I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.
Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate
Women’s Day is an international event that celebrates women’s achievements and calls for global gender equality. It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognized each year on March 8th.
The theme for this year’s Women’s Day, Think equal, build smart, innovate for change, focuses on inventive ways to promote gender equality and empower women, in areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality, it is first essential to understand the barriers that women and girls face on the way to progress and change and what support can be provided to them to overcome these challenges. This will be followed by designing and implementing deliberate steps to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind in the flight to success and progress.
On this Women’s Day in Pakistan, we are celebrating the extraordinary work and effort of some ordinary, yet special, women who are leaving their footprints of change, innovation and development in the area of gender equality.
Nimra, driving out gender stereotypes in the heart of rural Sindh
Nimra Shaikh, a BBA student at the University of Sindh, is changing the mobility trends of women in Mirpurkhas district in Sindh Province.
The area I reside in is very conservative. If women are provided with education, it is considered more than enough for them. However, my father has been my source of encouragement towards letting me live my life to the fullest. His main priority for me was not only getting me educated but ensuring that I participate in extra-curricular activities as well. I ride a motorbike and now I am learning to drive a car. I wish to join The Pakistan Air Force one day. In the near future, I will be appearing in the initial test for Pakistan Air Force. When other girls in my university see me riding a bike, they approach me and ask me to teach them how to ride it too. I also drop my elder sister to her academy sometimes as well. In addition, whenever my father needs a drop somewhere I am always up and ready for it. Women can progress and shine in any field they desire if they are given equal opportunities. Moreover, the prominent role of family members in support of their daughters, sisters, wives encourage oneself to achieve the impossible. I hope to one day make my country proud.
Sajida, pioneering health awareness for the women of village Ranta in Thatta
Sajida, a 41-year-old member of the Health Committee in Ranta village, has been an active participant of trainings and capacity enhancement exercises in the area.
With a below average literacy rate in most remote villages of Thatta, Sajida has taken it upon herself to conduct health sessions in the local language for the women of Ranta. She raises awareness among women on basic health rights and practices so that these rural women can lead to fulfilling and healthier lives. Sajida’s enthusiasm to learn, teach and lead led her to become the Community Resource Person of Ranta for a Cash Assistance project, implemented by another national non-governmental organization.
positively added Sajida.
Women are now considering family planning for the betterment of their health and visiting the MNCH in Ranta for advice and treatment,
 A group formed by villagers who provide sessions on health education.
 Health centre established by Community World Service Asia
Hurmi, an agent of change and gender equality in Umerkot
A resident of Haji Chanesar village in Umerkot, Hurmi is the Vice President of the village Steering Committee and a community leader since 2015.
When I started working as a community leader, I realized that the people in these rural communities are still living with an ultra-conservative mindset, where living by caste systems was a firm way of life. Our community group convinced a family of a 16-year-old girl of delaying her marriage for three years. We were able to do that after many discussions and informational meetings with the family as they were quite rigid with their decision and thought there was nothing wrong with a girl marrying at that age.
Hurmi delivers countless awareness-raising sessions that promote girls’ education and discourage early and child marriages.
Women easily discuss their problems with us. I am happy when I help others to live a better life, especially when daughters are treated well. Now that we have been given a chance to live a better life, we must walk forward together to build a progressive society instead of letting each other down. I wish to see a society where all girls are educated and there is equality in every field.
Saleemat, endorsing performing arts to promote human dignity
A recent launch of the Sphere Handbook 2018 through a theater performance in Umerkot motivated Saleemat, a 40-year-old resident of Mandhal Thakur village, to form a theater group, consisting of both men and women for awareness raising and learning sessions.
The villagers were very surprised to hear my idea. I encouraged the villagers in a different way. I told them that we have limited access to movies and dramas. We remember the learning from the Sphere Handbook theater performance as it was educative and entertaining at the same time so we could use a similar platform. Through these plays, we can sensitize rural communities on various topics and issues that they are unaware of and can also become a source of entertainment and enjoyment for the people of our village. This will help in supporting the rural communities to progress and bring a positive change in their mindsets. Today, our theater group has ten members, including four women and six men. We will be performing 22 plays in 14 remote villages of Umerkot to sensitize people on the disadvantages and consequences of early and child marriages, benefit of girls’ education and on the importance of women’s role in decision-making.
Saleemat also plans to promote the Sphere Handbook 2018 edition in each of her plays.
The people residing in remote communities will be aware of some guidelines derived from the Sphere Handbook 2018 that guides the CSOs to use the minimum standards to protect the rights of all groups of society and ensuring their inclusiveness and protection. Moreover, they will know how their needs can be catered to, especially of women, children and most importantly of the differently abled members in the community who are otherwise ignored.
 Civil Society Organizations
Currently our theatre group is called, Mandhal Thakur Theatre Group, but we are thinking of a more creative name now.
Marwan, handcrafting her way to empowerment and independence
Marwan was living a quiet life in Haji Chanesar village in Umerkot.
One day in early 2016, my husband encouraged me to join a vocational centre set up under a livelihoods project of Community World Service Asia. Though I joined the centre reluctantly, my experience there changed my life. I learnt more than I could ever imagine and in return of my dedication and hard work, I was selected as the Quality Assurance Supervisor at the centre. As an artisan, I created vibrant apparel products and home accessories and started to support my family through my earnings. Today, I am proudly working as a professional trainer for a provincial organization at a local vocational centre in Umerkot. I earn PKR 15,000 monthly (Approx. USD 107) and am supporting my husband in contributing for my children’s education and household expenses.
Marwan never thought she would be working as a professional and independent woman.
On this special day for women, I want to call out to all women in the rural communities (such as mine) to come out and work for yourself, support your family and contribute in the progress of the society. Do not be afraid, we are in this together.
There are many other women like Nimra, Sajida, Hurmi, Saleemat and Marwan, who are stepping up and working their way towards innovating for change. Today is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action to accelerate gender parity around the world. Let us together celebrate every act, big or small, of women’s courage and determination!