Pakistani Women On The Edge: Visionary Engineers of Social Change


By Karachi-born Muslim American Author Dilara Hafiz.

The headlines scream “war, drone bombings, militants, kidnappings”.

With a population of over 15 million, Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city and the world’s 4th largest metropolitan city. It’s a bustling hub of commercial activity as well as a city in the throes of social change.

The poor huddle in shanty-towns amidst the well-to-do enclaves where the abundance of wealth is staggering, yet the city continues to reinvent itself as pockets of civil society take root.

sabeen_re_dilara_blog.jpgThe Second Floor, for example, is a new café cum hangout for Karachi’s budding poets, writers, artists – basically anyone looking for a welcoming public space to meet and mingle with others interested in fostering Karachi’s nascent intelligentsia.

It’s the brainchild of Sabeen Mahmud (pictured at right), a young woman with the goal of ‘intellectual poverty alleviation’ (I love that term!); T2F has gained a faithful following of activists committed to being the change they dream about under her PeaceNiche banner.

Social entrepreneurs, engaged youth, civic-minded citizens – they’re all here discussing the future of their country the way they imagine it.

Sabeen has succeeded in creating a space which encourages the 'space between your ears', as she puts it.

Then there’s Cynara Siddiqui, a freelance documentary filmmaker. She’s a veteran news videographer from the DAWN English-TV program who’s currently working on a timely documentary for French TV about Pakistan’s social issues.

Committed to capturing societal changes by turning her keen eye towards Pakistan’s unsung heroes, Cynara’s ability to move amongst the people and translate their stories for Western audiences is invaluable to the future of global news. With her upbringing in Switzerland, Pakistan, and England, it’s going to be internationally-savvy, bi-lingual, global citizens like her who will be the new voices of tomorrow.

Sumbul Khan is curator of the Poppy Seed Gallery.  An “experimental art space committed to promoting critical reflection on Contemporary Pakistani Art”, the gallery is a forum for art lovers who gather to discuss and encourage artists from all over the country.

The variety and breadth of exhibitions held in its first year alone is a testament to Khan’s vision of bringing art to the people and vice versa. Readings, drawing with live models, exploring religious art, bringing art critics and artists’s all happening in this new gallery.

In a patriarchal society rife with tribalism, it’s remarkable that the women are the engineers of social change.  Keep an eye on these three visionaries in particular. When is the world going to realize that the women of Pakistan already envision a future free from war, but need more of us to join them in making this mirage a solid reality?

By Karachi-born Muslim American Author Dilara Hafiz. She holds degrees from John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics. She has drawn upon her years of teaching weekend Islamic school, lecturing about Islam, and raising Muslim teenagers to contribute to The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook,  which she co-wrote with her daughter Yasmine and her son Imran. She sent me this post by e-mail, saying she has been “roaming around the world” for the last several months. She wrote this post while in Pakistan. (The opinions expressed in the post are those of the author, and not necessarily mine or those of Amazing Woman Rock.)

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