By Durdana Najam
Published in Newslens
Lahore: Punjab Government, for the first time, has appointed five women secretaries in different departments, making a case for a progressive system of governance in a province that contributes 50 percent officers in the civil service annually. The government is taking credit for giving women important positions whereupon a few have recently been in the limelight for targeting the food industry for its adulterated practices.
The Women Development Department, the Archive, the Governor Punjab, the department for Special Education and the Higher Education Commission Punjab have women secretaries.
Critics have been quizzical over giving soft departments to the women. The supporters consider it a reflection of efforts the women and our society has made in turning the tide in favour of the weaker gender.
Amna Imam Secretary Women Development Department Punjab, Ambreen Raza Secretary Special Education Punjab, Bushra Imam Secretary Human Rights and Minorities Punjab, Irum Bukharai, the first ever female secretary in Punjab and Sarah Saeed the Director General Benazir Income Support Program Punjab, believe that a woman has to put extra effort to reach the top position.
All the existing secretaries agree it has always been daunting for girls to tread unhindered a career path within the Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS) unless they come from a strong family background with an IQ that would enable them to compete successfully.
Irum Bukhari told News Lens Pakistan that a woman still has to work twice as hard and make untiring efforts to prove her credentials and to create an aura of professionalism about her.
“It is very important that men take women seriously in profession. There is a mind-set in our society that paints women as incompetent, fit for home only. To counter this mind-set women have to take their job with complete seriousness and professional attitude,” said Bukhari
“She said that she could not deliver on high profile posts and lacks decision-making power are commonly held beliefs. Whether you are a Civil Servant working as PAS officer or a teacher in a school, the treatment meted out to a woman is identical.
“Harassment is just the norm and part of the game. What a sad reality! However, there is a positive side to it as well. A woman’s chance of winning the professional battle is as bright as of a man only that her efforts should be geared in the right direction and her focus must be clear, resolute and unflinching, says Bukhari”
On a question that why a woman would have to work twice as hard and the reason why Islam has failed to make a difference in the mentality of men in this part of the world Amna Imam, Secretary Women Development Department replies from a historic perspective.
She told News Lens Pakistan, “we in Pakistan follow a Hindu narrative surrounding Sita (a religious deity) to judge a women’s status in society. Rawana abducted Sita when she set her foot out of the home. Though liberated by her husband Ram, he refused to accept her until the public opinion about her changed, which took almost fourteen year during which Sita lived in solitude.”
The moral of the story is that until Sita remained in her home under the protection of her brother-in-law Lakshman she was pious. As soon as she stepped out of her home, her status changed from being a protected woman. When a woman seeks empowerment and sets her foot out of her home, she becomes a public property for the out there. This mindset makes women vulnerable and at times easy prey for the men unless of course the women are courageous and refuse to give in to the public opinion, said Imam.
She continued saying, “We do not remember or follow Hajra, the wife of prophet Abrahim. She was left in the barren unpopulated city of Mecca with a newborn child. She did not only set-up a whole city but also brought up an entire generation through her son Ismail.”
“This explains why women in our society have to work hard at different turfs to prove themselves. Women serving in the PAS are no different. We are also seen with the same lens unless we prove otherwise.
The civil service reforms of 1973 opened up what was then called the District Administrative Group and foreign services to the women,” says Imam
With globalization and gender issues getting traction globally, women were hard to be ignored and marginalized. The era that has been parsimonious in giving attention to the women has lapsed. Times have changed and women’s participation into mainstream professions has become a reality not many could brush aside easily.
According to Dr Saeed Shafqat the former Chief Instructor and Warden Pakistan Civil Services Academy the trend in favour of women began shifting completely in 1990s when gender equality and human rights became the key issues globally and there was a general realization that in developing countries women were not being given equal rights.
Women found greater representation through quota system during the Musharraf regime, both in Assemblies and in civil services.
“The military regime was advised that one way to seek legitimacy was to mainstream gender sensitivity and gender equality. It was certainly a good move as far as women were considered and we saw a large number of women joining the civil services and getting into politics. Women from backward areas were also able to compete in this new environment,” says Shafqat.
Ambreen Raza the secretary Special Education Punjab says that today one can find women making strides in almost every field.
“The interesting part is that women are not shy of raising a family while building their career. Back during 1970s when DMG and foreign services (called PSA now) was opened up for women, we find many opting not to get married because of the challenges involved in sailing both the boats simultaneously.” With the arrival of women into new fields, the work environment was altered to their needs that ultimately made things easier for them. Now a woman does not have to remain unmarried or ignore her family to become a successful person. Women had to bear a lot before they could find the kind of work environment they enjoy today, said Riaz.
For Riaz women are still not in a position to create the kind of networking that their male counterpart could establish with their peers and other sources. Since, most of their colleagues are men they remain out of the informal talk loop that goes a long way in strengthening career prospects. As women they face constraints of mingling with men after office hours, those who dare do it face criticism and at times find their reputations at stake.
Former chief secretary of Sindh Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui says that women have always proved to be good administrators. “The reason why women had been kept away from playing a significant role in policy making was because they were less corrupt as compared to their male counterparts.
“Since a woman has to prove herself, therefore, she does not indulge in activities that could malign her reputation or could create hurdles in her career. Another reason why women could deliver best is that the politicians could not manipulate them easily, as they could the male bureaucrats. Women have come a long way since the civil services reforms of 1973. Now they have been given field postings and these women have come out with flying colors.”
Bushra Aman agrees with Siddiqui’s argument and says that by virtue of being a woman one does not find the kind of pressure or demands laid on man in services. “A distance is maintained which at times proves disadvantageous for us, but we have no choice.”
For Sara Saeed, the Director General Benazir Income Support Program Punjab, the government has to amend rules of doing business with women if it wishes to create more opportunities for them. From her experience abroad, she says that even an officer posted in field could be asked to work during her maternity leave from home if we introduce flexi hour system. She says that in Netherlands women are given six months maternity leave because they could work from home. A woman officer could arrange field trips or meet people at fixed time while doing the paper work from home. This would balance the workload and relieve the agony many men feel when they have to do a woman’s work while she is on maternity or other kinds of leave related to women.