By: Fatima Zaidi
Karachi: Despite being an accomplished environmentalist and a member of over 10 international environmental governing bodies, it took two years for Dr Rahat Jabeen’s colleagues to recognise her as someone who had acquired the technical expertise needed to deal with the ever-complex issues of the water sector.
It was precisely this lack of recognition that compelled the organisers of a two-day water conference, tiled “Securing Sustainable Water for All – Inclusion, Integration, Innovation”, to dedicate a session on Tuesday to highlight the services of female role models in the sector.
The session was presided by renowned women’s rights activist and resident director of the Aurat Foundation, Mahnaz Rahman.
Commended by the United Nations Environment Programme’s quarterly magazine Tunza, Dr Rahat was among eight women, chosen from across the globe, to have been given the title of ‘Super Woman’ for their exceptional competence in the field.
However, besides not receiving her due share of recognition, striking a balance between her home and work were, as is common, also cited as a daunting challenge by Dr Rahat.
“The increasing level of expectations from the men of the family for everything to be perfect at home makes things extremely difficult for working women.”
A firebrand women’s rights activist, parliamentarian Mahtab Akbar Rashidi said women were the largest stakeholders of the total water usage of a country, but had not been provided the space to partake in policy-making.
Referring to the recent surge in employment opportunities for women at multinational companies, the parliamentarian regretted that the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board had yet to hire a female employee.
Mahtab called for widening the scope of community-level awareness programmes in order to strengthen women residing in rural areas as they bore the major brunt of the society’s patriarchal values. Encouraging women to take a stand, she also cautioned them to not expect results overnight.
Elaborating the discussion, the CEO of the Interflow Group’s television channels, Seema Taher Khan, also called for engaging women socially and economically. However, she added, “For that to happen, we need to do much more than arranging conferences.” Speaking of her over 25 years of media experience, she said our entertainment industry direly needed an overhaul.
“It needs to stop reducing women to the typical Saas-Bahu roles and instead present them as heroes by highlighting the plethora of challenges that they have managed to surmount,” she added.
“A woman will fulfil her professional duties as efficiently as the 10 other responsibilities she takes care of everyday.”
An assistant professor at the Kings College UK, Danish Mustafa, said debates over both the genders being identified as equals were more often than not initiated without taking into consideration the historical background.
“Most of us don’t realise that there were no historical accounts of half of the humanity i.e. women, in our history books because everything had been narrated through a man’s perspective,” he added.
“We are told of kings and emperors severing heads of their enemies and of the size of an empire led by some more kings and emperors but nobody bothered to take into account the kinds of food or clothes they wore, since that was the women’s department.”
Ghazala Rehman, a professor teaching Sindh Studies at Szabist’s Sindh Abhyas Academy, also spoke at the session.