Pakistani-American Women's Success Stories

Shama Zehra, Shaan Kandawalla, Shahzia Sikandar and Fatima Ali are among the many Pakistani-American women making their mark in America.

Shama Zehra is in finance, Shaan Kandawalla in technology, Shazia Sikandar in the Arts and Fatima Ali in fine cuisine.

Shama Zehra
Shama Zehra is the CEO of Wall Street firm Aligned Independent Advisors. She began her career as an entrepreneur in the apparel industry in Pakistan in 1991 with a women apparel firm co-founded with her mother and sister. Later, she moved in to financial services industry in 1995 where she has worked in Investment Banking, Consumer Credit Products and Private Wealth Management. Prior to forming Aligned, Shama worked with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered Bank and MCB Bank, the largest private sector bank in Pakistan in early nineties.

Shaan Kandawalla
Shaan is the CEO of PlayDate Digital which makes educational applications for kids. She started it in 2012 after many years of experience working at Nickelodeon and Hasbro. Apps produced by PlayDate feature Hasbro brands like Play-Doh, My Little Pony and Transformers. She is a rare female in a male-dominated world. A study by the mobile-tech company Appcelerator reported that 96 percent of all mobile-app developers are male, most between the ages of 20 and 29. Yet market research indicates that women are the app stores’ biggest customers. Women install 40 percent more apps than men, have 17 percent more paid apps and pay 87 percent more for those paid apps, according to data from Apsalar, a mobile-analytics company.


Shahzia Sikandar
Shazia Sikandar is best known for her Indo-Persian miniatures. Trained as a miniaturist at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, Sikander pursues this centuries-old tradition by challenging notions about the division of art and craft. Her work has been displayed at numerous solo and group exhibits at such national and international venues as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery of Canada, the Venice Biennale 2005, and the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.


Fatima Ali, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), may be the only non-American female chef in any of 70 top New York City restaurants, according to a survey done by Voice of America. Her  unique blend of Pakistani spices and Western cuisines won her the top award of $10,000 on the popular Food Network TV show "Chopped".

Fatima Ali


Pakistani women in Pakistan are also increasingly joining the work force to contribute to nation's development. "More of them(women) than ever are finding employment, doing everything from pumping gasoline and serving burgers at McDonald’s to running major corporations", says a report in Businessweek magazine.



Beyond company or government employment, there are a number of NGOs focused on encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship among Pakistani women by offering skills training and microfinancing. Kashf Foundation led by a woman CEO and BRAC are among such NGOs. They all report that the success and repayment rate among female borrowers is significantly higher than among male borrowers.



In rural Sindh, the PPP-led government is empowering women by granting over 212,864 acres of government-owned agriculture land to landless peasants in the province. Over half of the farm land being given is prime nehri (land irrigated by canals) farm land, and the rest being barani or rain-dependent. About 70 percent of the5,800 beneficiaries of this gift are women. Other provincial governments, especially the Punjab government have also announced land allotment for women, for which initial surveys are underway, according to ActionAid Pakistan.



Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan's workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc.



Here are some statistics and data that confirm the growth and promotion of women in Pakistan's labor pool:

1. A number of women have moved up into the executive positions, among them Unilever Foods CEO Fariyha Subhani, Engro Fertilizer CFO Naz Khan, Maheen Rahman CEO of IGI Funds and Roshaneh Zafar Founder and CEO of Kashf Foundation.

2. Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms.

3. Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years, according to a report in the NY Times.

4. The number of women working at McDonald’s restaurants and the supermarket behemoth Makro has quadrupled since 2006.



5. There are now women taxi drivers in Pakistan. Best known among them is Zahida Kazmi described by the BBC as "clearly a respected presence on the streets of Islamabad".



6. Several women fly helicopters and fighter jets in the military and commercial airliners in the state-owned and private airlines in Pakistan.

Here are a few excerpts from the recent Businessweek story written by Naween Mangi:

About 22 percent of Pakistani females over the age of 10 now work, up from 14 percent a decade ago, government statistics show. Women now hold 78 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, and in July, Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, became Pakistan’s first female Foreign Minister. “The cultural norms regarding women in the workplace have changed,” says Maheen Rahman, 34, chief executive officer at IGI Funds, which manages some $400 million in assets. Rahman says she plans to keep recruiting more women for her company.

