Breaking Taboos and Overcoming Obstacles


Gender parity is an important achievement that strongly influences whether economies and societies advance. Successfully harnessing and mobilising half of the world’s total talent pool has a huge impact on the growth, competitiveness, and future-readiness of economies and organizations across the globe. The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 144 countries regarding their progress on gender parity via four main themes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. There is also data around the dynamics of gender gaps across industry talent pools and occupations.

Unfortunately, data shows that the gender gap is widening, so there need to be new ways of thinking if the world is to close the gender gap. Progress is regressing. Instead of taking 170 years to close the gap at the current rate of progress, it is estimated that achieving gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact.

The main reason the gender gap persists at work—for instance, lower pay to the women, less opportunities for them to reach the senior level positions at companies, and why women are likely to stop working  after having children— is employers’ expectation that people spend long hours at their desks.

I am going to share the story of my journey, where I have faced obstacles, and discuss how I have overcome them to get where I am today. I come from a small place in Pakistan, which is at the heart of mountains, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. From the entire village, I am the first girl who has an MPhil degree. While I was pursing my Bachelor’s in Environmental Sciences degree, I used to hear the people from the village talk about how I was wasting my time studying. They would approach my parents and ask them to think about marrying me off instead of letting me waste time studying. 

Because of the constant social pressure, I felt that I stood alone in this fight of social taboos against women. However, my mother who stood by me, encouraging me to strive towards achieving my dreams. She always gave me her own example and told me I should not have to spend my whole life at home, taking care of the family, like she had. 

Courage leads the way, and for a woman, courage should be her jewellery. After completing my studies, I joined an international organization in Pakistan. I was again the first woman from my village who worked in an office along with men. 

When I started earning money, people started telling my father and brothers that they were looking at a woman in their family earn money. There were other negative comments as well. But this time, I was strong and confident in myself, and decided that it didn’t matter to me what society said. I decided that I would not let these norms judge me. As an educated, independent person, I was born with the right to pursue and education and a career, and I made it a point to make sure that I would not give this right away to anyone else. 

In my professional career, I have come to know that not all men are the same. There have been vast differences in the behaviours of men that I have met in my life. Contrary to the behaviour of most men in the male-dominated society that I grew up in, my supervisor’s behaviour has always been kind and supportive. He is like a father to me. He has given me the confidence to work alongside male colleagues and never made me feel uncomfortable about being the only woman working in the office. 

A new phase in my life started when I got married. Life itself is another name for change. After the marriage, I learnt to adjust with new people, new family members, and a new environment. It was tough in the beginning as it is for every woman. However, things are harder for women who have jobs outside the house. I realized how difficult it is to satisfy everyone after I had my first miscarriage.  Once again, society perceived I was a careless woman who only cares about her job and career, and does not prioritise her family. For some time, I was forced to leave my job and stay at home to take care of everyone. However, in this entire scenario, my husband has given me a ray of hope. He has supported me and stood by me, and encouraged me to carry on with my professional life. Today, I feel that I am a successful working woman who is happily married.  I have one son and I am enjoying my life.

But there are many women I know who I do not have support from their family to work as I do, and who do not have the courage to raise their voices. I wish to provide them help and support and give them a voice.

Kanwal Waqar