Entrepreneurship

The Struggle for More Women Engineers in Pakistan

With it being our 70th anniversary of Independence, this year has an extra special feel to it. The celebrations, noise, parties will be in full-swing and why not – being independent is an inexplicable feeling. The sense of ownership and achievement, pride, and satisfaction goes beyond words. Soon however, the festivities will be over and one fears another year will pass by before we think of independence again. There’s not a problem with that per se, but what if we could think more about this notion of independence. Beyond that of celebrations and jubilation.

Every year goes by with the same routine but seldom do we think about what independence means in a deeper sense. Our nation in independent from rule of another empire/nation but how much have we applied ourselves to push for true independence? A nation’s biggest asset are its people and in a country with over half of its population being women, we seem to be constantly neglecting the reality that women are crucial to a successful, thriving nation. What other words can be used to describe the significance of women than in the words of our Quaid-E-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah:

No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.”

70 years have gone by, and though we’ve made great improvements, women are still under-represented in most fields. PakWired (PW) recently spoke with Women Engineers Pakistan (WEP) about the inspiration behind the initiative that aims to educate and empower women to join the engineering field. WEP was founded by Ramla Qureshi, a civil engineer, doctoral student, and activist.

PW – What was the Inspiration behind the initiative and what are your objectives?

WEP – Graduating as a civil engineer in Pakistan, Ramla was appalled by the representation of women in engineering even at a high repute, national institution. Female graduates made up a measly 5% of the total graduating class. This disparity translates down to workforce – where Pakistan Council of Science and Technology estimates a ratio of less than 1 female colleague for every 17 male counterparts.
These numbers are distressing, and not to mention add to the economic burden of the country, provided the majority of our population is female.
This was the inspiration behind starting Women Engineers Pakistan – which was initially a Facebook page that quickly transformed into a platform and movement, buttressed by the support and overwhelming response of women.
The Women Engineers Pakistan (WEP) believes that the prevalent lack of gender balance within Pakistani engineering sectors can be alleviated by the following initiatives:

  1. Increasing representation of women in engineering by encouraging the notion of diversity.
  2. Educate about career choices in engineering
  3. Promoting liaison between Industry and student-bodies
  4. Inspire younger generations about engineering by highlighting success of women in Engineering & Technology.
  5. Determine & advocate for the essential needs of women engineers in Pakistan
  6. Feature scholarships and awards pertinent to engineering on regular basis and
  7. Engage and activate Alumni connections to facilitate smoother graduate-to-employer correspondence.

Validated by the 11000+ likes on Facebook, WEP has been in business for 2+ years, with 5 functional Campus Chapters, and collaborations with USAID, UNDP Pakistan, Google Developers Group, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, Meera Kaul Foundation, Girl Develop It, and many more.

PW – What challenges have you faced / are you facing?

WEP – Running a non-profit is a full-time job, however it is not what makes you a living. One of the hurdles has been finding sustainable sources of funding to plan long-term and keep the programmes rolling. Other than that, there is of course the bias and discrimination one faces in Pakistan while working for women empowerment. There is a lot of negativity inherent in our society, no doubt from age-old cultural norms, which is a trough to navigate through each day. There needs to be a shift in mindset in our society – the realization that women empowerment is empowerment of the society and the economy, which will yield returns for the entire country, irrespective of gender.

PW – What Are Your Thoughts on why you feel number of women are low in engineering and tech fields?

WEP – A myriad of reasons come together and reinforce each other resulting in a dearth of women in STEM fields in Pakistan. You take a patriarchal society, in a developing country, with centuries old ideas of pre-defined gender abilities, and voila, you have succeeded in precluding the majority of your population from training in technical fields.

Working through all of these to make one’s goal a reality is nothing less than a battle, and girls and women in Pakistan have been fighting it for quite some time. It is high time they are lent a hand, and helped to reach their inherent potential.
Many people in our society still limit a woman’s role as solely a home-maker, while excluding the man’s role from the home. We are not a man vs. woman organization, but we do believe that as human beings, everyone has the right to progress forward should they will to do so.

PW – Is the current tech & start up scene providing a conducive atmosphere that aligns with your objectives?

WEP – Many a times we see news from Silicon Valley regarding discrimination against female employees in tech. Although we haven’t yet heard of anything similar in mainstream entrepreneurial ecosystem within Pakistan, we do not plan to wait till such a need arises. Our objective thus includes proactive advocacy for better, safer, and inclusive workplaces. It should be mentioned though, that the efforts of organizations like PlanX Power Women, WeCreate and Women Engineers Pakistan have definitely given a leg up to women in tech and entrepreneurship.

PW – What can be improved to support your initiative and more broadly empower women?

WEP – Women Engineers Pakistan is building on the foundation we have laid, and aims to expand its operations for maximum impact. We have recently completed a successful fundraiser and we are counting on further support of our fellow countrymen – home and abroad – to help us help women contribute to the development of our country.

Women empowerment comes in many shades, subtle and stark. The bigger steps need to be taken surely – more inclusive policies, mentors and career coaches for young girls, conducive working environments, accessible and safe commuting options, amongst many others. The subtle steps call for every individual to think twice before making that ‘gol roti’ remark, decimating the entire intellectual potential of an individual to a piece of bread.

Conclusion

Though WEP’s objectives centre around women in the engineering field, it doesn’t take much research to realise there is plenty of room for improvement in all fields. The work however, must start with ourselves. We’ve been independent for 70 years and still live in a time where women have to struggle for a seat at the table. We are definitely going in the right direction but a lot more is certainly required for true independence, where all of our nation’s citizens are not just valued, but proactively empowered to reach their potential.

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