UNDP Pakistan’s National Human Development Report 2020 on Inequality lays bare for us the enormous inequalities women in Pakistan are facing that constrain them from participating fully in its social, economic and political life. This grim situation persists, despite our own Constitution’s declaration that all citizens are equal before the law, and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone (Article 25). But national ideology, religion, and patriarchal norms have harmonized in contemporary social consciousness to ensure that it is difficult for women to exercise this notional equality. Most do not even believe it possible. It doesn’t take more than a walk down a street anywhere in this country, to know that to be a woman in Pakistan means to feel unsafe and unwelcome in public spaces. A cursory review of press coverage or recent research reveals that actual violence as well as imminent threats of violence, both contribute to keeping women ‘in their place’. That would be at home, performing the reproductive ‘care’ work that is vital to keeping the economy going, but deemed unproductive and therefore not remunerated. But in my own career as a researcher and activist, I have found that when women act collectively and strategically they can succeed, even against formidable constraints. When a military government invented Islamization as a political weapon to oppress dissent, discriminating against women and non-Muslims in the process, in 1981 the Women’s Action Forum launched collective resistance to its policies. Until today, WAF members and other feminist actors continue to work towards gender equality through exercising their voice through the elected assemblies, National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women, media, and civil society organizations. Due to the efforts of over 40 years of rights-based activism, women have achieved pioneering laws and policies to curb rape, honour killings, sexual harassment, harmful cultural practices, child marriages and domestic violence. Certainly much remains to be done to see the full implementation of these protections through the criminal justice system; yet as indications of the state’s commitment they are fundamental to ensuring women’s full participation in national life. Women’s own contribution to our society’s development goals is slow to be recognized unless they act collectively. The Lady Health Worker Programme is a national achievement in delivering immunization, family planning and maternal health services to under-served communities. Yet only when LHWs formed local and national associations and organized protest sit-ins and strikes, were their services to the nation recognized in the form of higher wages, secure employment, and a proper service structure. Perhaps the most serious constraint that we as women must overcome is our limited belief in what we can achieve. We are indoctrinated through our schooling, government, and even our own families about gender norms and roles. In the name of preserving our religio-cultural heritage, these norms are intended to preserve the status quo, not to make us free. If we can act as empowered citizens of a modern state, we can hold our government accountable to delivering on its promise of gender equality and social justice. Ayesha Khan works at the Collective for Social Science Research, Karachi.