What does it mean to be an empowered woman? These are the words that we have been hearing repeatedly these days. What does she actually look like in our modern culture? Many people talk about women empowerment in today’s world without even knowing what it really means.
The response of an ordinary person would be a woman who has power. RedEcom defines power as the ability to achieve the impossible through self-determination and motivation. It is a feeling of a woman when she truly feels free to achieve what she has always dreamt of. In a country like Pakistan where women have always been looked down upon by their male counterparts, only a few people are working hard to change this mode of thinking.
Recently RedEcom has been supporting the Gender Equity Program (GEP) by Aurat Foundation in partnership with USAID. On this occasion we got a chance to meet a Wonder Woman Ms. Mahnaz Rehman, the Resident Director of Aurat Foundation. Ms. Rehman, unlike many other women in Pakistan, has been breaking stereotypes on gender inequality.
She did her Masters in Economics from Karachi University and spent 8 years of her life in China. She is a political activist who joined AF in 1995 and continued working till 2000. After that she worked for Aga Khan University-Institute of Education Development as Senior Research Associate from 2001-2002, Church World Service Afghanistan and Pakistan as Program Advisor from 2003-2009. In 2010, she joined back her mother organization i.e. AF and is still serving.
She is the only Pakistani female who is the recipient of “Friendship Award” from the Chinese government for her literatures.
Our team at RedEcom was lucky enough to learn about her in an exclusive interview:
What inspired you to join Aurat Foundation?
I joined Aurat Foundation because it was the first NGO that started political education and I was a political animal. When Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991, people were left with progressive politics and were suffering from depression. I joined AF as the Coordinator of Political Education Program which was one of the most productive programs of all times. During Zia Ul Haq period, the politicians were discredited and this mentality shadowed us in the 1990’s also. So at that time, when none of the NGO’s dared to say that they are political, Aurat Foundation was the first NGO which started political education and gave us a new hope.
Tell us about the Gender Equity Program and how did it start?
We have been working on this project with USAID for the last six years and it has been a tremendous journey. The aim of both AF and the USAID was to empower women through expanding the knowledge of their rights and to give them the opportunity to exercise their rights in a workplace. This program also focuses on the elimination of gender based violence in an organization. AF has always been linked to advocacy for political legislation, but this was the first time when we took a grant and joined hands with the USAID for the better cause.
In a country like Pakistan, where Gender Equality is something that is looked down upon, so how do you manage to work in such an environment?
This is the struggle that we have been doing since the beginning of this foundation. Lack of awareness is the main factor in Pakistan. We have been very thorough in empowering women by educating them about their rights and have been motivating them to speak up against violence.
What are your thoughts on the booming IT Sector of Pakistan and how will this program help the female IT Graduates?
This program comes under the Economic Empowerment of Women where we are planning to tie up the IT graduates to the companies where they can learn the basics of E-commerce and digital marketing. IT is the booming sector in Pakistan and we are encouraging females to pursue their careers in this field. The main question that arises after the graduating is that whether we will get a job or not. This program comes under the Economic Empowerment of Women objective of GEP where we are planning to tie up the female IT graduates to companies and includes a baseline survey to identify employable IT skills and potential companies where they can be hired. The trainings and internships are envisioned to enhance their capacity as per market demand and thereby increase their employment opportunities.
We hope that Gender Equity Program will serve as a good learning experience for women and RedEcom is all set to welcome the new internees this summer!
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