What does it mean to be a woman in Pakistan? Faiza Saleem and Mahira Khan explain

What does it mean to be a woman in Pakistan? Faiza Saleem and Mahira Khan explain

Speaking to BBC, Pakistan's leading ladies answer how they deal with cultural stereotypes, cyber bullying and more
Updated 25 Feb, 2019

BBC sat down with some of Pakistan's leading women to talk about 'What it means to be a woman in Pakistan'.

On the panel were comedian Faiza Saleem, actor Mahira Khan, footballer Hajra Khan and activist/lawyer Nighat Dad with The Conversation presenter Kim Chakanetsa.

The talk took place at IBA with students in attendance who asked the panel questions varying from cultural stereotypes to body-shaming to cyber bullying and losing family to passion. Here are just a few of the important topics the women spoke about.

Faiza Saleem tackled body shaming

"For me to be a woman in Pakistan means that I may be breaking ground in comedy but I'm expected to look a certain way to feel beautiful and worthy. I feel it's a huge part of my life and the lives of many other Pakistani women."

Also read: Audiences are more accepting of a male comedian cracking a certain kind of joke: Faiza Saleem

Explaining the term 'uncles' and 'aunties' who are notorious for body shaming, Faiza explains, "They're people who have absolutely nothing to do with your life, and I don't understand why it (body types) bothers them so much; I've spent my whole life trying to figure this out. They're so concerned with how you look and how you dress and the way you are. This uncle once said to me in front of my husband, 'Beta, I really hope you're trying to lose weight for your wedding,' and I couldn't stop staring at his face."

Unfortunately, the bodyshaming spills over onto her career as well. "So there's a male comedian, he doesn't have hair and he's referred to as Ganji Swag but if I'm overweight and if I don't have hair or have acne, no one is going to call me Acne Swag or Moti Swag. And I find that really funny. It's not about their looks. I do feel they (male comedians) are judged differently, I make it a point to go on their Facebook pages and check the comments (under their videos), and they are so different from the comments I get or other female comedians get. [Our comments are] about how we look and how we dress, whereas their comments are about their comedy. I don't expect people to love my comedy, they could hate me, but don't say, 'Oh you're fat.'"

Mahira Khan dealt with cyber bullying and pressures of stardom

"I'm the poster child for cyber bullying. It's hurtful. I think about myself as someone who understands that I have enough faith and confidence in myself [and not to listen to haters], but again I am older, I am in a stage in my life where I can think like this."

"I could win an award and they'd drag me down. I could wear sleeveless and [they'll say] I'll go to hell and take everyone who loves me to hell with me. My only advice to you is that these people do not exist. It's not real."

Also read: Mahira Khan owes Pakistan nothing beyond her work as an artist

"Against all odds I get to -- and I choose to -- make my own choices and because I'm in a place of power and privilege I can have the generations to come in many many ways. it's a great pace to be

Speaking on stardom, the actor said, "I think when you get that much love and when you are that popular, it comes with very, very high expectations. And contrary to what people think, our lives are very tough. They do not know how it feels to get into character, to get out of character and still be smiling for the cameras, no matter what has happened in your life. You life could be falling apart but for your audience you have to put up a show. I think that is the hardest thing because the show is constantly on."

"In my private moments it all does come crashing down because the circus is over but you're still the clown. I've suffered from anxiety and a lot of other things. It's a tough place to be in, I'm sure its the same for everyone in such high pressure fields but the flip side to that is when you love what you do, honestly there's nothing better."

Nighat Dad advised using the digital space safely

"There are different strategies on our cyber harassment helpline. We have lawyers who talk about cyber law and legal remedies and we have mental health counselling for blackmailing, stalking, harassing. 70% cases we receive at the helpline are related to data young people share with each other, so when relationships or friendships don't end up on good terms, the other party misuses that data mostly they're intimate videos and they blackmail the other person that they'll leak the info online."