Much of the progress has come because women stay in school longer. More than 42 percent of Pakistan’s 2.6 million high school students last year were girls, up from 30 percent 18 years ago. Women made up about 22 percent of the 68,000 students in Pakistani universities in 1993; today, 47 percent of Pakistan’s 1.1 million university students are women, according to the Higher Education Commission. Half of all MBA graduates hired by Habib Bank, Pakistan’s largest lender, are now women. “Parents are realizing how much better a lifestyle a family can have if girls work,” says Sima Kamil, 54, who oversees 1,400 branches as head of retail banking at Habib. “Every branch I visit has one or two girls from conservative backgrounds,” she says.

Some companies believe hiring women gives them a competitive advantage. Habib Bank says adding female tellers has helped improve customer service at the formerly state-owned lender because the men on staff don’t want to appear rude in front of women. And makers of household products say female staffers help them better understand the needs of their customers. “The buyers for almost all our product ranges are women,” says Fariyha Subhani, 46, CEO of Unilever Pakistan Foods, where 106 of the 872 employees are women. “Having women selling those products makes sense because they themselves are the consumers,” she says.

To attract more women, Unilever last year offered some employees the option to work from home, and the company has run an on-site day-care center since 2003. Engro, which has 100 women in management positions, last year introduced flexible working hours, a day-care center, and a support group where female employees can discuss challenges they encounter. “Today there is more of a focus at companies on diversity,” says Engro Fertilizer CFO Khan, 42. The next step, she says, is ensuring that “more women can reach senior management levels.”


The gender gap in South Asia remains wide, and women in Pakistan still face significant obstacles. But there is now a critical mass of working women at all levels showing the way to other Pakistani women.

I strongly believe that working women have a very positive and transformational impact on society by having fewer children, and by investing more time, money and energies for better nutrition, education and health care of their children. They spend 97 percent of their income and savings on their families, more than twice as much as men who spend only 40 percent on their families, according to Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women for Women International, who appeared on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria.

Here's an interesting video titled "Redefining Identity" about Pakistan's young technologists, including women, posted by Lahore-based 5 Rivers Technologies:





Redefining Identity- How Young Technologists... by faizanmaqsood1010
Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistani Woman Engineer Wins Grace Hopper Award

Working Women Bring About Silent Revolution in Pakistan

Status of Women in Pakistan

Microfinancing in Pakistan

Gender Gap Worst in South Asia

Status of Women in India

Female Literacy Lags in South Asia

Land For Landless Women

Are Women Better Off in Pakistan Today?

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror

Mukhtaran Mai-The Movie

World Economic Forum Survey of Gender Gap

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Womenomics from Financial Times on


The first convert to Islam was a businesswoman. She was a wealthy trader who inherited her father’s business and later expanded it into an even more impressive enterprise. At one point, she offered a job to a man. He accepted and conducted a trading mission from Mecca to Syria under the tutelage of his female boss.
Her name was Khadija. He was the Prophet Muhammad, and the two later married. Khadija’s personal loyalty to the Prophet and her financial independence were essential pillars of support in the early days spreading the message of Islam.


These facts highlight the unusual economic independence of the woman Muhammad married – and his approval of her sovereign existence. This history is often missing from the narrative within and about Islam – one of many reasons why women have not been a significant economic force in the Muslim world. But this is rapidly changing.
Today’s Muslim world is comprised of 1.6bn people. That is nearly a quarter of the global population, and they contribute about 16 per cent of global gross domestic product, growing at 6 per cent annually. It includes rich petro-states at the cusp of dramatic change such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, as well as members of what Goldman Sachs calls the “Next 11”: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and Iran.
Half of these people – 800m – are women. There is an untold, unfolding story hidden in their classrooms, in their careers, and in their purses. In just a generation or two, a widespread education movement has elevated the prospects of millions of women in these countries, from Tehran to Tunis.
---------

