Many of 2016’s most notable moments were mostly unfortunate, unchecked events of toxic masculinity. From the horrifying tragedy that was Qandeel Baloch’s senseless murder, to Donald Trump’s self-described ‘locker room talk’, and the Council of Islamic Ideology’s (CII)absurd suggestion that ‘lightly beating’ one’s wife ‘as needed’ is permissible, most of us are happy to be saying goodbye to a year riddled with examples of the negative impact rigid gender roles can have on culture.
But 2016 also happens to have been quite the year for some Pakistani women.
Below is just a handful of a large number of Pakistani women who choose to not be content with tokenism and instead continuously aim to push back, challenge, and dominate. From Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy shedding light on important social justice issues in Pakistan, to Muniba Mazari being appointed as Pakistan’s first UN Goodwill Ambassador, these women are both exemplary and legendary.
To say 2016 is ending on a high note would simply be untrue because significant societal and cultural barriers remain. But in the spirit of good vibes, we present a roundup of Pakistan’s powerhouses who are creating their own personal spaces to shine, while blocking out the damaging noise of public doubt.
Sharmeen Obaid wins second Oscar
We bet you could throw a dart anywhere in Sharmeen’s house and hit one of her many awards. When she won her first Oscar in 2012, she made history by becoming the first Pakistani to bring home the Academy Award. This year, she’s done it again with her brilliant documentary, Girl in the River, which highlights honour killing and has led to legislative change in the country.
Nergis Mavalvala and team detect gravitational waves
Known in the media as “the girl from Karachi”, MIT professor, Dr Nergis Mavalvala was part of a global research team that built on an Einsteinian hypothesis on gravitational waves. Surprisingly, that isn’t the only thing which makes Nergis both a pioneer and leader. Despite her unabashed success, Nergis remains remarkably unaware and nonchalant over her role as a trailblazer in a traditionally male-dominated field. Well before her role in shaking up modern science, Nergis was a role model and mentor of female students in her field who found inspiration in Nergis’s personal and professional story; of an openly queer, female, emigrant, mother, and globally recognised scientist.
On the topic of her impact, Nergis calmly notes,
“I am just myself. But out of that comes something positive.”
Indeed, by just being herself, Nergis has become a constant source of inspiration for underrepresented females in the physical sciences.
Muniba Mazari making it to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list
Since a near fatal car accident that would change the entire course of her life seven years ago, Muniba Mazari has become a household name across Pakistan. After being told she would spend the rest of her life paralysed waist down, the 28-year-old found the strength to reclaim her life, and stand up against both gender discrimination and the discrimination against disabled people of Pakistan.
Last year, she shone on the international stage when the United Nation’s appointed her as the very first Goodwill Ambassador to Pakistan. This year, Muniba took things to the next level when her name appeared as part of Forbes’ annual list of ‘30 under 30’ Asian game changers.
Zenith Irfan becomes Pakistan’s first female motorcyclist
Dubbed by CNN as ‘Pakistan’s boundary-breaking motorcycle girl’, Zenith Irfan did what probably no other Pakistani girl had done before. After being encouraged by her mother to learn how to ride a motorbike (a desire of her late father’s), Zenith began using the bike to run errands near home. Pretty soon, the bold Lahori who has a penchant for meditation, decided to hit the proverbial road.
As the year draws a close, Zenith has travelled solo across thousands of kilometres of rural, untouched, and serene Pakistan. She has been threatened by rock-wielding villagers not comfortable with outsiders. She has had jaws drop when stopping to ask for directions because people are taken aback to find a petite, 21-year-old donning a heavy helmet, leather jacket and biker boots. But Zenith remains undeterred in her pursuit of Pakistan, and continues to push boundaries by going through parts of the country alone where not only are female motorcyclists unheard of but security concerns have led to tourism taking a major hit.
Let Zenith’s passion inspire us all to traverse our own big, beautiful backyard!
Rukhsana Parveen, Khoushleem Bano, and Sofia Javed: First trio of Pakistani women to bag international medals in boxing at the 2016 South Asian Games
This Charlie’s Angel-esque/Mary Kom-inspired trio of Pakistani pugilists laid their claim to fame when they made history earlier this year at the South Asian Games. Perhaps more shocking than their victory in a male-dominated and unconventional sport is the fact that they started and learnt boxing just eight months prior to the tournament. Following their journey has been nothing short of seeing a real life version of Salman Khan’s 2016 blockbuster Sultan come true.
Flying Officer Marium Mukhtiar and PAF’s great self-sacrifice
It’s the type of story that leaves you with chills. Even though the event took place at the end of 2015, it warrants a mention because of the sheer heroism displayed by the young Marium Mukhtiar who, along with Squadron leader Saqib Abbasi, was in a plane crash near Kundian, Punjab during a routine training. Both were able to eject from the cockpit, but while Abbasi suffered only minor injuries, Mukhtiar passed away.
The state of Pakistan has recognised Mukhtiar as a shaheed (martyr) because of her courage and professionalism. By refusing to eject until the very last minute, she ensured that the plane did not crash near a heavily populated area. This resulted in her death but saved countless lives. Furthermore, her story has been memorialised by Sanam Baloch in a biographical made-for-TV film ‘Ek Thi Mariam’.
Minhal Sohail, Pakistan’s first female shooter to compete at Olympics 2016
Even though she has been recognised several times for her skills as a shooter globally, 2016 proved to be her ultimate year. Sohail represented Pakistan at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil where she ranked 28th in the 10m Air Rifle event. Her victory was twofold – not only was she the only Pakistani to participate at this year’s Olympics, she rocked the globally controversial hijab while doing so.
Women’s protection bill and honour killing bill
This post would be incomplete without a special, honorary mention to two of this year’s most ground-breaking laws. Both these pieces of legislation are helping pave the way to a safer and more secure Pakistan for woman. Yet, it’s worth remembering how far our society has left to go. While these two legislations have opened the first set of doors to the protection of our women, implementation is a whole other ball game.