The year 2014, in particular, has been extraordinary when it comes to women in Pakistan. From an Emmy to Pakistan’s very first Nobel Peace Prize, we have achieved it all and proven that women can be just as men when it comes to following their dreams. To pay tribute to these powerhouses, MsT has shortlisted some of the many achievements by Pakistani women during the previous year. May they continue to change the world through their tireless efforts.
1- Malala Yousafzai, the unstoppable
This inspirational, bright young child activist from Swat barely needs an introduction. In the first week of January 2009, Malala starting writing an anonymous Urdu-language blog about her life until Taliban rule. That same week, she made her first-ever, public appearance in a NYT documentary by Adam Ellick, which when aired in February 2014, first gave her prominence in Pakistan and abroad. At just 12 years of age, the young Yousafzai soon became the voice of children’s rights and education, leading to her nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2013.
Nonetheless, it was her encounter with the Taliban that cemented her position on the international stage. Hoping to silence Yousafzai‘s activism, the Taliban shot the youngster in 2012 but she emerged even more determined than before. “Weakness, fear and hopelessness died and strength, power and courage was born,” she said, about having faced death and pulling through it all. Today, the 17-year-old has become a household name across the world, standing with her head held high and representing Paksitan at major international summits. She travels the world, promoting education and human rights and inspiring us every step of the way.
Last month, Yousafzai’s efforts were rewarded by the Nobel Laureates and she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in the history of the world. Her work and perseverance is proof that when you have your mind set on achieving something, absolutely nothing can keep you from it. “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world” is what Yousafzai believes and she won’t rest until she has proved it.
2- Maheen Khan, a fashion guru
Over 40 years in the fashion industry and the Maheen Khan brand is still as strong as ever. Driven by a real passion for fashion and the desire to be different, Khan is ranked amongst the most successful designers of Pakistan and runs her own high-street brand ‘Gulabo’, alongside a luxury prêt-a-porter line titled the House of Maheen.
But the stylish and sophisticated Khan can be credited for much more than just two fashion lines. It was revealed earlier this year than Khan will be lending her talents to the costumes for the upcoming Disney movie Cinderella, to be released in 2015. Many of the costumes worn by the male leads, including everyone’s favourite Prince Charming, feature intricate embroidery and handmade embellishments by Khan herself!
Of course, this is hardly the first time Khan has been chosen to represent Pakistani fashion on a global platform. In fact, she has become somewhat of a veteran at it, having worked on many Hollywood movies before. Back in 1997, she collaborated with BAFTA-winning costume designer Diane Holmes on the wardrobe for the movie Jinnah. Together, the designer duo made the outfits worn by the characters of Ratti and Fatima Jinnah and went on to establish The Embroidery House. Under this label, they have worked for the acclaimed BBC serial The Aristocrats and also the seasonal collections of Catherine Walker and Co design house. Khan has also designed the costumes for other commercial Hollywood successes like Sweeney Todd,Phantom of the Opera, Elizabeth 1 and 2, Golden Age, Alexander, Snow White and the Huntsman and most recently, Maleficent. Her talents can also be witnessed by visitors to London’s renowned Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, as part of the get up of King Louis the XI’s statue.
Despite having accomplished so much in her career, Khan remains humble and hopes to uplift the local fashion industry by opening it to budding designers. She has, therefore, established Studio M, a platform where talented new designers can showcase their work and hopefully, follow in her footsteps.
3- Novaira Masood, bringing dreams to life
For those of us unfamiliar with the world of animated movies, Novaira Masood is the genius behind the extraordinary, animated wings of Maleficent, the iconic Disney fairy, played by none other than Angelina Jolie. The movie released in May and became a box office hit, helping Masood add yet another achievement to her impressive list of movies. She has previously worked on many other Hollywood hits, including Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Thor,Jack the Giant slayer and even Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon.
A software engineer from FAST in Islamabad, Masood went on to complete her masters in computer science from the University of Minnesota in the United States. She is currently working on the next installment of the Tron movie franchise, to be released sometime next year.
4- Kamila Shamsie, the award-winning storyteller
Few people are born with the ability to weave stories and manipulate words to stir our souls and Kamila Shamsie is one of those lucky ones. From her very first novel — the 1998 release titled In the City by the Sea — it was evident that Shamsie was destined for greatness. The book propelled her to international fame and she was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in the UK, followed by the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in 1999. These were the first of many awards that she was to achieve.
Ever since then, Shamsie’s career has gone from one successful novel to another. Her second release, Salt and Saffron, led her to be included in Orange’s 21 Writers of the 21st Century list while Kartography and Broken Verses (her third and fourth releases) both won the Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters Pakistan. Her fifth book, Burnt Shadows, was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction award. Shamsie is a bona fide best-selling author, whose work has also been translated into numerous languages. She is also a reviewer and columnist for the UK’s leading newspaper The Guardian.
