In today's world, words such as 'women's empowerment' and the associated lexicon pepper the dialogue of our world leaders and, in a perverse way, continue to reinforce the notion that women still require 'others' to empower them, and are 'victims' / 'weaker'/ 'inferior'. This thinking, oftentimes, simultaneously stigmatises the men.
While there are certainly cases where women (and men) need assistance, training and opportunities otherwise unavailable to them, true empowerment starts from within; and, occasionally, we need to be reminded of that. A woman, a community should be able to stand on their own and be active, contributing members of society in their own unique, culturally appropriate way. This builds self respect, self worth within the individual and community.
Now, it's all well and good for us (as an admittedly declining world power) to talk about others' need to improve gender equality and other social issues, right?
Yet in 2016, racism and gender parity are still serious concerns in America. We've been under the false impression that we were so developed and forward thinking as to set the example for the rest of the world. How arrogant and wrong we were.
When I think of the social and economic trajectories of both America and Pakistan, I'm upset with where America is headed- yet I remain hopeful for Pakistan. Having written about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in high school and Cyber Anarchy in college, I see many parallels today. And history, as they say, is repeating itself.
Ray Williams wrote in his 2012 article for Psychology Today:
The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs stated, after examining the issue of the U.S.’s declining image abroad, “the decline in international approval of U.S. leadership is caused largely by opposition to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. support for dictators, and practices such as torture and rendition. They testified that this opposition is strengthened by the perception that our decisions are made unilaterally and without constraint by international law or standards—and that our rhetoric about democracy and human rights is hypocritical....
...In his book, America’s Engineered Decline, William Norman Grigg, editor of the New American, contends that America’s decline has occurred because it is exhibiting the same characteristics of poverty, crime, and illiteracy and ill health that are found in third world countries....
...Further, Mahatma Gandhi said: the roots of conflict and violence within a nation are 'wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.'"
According to Mike Patton, an economic analyst and Forbes contributor:
"America's role on the global economic stage has declined nearly 50% from 1960 to 2014."
It may seem bizarre for an American woman from a 'developed' nation to look for inspiration in a 'developing' nation. But sometimes we have to step outside of ourselves, our homes and comfort zones, to see who we really are.
And because I frequently travel to Pakistan, I draw comparisons between the two nations and, ultimately, find we have more in common than differences.
For example I met many women - in Pakistan- who, despite the social challenges the rest of the world often hears about (female subjugation, lack of women's rights, etc.), have chosen to #breakdownbarriers and #defystereotypes. These women include female boxers, religious minority entrepreneurs, and women in the military... not to mention the countless women making huge strides in Fashion, Film, Politics, IT, Health and Education sectors, etc.
This is not to say the journey has been easy for these women. Breaking down barriers- especially chronic dogmas and mental stigmas - is not for the weak of heart. It took time for the some of the women to convince their families of their career choices; that they wanted to postpone having families of their own in favour of work.
Granted, stories of this nature are scarce. Is it because they rarely happen? Or because they are rarely reported? Regardless of the reason, these women and the men and communities who support them, are outstanding.
Yet this is not to say there aren't serious, numerous challenges in Pakistan.
As in America.
However, there are plenty of media outlets already focusing on the negative.
As in America.
It takes time for any community, or country for that matter, to adjust to changing times.
As in America.
For perspective: Pakistan, 'born' in 1947, is 69 years old.
America, 'born' in 1776, is 240 years old.
When was slavery abolished in USA? 1865 - when America was 89 years old.
When were women allowed to vote in USA? 1920 - when America was 144.
And, yet, these women- strong and independent as they are- have the support of the men and communities. Otherwise, would they be able to do what they do?
With YS Elections wrecking havoc across America, this might be a good time for the arm chair philosophers and policy writers who have never been to the regions they write about to #RethinkForeignPolicy #RethinkPolitics #RethinkAmerica.
In the mean time, well done Zainab, Zahida and Urooj. Your stories truly inspired; thank you for being ladies who lead. And 'thank you' to Anees, Saroosh and Qasim, male colleagues who view the ladies as equals. Your professionalism and courtesy are appreciated. Perhaps with your examples, others will #RethinkPakistan.
**A note about the attached images:
In Pakistan we often hear and read about women in education, healthcare and fashion, but less frequently the military, which is a largely male dominated culture in many nations. The images show fighter pilots and air traffic control officers of the Pakistan Air Force.
Photo Credits: Haris Bhatti and Salman Alam Khan (via mobile device)