If you happen to be born a woman in Pakistan, the odds will be against you. There is a 70 to 90 per cent chance that you will face some form of violence and abuse in your life. There’s a 46 per cent chance that you will never attend school and an 81 per cent chance that you will never participate in the formal workforce and earn an income for yourself. Yet in the seventy years since its inception, Pakistani women have been succeeding despite these odds. Pakistani women have brought home the Nobel Peace Prize and Oscars. A woman has been Prime Minister and despite constituting only 22 per cent of the total membership of the National Assembly, women have been responsible for nearly half of all parliamentary business conducted at the national and provincial levels in the last four years. Women are CEOs of major banks and run some of the most successful businesses in the country. Women are flying fighter jets and are combat ready in Pakistan’s Air and Armed Forces. They write award-winning books and produce some of South Asia’s most powerful literature. They have scaled the highest peaks in the country and hold their own against global competitors in the workforce, on the sports field and in classrooms and laboratories. Pakistani women have proven their mettle in the last 70 years as agents of change at home and abroad. If Pakistan is the world’s bravest and most resilient nation, its women are the epitome of that courage and grace The resilience of the Pakistani woman despite all odds has been one of the most powerful yet underappreciated trends of recent decades. Critics have dismissed this as the story of a few urban centres and the result of the privileges enjoyed by the few. While there is no denying that class privilege helps many women overcome cultural barriers, there is also no denying the fact that women have been contributing silently to Pakistan’s economy, politics and culture since 1947. But there is a deeper change afoot. Since 1980, the fertility rates have been on a steady decline and have now almost halved. Between 2000 and 2015, school enrolment for girls went gone up by 20 per cent, and the literacy rate for young women (those between the ages of 15 to 24) has risen almost 24 per cent. (Enrolment for boys has increased by 9.5 per cent and the literacy rate for young men increased at 13 per cent during the same period). Women’s labour force participation has been on a slow but steady increase since 2001 as well. As women gain greater agency over their bodies and health and are given access to education and technology, they are working to transform their own lives and their communities. The positive impact of increasing female education and financial independence are globally established facts. And Pakistan is no different. We are already seeing signs of this. In major urban centres, we see women joining the workforce in not just larger numbers but also in more diverse sectors. Gone are the days when being a teacher, doctor or nurse was the clichéd profession of choice for women. You can now see girls standing confidently behind service counters at major retail outlets, working the fryers at fast food chains, managing stock and inventory at stores, running departments at corporations, managing their own businesses from home providing a range of services and now even taking up careers traditionally thought to be meant only for men or could only be dared to be done by women in the elite segments of society. As Pakistani women step out into the world and excel at what they do, they blaze a trail for those looking up to them to follow. The ripple effect of one girl going to work in the nearest city and support her family financially is substantial for other girls in the community. As economic growth, education and technology open up new possibilities, the Pakistani woman is not afraid to take them and make the most of them despite the challenges they entail. Despite being beaten, burnt, threatened with acid, or murder in the name of honour, women continue to go about the business of improving their own lives and the lives of their communities. The Pakistani woman has proven her mettle in the last 70 years as a formidable power and agent of change at home and abroad. If Pakistan is the world’s bravest and most resilient nation, its women are the epitome of that courage and grace. And if Pakistan wants to accelerate the pace of its development and growth, investing in the protection, education and financial empowerment of its most resilient and capable citizens will be its wisest investment. The writer is the Pakistan Country Representative for USIP This essay was first published by Jinnah Institute’s Independence Day special feature. Published in Daily Times, August 25th 2017.