Female civil society leaders in Pakistan come together to develop leadership skills
Posted: 4 March 2021
Twenty-one female leaders from a variety of civil society organisations in Pakistan have enhanced their leadership capabilities through undertaking a recent Australia Awards Short Course in Civil Society Women in Executive Leadership. The course participants work in fields such as academia, media and advocacy.
The Australia Awards Short Course, delivered online by the University of Queensland, aimed to develop the leadership capabilities of current and emerging female leaders of Pakistan, with a particular focus on civil society organisations. Addressing gender equality is one of the key pillars of Australia’s support in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s diverse civil society plays an integral role in the social, economic and political empowerment of women. Its history can be traced back to Pakistan’s independence movement, when many female-oriented volunteer organisations not only vigorously participated in the freedom struggle, but also were at the forefront of Pakistan’s nation-building process. Yet despite the emergence of digital media, a widespread network of women-focused non-governmental organisations and the efforts of political parties on women-related issues, a large segment of the female population is still struggling to gain equal status in society.
The Short Course sought to broaden the participants’ understanding of the important role civil society can play as part of the development process, build their capacity to become more effective and influential in achieving social change and shaping civil society, enhance their confidence and ability to recognise and build on existing qualities, and help leverage their leadership capacity to improve the inclusion of disadvantaged and traditionally marginalised groups in decision-making in their respective sectors.
Participant Nazia Zahid, who works as a Project Coordinator at Simorgh – Women’s Resource & Publication Centre, a non-profit activist organisation, found the Short Course effective in enabling her to enhance her leadership skills. “As a human rights activist working for women’s empowerment and leadership rights, I am in a position where I can improve the capacities of other women in marginalised communities,” she says. “This course enhanced my leadership skills to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
Another participant, Sana Ahmad, is an emerging women’s rights activist and a strategic advocacy expert with an ambition to promote and work for social and economic empowerment of women and girls in Pakistan. She found that the course helped her to shape her approach to leadership and building influence.
“It was such a productive and wonderful opportunity for me to participate and learn in this Short Couse,” Sana says. “The course really helped me in acquiring motivational, strategic and executive leadership skills. It provided my organisation a young woman with increased leadership capacity and the ability to inspire, guide or direct others on a course of action, influence the opinions and behaviours of others, and serve as a role model.”
Participant Zara Zafar is Chairperson of Ajoka Theatre, a not-for-profit performance organisation based in Lahore. She was able to remodel her return-to-work activities to consider the new COVID-19 environment. “I want to be part of the vision of Ajoka Theatre, to build a team that provides meaningful theatre activities to support gender equality and equal rights for all, irrespective of class, gender, ethnic or religious affinities,” she says. Zara is currently working to increase the number of women, youth and ethnic minorities within her organisation, including in performing and decision-making positions, as a means of advocating for diversity, social inclusion and social change.
Across the cohort, the participants’ Return to Work Plans detailed activities related to women’s economic empowerment, women’s rights, education, women’s leadership and mentorship, and advocacy through performing arts.
Participant Shanaz Begum is the Chairperson of Hope and Transformation against Poverty, a non-governmental organisation that is working for the socioeconomic empowerment of rural people. She says, “My workplan developed during the Short Course was all about looking for meaningful ways to impart and continue education in rural areas of Pakistan during a global pandemic.
“It was an amazing feeling seeing my course instructors, mentors and fellow participants come together to help me with my ambitious Return to Work Plan,” Shanaz says.
The Short Course participants featured in this article join women around the world who are leading innovative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are sharing their stories as part of Australia Awards – South Asia’s International Women’s Day 2021 series, which acknowledges the achievements of women leaders and progress towards empowering women in our region.
Image on top of page – Participants during the closing ceremony of the Civil Society Women in Executive Leadership Short Course