This year, Shamsie was shortlisted for the South Asia Fiction Prize — the winner for which receives $50,000 in prize money along with one of the most prestigious international literary awards. Regardless of whether she wins or not, Shamsie is already an inspiration for the women of Pakistan and address her female readers rather aptly in this quote from Broken Verses: “When you can be this, why are you ever anything else?”
5- Ghazala Syed, a ray of hope and safety
In a country where women comprise less than 1% of the nation-wide police force, Ghazala Syed has made history by becoming Karachi’s very first female Station House Office (SHO). Having joined the police as an assistant sub-inspector back in 1994, she was promoted to sub-inspector in 2003, owing to her hardwork and dedication.
Syed took charge back in April this year, appointed to the Clifton jurisdiction which happens to be one of the most chaotic regions of the metropolis. She has since been working day in and day out for the security of those under her watch, cracking criminal cases and leading investigations instead of the traditional career paths most Pakistani women are restricted to. Syed is therefore, a breath of fresh air, breaking free from stereotypes and providing a ray of hope for women who wish to do the same and further their stance in the world.
6- Propagating women’s rights
Outlawed in Pakistan a 45-minute, Emmy-winning documentary directed by Pakistani-Canadian journalist Habiba Nosheen, alongside German filmmaker Hike Schellmann, depicts the story of Kainat Soomro who was allegedly gang-raped at the age of 13. It shows the plight of the young Soomro as she fights the weak Pakistani legal system to have her alleged attackers convicted.
Although the film has yet to be released in Pakistan, owing to some legal issues, it signifies everything journalism stands for. Nosheen and her team, which also included Pakistani journalist Misha Rezvi, have worked tirelessly to report Soomro’s experiences and granted the latter the opportunity to voice her struggles to the world. Their work has garnered considerable success globally and also received the Emmy award for the ‘Outstanding Research’ category.
Unsurprisingly, the Outlawed team has much more to its credit even before the film came out. Nosheen’s 2012 radio documentary What Happened at Dos Erres? was aired on This American Life and was dubbed “a masterpiece of storytelling” by the New York Times. The 32-year-old journalist has also received various other awards for her fine reporting skills, including a Peabody, the Gracie Award for Outstanding Reporter, the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma and two more trophies from the Overseas Press Club. Rezvi, too, has had a flourishing career in journalism, having worked for Thomson Reuters and CNNas a reporter before joining the Outlawed team. She is currently working on another feature film about the medical staff at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) in Karachi, in the wake of a bomb blast.
7- Raheela Zarmeen, taking women’s football in a new direction
Football has almost always been on the back-burner in Pakistan, where cricket seems to overshadow all other sports. Considering this, one can only imagine the little importance that is given to women’s football in the country but Raheela Zarmeen is determined to change that. As the team manager for Baluchistan United FC, Zarmeen hopes to promote women’s football across the world. And for this, she has chosen to enroll into the International FIFA Masters in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport programme, starting January 2015. The programme includes classes in England, Italy and Switzerland, covering FIFA rules as well and administration and people management. It will also grant Zarmeen the opportunity to work with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA itself, upon completing her course.
Zarmeen will be the first Pakistani woman to undertake the course which is considered to be the market leader for sports management. The 22-year-old has been a part of Pakistan’s national women’s football team for the last two years and even worked as the assistant manager during the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Women’s Cup 2014. Although our team was eliminated during the semi-finals, Zarmeen’s hard work and skills received much praise. Aspiring to revive football in Pakistan, Zarmeen is all set to take her career into a whole new direction.
8- Zeb and Haniya Bangash, singing their way to our hearts
It seems like musical genius runs in the Bangash family. Cousins Zebunissa Humayun Bangash and Haniya Bangash — popularly known as Zeb and Haniya — became a household name after thier Coke Studio sessions. Apart from their albums they have recorded the soundtrack for TV serial Daam and have recently gone on air on one of the leading radio station in Houston, Rice Radio.
With Zeb’s soulful voice, Haniya’s guitar prowess and the signature Pashtun melodies, the duo has carved a niche for themselves in the Pakistani music industry. Their first Bollywood stint, a song titled Mille Ajnabi from the movie Madras Café has received much acclaim in both India and Paksitan. And what’s more, Zeb is currently the front-runner of Sandaraa, a seven-member band featuring musicians from the streets of New York City.
Nonetheless, their biggest achievement to date is perhaps their collaboration with the Indian musical legend, AR Rahman. Earlier in 2014, Zeb and Haniya released Sooha Saha, a song they compiled with Rahman for Imtiaz Ali’s movie Highway. We hope the dynamic duo continue to touch our souls with more of such classics, wherever in the world they might be.
*Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Malala first gained prominence through her blogs. This has been amended to Malala first gaining prominence through and NYT documentary.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, December 28th, 2014.