Millions of ordinary women and men have made conscious, and often deeply personal and brave decisions to break tradition, sometimes shunning cultural pressures. These myriad individual decisions will add up to a new segment of the labour market – and an unprecedented consumer power.
A movement has started where economics trumps culture. Changes that took half a century in the US are being compressed into a decade in today’s Muslim world, where they are set to continue at a significantly faster pace. Imagine if the US, in just a few years, had transformed from the 1950s era of The Feminine Mystique to Lean In in the 2010s. That is the magnitude of the change sweeping the Muslim world.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1caaf96a-68b8-11e4-9eeb-00144feabdc0.html
Riaz Haq said…
Check out stories of Pakistani female executives Jehan Ara (P@SHA), Zeelaf Munir ( English Biscuits), Tahira Raza (First Women Bank), Madiha Khalid (Shell Pakistan), Shafaq Omar (Unilever) and Atiqa Lateef (Byco).

http://tribune.com.pk/story/836606/female-corporate-powerhouses-in-the-corridors-of-power/
Riaz Haq said…
I recently noticed a new producer's name while watching the top-rated CBS 60 Minutes show: Habiba Nosheen. She's a Pakistani-Canadian. Here's more on her:


Emmy award-winning filmmaker and New York-based journalist Habiba Nosheen can be best described as a storyteller.

The Pakistani-Canadian mom and professor, who signed on with “60 Minutes” earlier this year, has an impressive portfolio of emotionally complex and hard-hitting stories. Each story is representative of her knack for combining investigative journalism with the ability to humanize a headline.

The subject of her Emmy-winning documentary, “Outlawed in Pakistan,” follows one Pakistani woman’s struggle to seek justice for allegedly being victim to a gang rape at 13-years-old. She was later subsequently ostracized by the community because she was “tainted” by it.

Difficult for anyone to watch, it’s almost hard to imagine how someone like Pakistan–born Nosheen was able to maintain neutrality, the hallmark of a journalist’s work ethic, while making the film.

It’s a question she’s posed with often, Nosheen said, sometimes even laced with accusations for being a disloyal expat. But Pakistani or not, woman or not, Nosheen’s dedication to responsible storytelling calls for a standard that goes beyond bias or personal opinion.

“People always ask how you stay neutral especially when I have reported on rape cases and interviewed murderers and alleged terrorists.” Nosheen said. “My answer is your job as a journalist is to sit in for your audience and to ask the questions the audience wants answers to.”

Nosheen added: “And if I ever report on a story from Pakistan that’s hard-hitting, there are always plenty of critics who say, ‘Oh, that story is making Pakistan look bad.’ And my answer to them is: I never shy away from doing an investigative story in the United States because I think it would make Americans look bad. My obligation as a journalist is to give a voice to stories that are underreported and to expose wrongdoings.”

http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2014/10/journalist-habiba-nosheen-storyteller/
Riaz Haq said…
Meet Kulsoom Abdullah,

Pakistani-American, Kulsoom Abdullah, has been Weightlifting – at both the national and international level since 2010 – in addition to Crossfitting.
Born and bred in the US, Abdullah’s parents (born in Pakistan; her father from Tangi and her mother from Charsadda) immigrated to America years ago, before Abdullah’s birth. In 2005, Abdullah’s father passed away in Pakistan, leaving behind his wife and five children – of which Abdullah is the eldest. A Computer Engineer by profession, with a PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology, I first discovered Abdullah through a picture of hers that an acquaintance had shared over Facebook. In the picture Abdullah is featured Weightlifting – in hijab. Intrigued, I googled Abdullah and contacted her via her website in the hopes that she would agree to being interviewed over email. She agreed.
At the national level, Abdullah attended the ‘US National Competition’ in 2011, and in the same year she represented Pakistan (at the international level) at the ‘2011 World Weightlifting Championships’. For the latter, Abdullah was not only the first female to compete, but she was also the first female to compete in hijab. And this year, Abdullah represented Pakistan in South Korea, at the ‘2012 Asian Weightlifting Championships.’
However, in 2010 after qualifying to compete at the American Open, the USA Weightlifting Committee barred Abdullah from contending in the competition due to her clothing – clothing modifications were simply not allowed. Participants had to adhere to wearing a ‘singlet’ – particular clothing for athletes which sort of looks like a swimsuit with shorts.
Riaz Haq said…
Nergis Mavalvala: #Pakistani #American #MIT prof from #Karachi, only woman in #LIGO that detects #gravitationalwaves http://www.dawn.com/news/1239270

Mavalvala did her BA at Wellesley College in Physics and Astronomy in 1990 and a Ph.D in physics in 1997 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Before that, she was a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working on the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).