Also read: The internet has taken over our lives and made us into addicts. Here's how

"I think one tip I would like to give to young people, before sharing your data make informed decisions, I don't want to be a moral police but once your your data is out on the internet, via WhatsApp, or any other platform, it will stay there forever, even if you remove your profile on Facebook or delete your data, stop using Information and communications technology (ICTs)."

"And secondly, make strong passwords, people use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and emails and mostly people use one password for five accounts, and that's a wrong practice, use different passwords for all accounts, and do not share your passwords with partners. Most of the times we receive calls saying that their account is hacked but we find out that it's not hacked, it's sharing your password, because it's the key of trust in your relationship that's how people get passwords off each other. Your password belongs with you, not your partner."

Hajra Khan highlighted the family prejudice female athletes face

"I may be a top level athlete in my sport but that might mean that I lose bits of my family in the process. I know a lot of female athletes who are not allowed [to play professional a sport] but then they still strive, there's a lot we leave behind in the process."

"I used to be a triathlete, I used to run for Pakistan. My father's side is a bit conservative but they also want to impose. When I turned 14 it was my mother who asked me to try out for the provincial team for Sindh. I hadn't played football before that but I got into a club team. Two months later I was one of the top scorers in Pakistan and made it to the national team."

Also read: Men try to beat Naseem Hameed's running record in this video and fail miserably

"Two years of playing football, we were going to play the South Asian Championship. The papers wanted to feature me. Those papers would go to my relatives and they'd call up my parents saying, 'What's going on?'. They would say it's a disgrace to our family. They'd ask my parents, 'How could you do this to your child?' and my dad would stand up for me and would tell them to back off."

"For me they didn't exist. For four years they stopped speaking to us but my dad would tell me to focus on what I'm doing and so I did. And I was made captain when I was 20. I'm playing for clubs in the Maldives, in Germany. They then started slowly trying to reach out on social media. They'll add you, tweet at you, try to make conversation, put up childhood photos and now they're fine."

"That's how it works for every woman in this country. Even if you want to be a doctor but choose to be a neurosurgeon people will tell you it's too difficult. Stop dragging women down! Maybe they'll be the best in the country but you need to stop pulling them down. In the process of who you want to be, to achieve your dream, you may lose a lot of family. But they can come back.

You can listen to the entire episode here.


Smeehan Feb 18, 2019 06:32pm
Please save nation s time
Recommend (0)
N abidai Feb 18, 2019 07:18pm
All these ladies strong,educated,smart,beautiful, kind ,and humble Pakistani women,who living their life,following their dream! This is priase worthy! Bullying ,and judging , needs to stop,in real time!
Recommend (0)
M. Abdul Feb 18, 2019 08:22pm
Being a woman in Pakistan is really tough, I am a man but I have personally seen the challenges my wife has had to face just to get a career going, and in any society, especially one as ancient as Islamic society, it should not be so... It is truly pathetic how difficult men have made lives for women in this country.
Recommend (0)
Aamir Feb 18, 2019 10:45pm
Marry an Indian Mahira you will lead a good life without fear of triple talaq.
Recommend (0)
TR Feb 19, 2019 04:38am
More power to Pakistani women. May you all be successful in your life and careers.
Recommend (0)
illawarrior Feb 19, 2019 07:42am
Being a woman in Pakistan means many different things to many different women, whose journeys are influenced by money, or lack thereof, education, or lack thereof, social status, supporting friends and families, geographical location etc etc You can't compare wealthy, famous actors and athletes, living in the city with poor women in rural settings, without access to clean water and basic sanitation.
Recommend (0)
asad Feb 19, 2019 01:02pm
Class Mahira represents is very elite and does not represent 99.99 percent of Pakistani women, so she can speak for this class only and leave the rest alone.
Recommend (0)
Sayed Haider Feb 21, 2019 07:11pm
You go girls.
Recommend (0)