They are strong, they are capable, they have compassion, energy and verve; they are willing to take up challenges and make the impossible, possible. They are the women of Pakistan.
In a country which is commonly associated with corruption, religious extremism, gender inequality and lack of basic necessities of life, these women show the world an aspect of Pakistan which is not that well known. It is one of the aspects that contain within themselves the true power of the nation.
Coming from a line of squash champions, Carla was 12 when she set foot on a squash court and that was the moment that set a path for her destiny. Granddaughter of the great Azam Khan and great niece of the legendary Hashim Khan, Carla Khan became the first female from the direct line of champions to pursue a career in the game of Squash.
In 2005 she beat current World Number One Nicol David from Malaysia in the Irish Open. The no 1 female Squash player of Pakistan does not know the meaning of giving up or giving in! A serious back injury in 2006 ended her playing days. Or so was the doctors’ verdict - Not Carla’s though! 2007 witnessed her not only playing but winning the Iranian Open and Austrian Open. The champion, whose playing days were over bounced back in the top 40s. Even though she retired in 2008, Carla continues to be a role model for the women of Pakistan.
The 11th South Asian Federation Games held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2010, saw a girl breaking all the limits of speed and endurance. 23 year old Naseem Hameed of Pakistan was crowned South Asia's fastest woman.
2006 Bronze medalist Naseem Hameed finished a 100m sprint in a mere 11.81 seconds. She got her training not in sport grounds but the streets and lanes of her down trodden neighborhood. She not only crossed the speed and endurance barrier, she sprinted across poverty and lack of professional training. Her endurance and speed came from determination and faith rather than professional training. Her story of courage and resilience is one told often in Pakistan. She became the first Pakistani woman athlete to achieve a 100m gold in the history of the South Asian Games. Naseem Hameed continues to hold on to the dream of going faster and faster, breaking all the records.
Captain of the Pakistan Women’s Cricket team, Sana Mir is among the top 20 best bowlers in the world. Hailing from the conservative airs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa didn’t diminish her zeal. The will to ‘indulge’ in a sport where men dominated and the odds piled against her only increased her determination. The 2008 Women's Cricket World Cup saw her emerge as the Player of the Tournament. Sana Mir led her team to the first ever win in both the T20 and quadrangular series in Sri Lanka 2011.
She continues to lead the Pakistan Women’s Cricket team and her dreams include victory after victory for her team.
Shazia Sikandar is a critically acclaimed miniature artist. She has represented her homeland through her work internationally since the 1990s. She specializes in Indo-Persian miniature painting. Her expertise is not contained in miniature however. She delves with equal verve and expertise in painting, drawing, animation and film making as well. In 2006 she received a grant for the MacArthur Fellows Program. Her work has been exhibited in all the major galleries of the world including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Renaissance Society, Chicago, the Whitney Museum in (1999/2000 and 1999), at the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Australia (1999), and at the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany. Her work seems to have no boundaries; however, she makes it a point to represents her individual style as well as touches upon issues of gender, religion and terrorism.
Maria Toor Pakay
Brought up in the strict confines of extremely conservative surroundings, Maria Toor Pakay beat all the odds to follow her dream of becoming not only a squash player, but one representing her country across the globe. For her, it was her father who was the source of faith that she needed to overcome the countless odds stacked against her. It was under his guidance and support that she pursued the seemingly impossible dream of being a girl and playing a sport in the Taliban influenced Waziristan. If that meant dressing up as a boy, she did it, if that meant practicing hour after grueling hour not in a court but her own home, it didn’t deter her.
Her determination brought her victory and fame. Her fame and plight reached the ears of internationally acclaimed squash legend Jonathan Power, who took her under his wings and trained her in Canada. Maria continues to play and win. Her determination has chosen victory to be her companion for many years to come.
Director and film maker par excellence, Mehreen Jabbar’s work has won her international acclaim several times. She is one of the few Pakistani directors whose work has been widely shown in international film festivals. Be it the Hong Kong International Film Festival, The San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival or the Leeds Film Festival in U. K. her work has won her acclaim and awards as well as fame for her country to name a few.
Her short films, feature length plays, and drama serials all focus on Pakistani women and their issues. Her film Ramchand Pakistani that won her several acclaims internationally was no different. She believes in experimenting, while her style is subtle enough not to jar nerves, at the same time putting a strong message across each time.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
This year’s Oscars made history. At least for Pakistan, they did. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, one of their own became the first woman from Pakistan to win the biggest award that the world of entertainment has to offer. She has been rightly called the ‘warrior for truth’ on several occasions. Her quest for truth combined with here limitless courage brings forth work which is marvelous in its creativity as well as eye opening in its content. Her Oscar bagging Saving Face is just one example. Sharmeen is a journalist by profession and her work in that field is no less courageous in its perusal of truth than her films.
Sharmeen may be the first Pakistani woman to win an Oscar but that has not been the only time she has represented her country through her work to the world and won an acclaim. In 2010 she accepted an international Emmy award for her documentary Pakistan's Taliban Generation.
At the young age of 24 Anoushka Kachelo became the youngest woman, and the first Pakistani to take on the harsh and dangerous North Pole. On April 24, 2004, she created a niche in history as the young adventurer trained for long hours and months on end for the expedition. Her motivation was not only surmounting the hostility ridden challenge, but to raise a fund for a cause close to her heart. Her endeavors enabled her to raise funds for the Children's Art Foundation, a non profit organization that aims at providing art education to under-privileged children.
Everyone has dreams they like to follow. Most of the dreams people have, however, end up buried in the day to day existence of life. Then there are some who have dreams that surpass all dreams and don’t let anything come in the way of making those dreams come true. Namira Salim is one of those people – the Pakistani woman astronaut.
Very little comes in the way of her dream that is un surmountable. She is the first Pakistani astronaut, but that is not all. She is the first Asian to skydive the Everest. She also hoisted the national flags of Pakistan, the UAE, Monaco, the EU and a universal peace flag at the North Pole on April 21, 2007 and at the South Pole on January 10, 2008. She is the first Pakistani to trek to both the North and South Poles.
She has been given the national award for excellence in Pakistan namely the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for excellence in sports.
Nergis Mavalvala is a MIT professor, Quantum Astrophysicist and winner of the much coveted MacArthur Fellowship – a mouthful of achievement to utter for any one! Nergis Mavalvala’s research focuses on detecting gravitational waves created in the collisions of stars and in the earliest moments of the universe. Her seemingly larger than life aim is to build sensitive instruments to detect gravitational waves, whose existence Albert Einstein first predicted in 1916. Such waves, which carry information on the motions of objects in the universe, are so faint that they have never been detected. She plans to use her grant money to find answers to what she claims to be crazy ideas in her head.
Hina Rabbani Khar
Politician, business woman, a mother and a style icon-that is Hina Rabbani Khar. Pakistan’s first female Foreign Minister. She was also the first woman to present the budget speech in Pakistan’s national assembly on 13 June, 2009.
Born to an influential political family of Pakistan, she is a graduate of ‘University of Massachusetts - USA’. Married and with three children, she doesn’t let anything come in the way of her dreams and aspiration as she balances her family, business and her work in politics. She has held the seat of Pakistan’s State Minister for Economic Affairs where she was responsible for international grants and loans. She feels being a woman has never been a disadvantage; rather it has given her the determination as well as the emotional intelligence to make her dreams come true and continues where others expect her to falter and fail.