Women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Proving their Mettle

The inclusion of women cannot be ignored in the development of any nation; similarly, women’s participation is incredibly significant for the progress of our country. Education plays a vital role in enabling women to participate in economic activity making it as essential for women as it is for men, as it enriches women’s competencies and empowers them to participate dynamically in all socio-economic pursuits. 
Despite amplified progress and investments in the education sector, gender partiality in education is still seen in many parts of the country as aftereffects of extremism/fundamentalism and stringent tribal culture in many remote areas of the country. But contrary to popular belief, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have excelled in many areas, especially in terms of education and livelihoods. In fact, over the past 15 to 20 years, numerous students and professionals from (KP) have set national and international records. 
Whereas some people in our otherwise conventional society fail to understand that educated women are the solution to eliminate poverty, an educated woman is full of knowledge, skills and self-confidence to take prolific steps to offer support to her family by all means at her disposal. She is able to look after herself and her family without seeking help from others and improve the standard of living as well. Drastic changes have come about for women in the past decade in terms of education, laws, and employment opportunities. Today, women are considered for well paid jobs, which their grandmothers and even mothers could only fantasize about, jobs that were deemed fit only for men even in the recent past. 
KP is full of countless role models who have excelled in their respective fields and have surely paved a brighter path for the youth to follow in their footsteps. A UN report published in 2017, states that the rural area of KP has topped South Asia in the living index, with a huge increase in girls’ education. A large number of women are now employed in public and private institutions in the province where 47% of girls have access to secondary and higher education. According to a report published by Echidna Giving Fund and the Center for Universal Education, about 4.2 million girls were studying in various educational institutions of KP during the year 2020. Besides these 4.2 million, 700,000 girls are from the newly merged districts (formerly FATA), which is a clear indication that the number of people in KP who desire, especially girls, for education and employment is rapidly growing. Adding to this report, the Vice Chancellors of top three universities in KP are also women ­— Prof. Dr. Shahana Urooj Kazmi (Women University Swabi), Prof. Dr. Razia Sultana (Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University, Peshawar) and Dr. Ghazala Yasmeen (Women University Mardan). In addition 32 bureaucrats  are working in district administration (including 9 assistant commissioners) and police, etc. Moreover, according to some reports, about 10-12 per cent of women are working in the top bureaucracy of the province. According to a survey, there are 75 CSS, PSP officers and bureaucrats in KP. Similarly, around 600 women are performing their duties in the Police Force, Anti-Narcotics Force, Anti-Terrorism Force and in other professions in KP.
Recently, Shazia Ishaq, hailing from a small town from Boni town of Upper Chitral, decided to join the Police after passing her islam(CSS) exam with distinction. She became the first female from Malakand Division to be recruited as a PSP officer. Shazia received her education from Kutch, a remote area in Chitral and after completing her early education, she obtained a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Islamia College, Peshawar. She aims to serve the residents of her area and to prove that girls of Chitral and KP are second to none. In an interview Shazia said: “Women too, like men, can gain prominence in any field they desire if given the opportunity. Perseverance, dedication and steadfast commitment can pay dividends in achieving one’s goal.”
Talking to us about her reasons and motivation for opting for competitive examination, she said, "Due to higher rate of suicide of women in my area, I wanted to do something for them in my own capacity. Joining the police force was my avenue of choice to help vulnerable women who cannot stand up for themselves.”
Adding to this she stressed, “Males in our society are always dominating major professions. By choosing CSS, I wanted to prove to the men of our region that women too can prove themselves in any field.” She further said, “The social prejudices in society make women frustrated and depressed as there are no other facilities in which they could entertain or engage themselves, therefore, having least resources they lose the fight against depression and end their lives. All I want is that these women should feel secure now that I am here and am willing to standup for them and to facilitate them by all means that are in my hands.”

Shazia Ishaq worked hard for a year to achieve her ambition and in her first attempt she qualified the competitive examination. "My mother was overwhelmed when I broke the news of my success in the exam. Without the support of my parents, I could not have achieved my aim. It is because of their faith, trust and belief in me that today I am proving the ability of women to do anything, even those hailing from a remote area like Chitral. Here I would like to emphasise that I am not the first female officer in Chitral only but the entire Malakand Division, saying which is not vanity on my part but just stating a fact — a fact that manifests the change in culture for the women of our region and one that will inspire other women from my Division and also those from other remote areas to go after their dreams," she said.
In areas where gender-based violence is mostly not reported, Shazia has become light for the victims. Soon she will take charge of her office: “I will undergo tough trainings from October and then I will take  charge officially,” she said. 
Shazia is one of the many women from KP who have decided to take charge of their lives in order to make life for the women of their communities better, by not only standing up for them but also giving them hope and something to aspire towards. In 2020, Sher sisters from Haripur came into the limelight for setting a unique record of all five sisters passing the CSS exam. The eldest, Laila Sher Malik serving as Deputy Commissioner IRA Income Tax in Karachi, passed her CSS exam in 2008. She was followed by her sister Shereen Malik Sher (2010) who is currently serving as Director National Highways Authority, Islamabad. Sassi Malik (2017) serving as Deputy Chief Executive Officer Cantonment Board Chaklala, Rawalpindi and Marvi Malik (2017) serving as Additional Assistant Commissioner in Abbottabad. Zoha, the youngest, cleared the examination in 2019. Their father Malik Rafiq Awan says that he is the proudest father in the world and that his daughters are better than 500 sons.
Women are able to recognize their true potential when they are provided with adequate learning conditions and a safe environment. These women and many others have challenged the stereotypes and proved that abilities are not gender specific and women can shoulder equal responsibilities in all walks of life.
Investing in a girl’s education not only benefits the individual but also benefits everyone around her, whereas the denial of female education makes the whole community to suffer. However, in KP girls are getting education, which is enabling them to pursue opportunities for the kind of lives they ought to live. 
Today, women in KP do not have to contend within the glass ceiling or be hemmed in by the barriers of the society. They have made their place in the society and their economic participation has grown manifold as compared to the past. Due to the initiatives of the government, evident progress has enabled more women to achieve their goals and allowed women of KP to participate in every walk of life. The earning gap between men and women has been minimized.  Furthermore, progress has been made by providing equal opportunities and a safe work environment. Educated women are making positive contributions to the economy as well as contributing to the positive image by uplifting Pakistan’s name on international forums. Today, there is no area where Pakistani women are not contributing to national development, may it be sports, media, technology, health, social work or fashion, Pakistani women have proved that they are second to none. HH

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