures that govern our societal function are dismantled. Even a challenge bigger than that is how much the females themselves are eager to progress ahead in life. To have women in leadership positions, whether it be in offices or the political arena, is a long journey that we all need to take. With local governments allowing greater representation of women from grassroots tier, there is a huge possibility for a stronger female representation in provincial and national assemblies. It is time to cash in on this opportunity.

We need to raise the level of education and awareness at both the household and the societal level so that women are recognized as, not inferior, but, equal to males. This equality must be linked directly to the opportunities provided to her since she is born; meaning that she is provided nutrition, education and health services equal to her male sibling/s. She has to be taken-in by the job market at equal remuneration as to that of a male. She must be allowed to make her own choices, with a free will, independently; confidently and courageously. She needs to be encouraged and supported to pursue her dreams, whether they be of becoming the prime minister of Pakistan. We should all support her to dream that dream.

Let us lead Pakistan towards development by helping our women in entering the political domain. Let us recognize and rejoice over their spirit and contributions so that we may have more of Sharmeen Obaids and Shiza Farhans. So that we may have many more influential woman prime ministers.

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