Tell us a little about yourself. How was your journey from being a student to a prominent gender specialist?I was born and bred in the traditional city of northern Sindh called Jacobabad. My father was a lawyer by profession. He played a very important role in my upbringing; he would tutor me and look after my educational matters. I was raised in an environment where gender inequality was not very pronounced. My parents treated all siblings equally. My journey as gender specialist actually started when I saw women living in remote areas that lived in underprivileged and deprived conditions. The comparison their life with that of mine brought storm to my mind. I was in my secondary schooling when I started taking keen interest in women’s issues. My location also played its role; Jacobabad was surrounded by other backward areas, we would often hear the incidents of honour related crimes, domestic violence, maternal and child mortality etc. I think this was enough to sensitise me.We need to give women equal opportunity to have an education and pursue their careers. Our public sphere is quite gendered, particularly in rural areas. Women are confined to the private sphere. When they are allowed to work in the field, it is conditional upon some male kin accompanying them during their work Being a feminist, how would you describe your own political beliefs?My belief is very simple; I believe men and women are not unequal, they are different. Culture gives meaning to this difference and determines men’s and women’s status in a society. I think inequality is grounded in cultural norms and as a feminist I try to understand this. For example, how society influences our perception of masculinity and femininity, how it determines how men and women should behave and thus, how such norms result in specific practices that affect women’s lives. You have done numerous researches, wrote a bundle of articles and developed materialistic approaches on feminist ideology. Don’t you think that feminism has become too ideological and too divisive in this modern world?I think we need to bridge the divide between eastern and western cultures. Feminism is a western idea, which emerged to counter women’s oppression and ensure them their rights in the developed world. During the three waves of feminism, women not only secured their rights but many reforms were also made to bring them at par with men. On the other hand, the feminist ideology did not work well in Pakistani context. This happened due to several reasons; first, it was a western borrowed ideology, which could not succeed to yield results in an agrarian set-up like ours. People detested the idea as well as feminists because they thought this would make the women rebellious and weaken the family system – something that we are proud of as a nation. Thirdly, feminism in Pakistan failed to bring many basic problems of Pakistani women to the limelight, it focused on few issues and ignored other which could bring difference to women’s lives such as ensuring access to healthcare facilities, improving women’s literacy rate and so on. We need to understand ground realities and work accordingly but first of all feminism cannot succeed in Pakistan if it fails to address basic and important problems of women. What are the problems being faced by women in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh? And what institutional and societal changes need to be made?The list is very long but the most important I would say are education, health and access to the public sphere. We need to give women equal opportunity to have an education and pursue their careers. Our public spheres are quite gendered and particularly in rural areas you will see women are confined to the private sphere. They are allowed to work in the fields but that too is conditional upon the company of male family members. Women are completely dependent on men for their survival and this is where we need to concentrate ie how can we make women self-dependent? This has to do with introducing gender sensitive programs and policies, empower women economically so that they are dependent on themselves and be able to change their lives. I also appreciate the like-minded organisations that are working in Pakistan; and are giving there best to build a Pakistan, which is free from all odds and injustices. Constitution of Pakistan 1973, Article 34 states that steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life but practically not a single pro-women laws has been practically implemented? What are your views about it?See, we need to understand the contradiction between the law and the culture. On one hand, the law ensures rights to women but on the other hand the prevalent culture bars them from exercising those rights. Lack of implementation of laws has added more to women’s plight. This is the main reason that we have failed terribly to ensure a liveable life to Pakistani women. We introduced laws only but did not focus on their implementation. For example, the law of Child Marriage Act 2013, which prohibits any marriage contracted before the age of 18 but still child marriage, is common in Sindh. Similarly, the Constitution of Pakistan ensures women’s equal participation in the public sphere, yet they are culturally barred from entering it and are confined to their households. Even if they manage to access the public sphere, they do not have enough facilities to manage both personal and work life. Most women who are associated with the agriculture sector don’t have their work registered. Those who have regular jobs and fetch monthly salaries don’t even have proper access to maternity laws and childcare facilities to support them. So, if women have to choose between work and family life, they go for family. In this regard, government should bring laws to facilitate women’s work; it should announce a better maternity benefits scheme for working women, introduce a well-integrated childcare system in order to encourage women’s work. Secondly on the other side of the coin we all are aware that women make up half the population, yet in times of war, in peace talks, and in rebuilding efforts, women are rarely seen at the table, so its quite obvious that women are kept aside from all the political, social and economic arena. What according to you has been your biggest achievement so far?Whilst focused on my love of learning and teaching, I believe the rapid advancement through levels of education and experiences provide demonstrable proof of my hard work and motivation. My journey to different levels of education has been the ever-biggest achievement in life. However, this does not end here, my next job is to educate and mentor the women in northern Sindh, help them pursue their dreams and set an example in the society. If you could deliver one message to women today, what would it be?I often tell my students “never stop believing in yourself”. The same message I will give to the women. I want to tell them that they are truly amazing, capable of doing anything, can pursue their goals and make their dreams come true. This all could be possible only if they believe in themselves and never stop trying. Secondly we have to educate your children, educate your neighbourhood, our schools and workplace regarding rights of women. Most importantly women of Pakistan have to stand for their rights and I have a strong believe that they will succeed in coming future. How would you define yourself?I can define myself as an honest and a straightforward person. The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore and can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2017.