The ceremony honoured women who've broken barriers in their field and empowered others.
The ceremony honoured women who've broken barriers in their field and empowered others.

‘Fighters don’t give up, you come back even stronger’, ‘Empo­werment of sustainability is the key to prosperity of people’, ‘Effect the change before change effects you’, ‘Every woman is a born leader, discover yourself’.

These were just some of the motivational messages flashing on the huge glittering screen installed at Sindh Governor House for the Hum Women Leaders Awards 2020 on Wednesday night.

The award is Hum Network Limited’s initiative to recognise and honour the contribution and achievements of iconic women from Pakistan and around the world who are change makers in their respective fields and a symbol and source of hope, courage, determination and inspiration for women across the globe. The stories of these women, it was said, would not just impress but jolt you.

The President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi was there to grace the occasion with First Lady Samina Alvi, who also presented an award. “We may have done much for women, but not as much as we should have done,” the president said. He said when he was a student there used to be a one-fourth quota for female students during admissions while three-fourth of the students were male.

“But the Supreme Court put an end to the quota system during the 1980s and now we see 80 per cent or even more female students in our universities and professional colleges. And yet there are not as many women seen in professions as are passing out of the educational institutions because society expects to see the woman in the role of a mother or homemaker. So we don’t see this cream of our society in the pillars of our society,” he said.

That said, President Alvi said that the women receiving the awards were truly exceptional. He said if women wished to work after marriage institutions should create part-time jobs for them and open day-care centres for their children in order to facilitate them. He also referred to Surah An-Nisa from the Holy Quran which mentions the right of daughters to their inheritance.

“We marry them off, depriving them of their right of inheritance but we should empower them by giving them this right,” he said, adding that the media also had a responsibility in showing women in positive roles instead of stereotyping them.

In celebrating living legends, the organisers also remembered those who are no longer with us from Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah to Benazir Bhutto, from Fatima Surayya Bajia to Bano Qudsia and so many more including Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, Dr Ruth Pfau, Asma Jahangir and young Arfa Karim.

Then one by one, the pictures and stories of the awardees were flashed on the screen.

Mountaineer Samina Baig, attorney belonging to the Hazara community Jalila Haider, survivor of 23 stabbing attacks Khadija Siddiqui, social scientist Fouzia Saeed, versatile actor Bushra Ansari, executive director of JMPC Dr Seemin Jamali, senior newspaper columnist Zubeida Mustafa, economist Shamshad Akhtar and Pakistan’s former ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi all came up to the stage to receive their awards from other exceptional women.

Among the foreigners who were also awarded were the first female president of Ireland Mary Robinson, who sent a recorded message of thanks which was played and Iranian film director Narges Abyar, who was there in person. There was also an award for a gentleman, Omer Aftab, who is globally recognised for campaigns such as the Pink Ribbon and White Ribbon.

And the ones called up to award the iconic ladies were no less accomplished in their fields. There were actors Hina Bayat, Sania Saeed, Zeba Bakhtiar and Javed Sheikh, designer Bunto Kazmi, beautician Musarrat Misbah, president of Hum Sultana Siddiqui and the CEO Duraid Qureshi while Meera Sethi and Sanam Saeed moderated the evening.

The governor of Sindh also presented an award to journalist Zubeida Mustafa, who mentioned that being the first woman on the editorial board of Dawn, she only had men as her mentors. But then later she was the one to mentor other girls.

In between the awarding ceremony the audience was also entertained by singer Sajjad Ali who sang with his daughter Zaw Ali, Hania Amir and her dance group, and Hadiqa Kiani.

Congratulating all the awardees US Ambassador to Pakistan Paul Wayne Jones said that the United States was committed to giving equal opportunities to both men and women. “Empowered women play a vital role in a country’s social and economic development,” he said.

Originally published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020

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