She has been involved with LIGO since her early years in graduate school at MIT and her primary research has been in instrument development for interferometric gravitational-wave detectors.

She also received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010.

Mavalvala received her early education from the Convent of Jesus and Mary school in Karachi, an administration official from the educational institute confirmed to Dawn.com.

She later moved to the United States as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she is said to have a natural gift for being comfortable in her own skin, according to an article published on the sciencemag.org website.

“Even when Nergis was a freshman, she struck me as fearless, with a refreshing can-do attitude,” says Robert Berg, a professor of physics at Wellesley.

"I used to borrow tools and parts from the bike-repair man across the street to fix my bike,” Mavalvala says.
In an earlier report, Mavalvala's colleague observed that while many professors would like to treat students as colleagues, most students don’t respond as equals. From the first day, Mavalvala acted and worked like an equal. She helped Berg, who at the time was new to the faculty, set up a laser and transform an empty room into a lab. Before she graduated in 1990, Berg and Mavalvala had co-authored a paper in Physical Review B: Condensed Matter.

Her parents encouraged academic excellence. She was by temperament very hands-on. “I used to borrow tools and parts from the bike-repair man across the street to fix my bike,” she says. Her mother objected to the grease stains, “but my parents never said such skills were off-limits to me or my sister.”

So she grew up without stereotypical gender roles. Once in the United States, she did not feel bound by US social norms, she recalls.

Her practical skills stood her in good stead in 1991, when she was scouting for a research group to join after her first year as a graduate student at MIT. Her adviser was moving to Chicago and Mavalvala had decided not to follow him, so she needed a new adviser. She met Rainer Weiss, who worked down the hallway.

“What do you know?” Weiss asked her. She began to list the classes she had taken at the institute—but the renowned experimentalist interrupted with, “What do you know how to do?” Mavalvala ticked off her practical skills and accomplishments: machining, electronic circuitry, building a laser. Weiss took her on right away.

Mavalvala says that although it may not be immediately apparent, she is a product of good mentoring.

From the chemistry teacher in Pakistan who let her play with reagents in the lab after school to the head of the physics department at MIT, who supported her work when she joined the faculty in 2002, she has encountered several encouraging people on her journey.


Although the discovery of gravitational waves, that opens a new window for studying the cosmos, was made in September 2015, it took scientists months to confirm their data.

The researchers said they detected gravitational waves coming from two black holes - extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein - that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together. They said the waves were the product of a collision between two black holes 30 times as massive as the Sun, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.
Riaz Haq said…
Nergis Mavalvala: #Pakistani #American #MIT prof from #Karachi, only woman in #LIGO that detects #gravitationalwaves http://www.dawn.com/news/1239270
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9jc2qpF0OQ
Riaz Haq said…
#Women: Drivers of change in #Pakistan. #BenzairBhutto #MalalaYousuzai #SharmeenObaidChinoy http://bit.ly/1TtiMxw

Pakistan was the first Islamic country to elect a woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and is home to the youngest Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousufzai. Pakistani women have conquered Mount Everest, they fly fighter jets and sit in many top academic positions. Many other Pakistani women have had leadership roles, and now Chinoy is a driver of change. Yet, the reality of Pakistani women’s everyday living defies an easy description.

Women in Pakistan live with widespread gender-based discrimination, attitudes that are preserved by patriarchal, tribal and cultural traditions and the twisting of Islamic injunctions. Discriminatory legislation, unresponsive state institutions reinforce this inequality.

Killing women for ‘honour’ — the subject of Chinoy’s documentary — for marrying a person of their own choice, something that is allowed by religion and law, is a feature in Pakistani society. The real figures, believed to be higher, may never be known, but the government last year admitted on the floor of the National Assembly that there were 456 and 477 such cases reported in 2013 and 2014, respectively. As close family members commit these murders they are not reported. Only in one case has the state pursued the killings as murders.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) claims on the basis of the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey that 39 per cent of 15 to 49-year-old married women have been subjected to abuse by their spouse and one in ten has experienced violence during pregnancy. Due to social taboos more than half the women who experienced violence, kept it secret.

The societal bias against women, which was institutionalised during General Zia Ul-Haq’s regime (1977-88), has resulted in massive abuse against women.

Feeble attempts by Benazir and General Pervez Musharraf to undo such laws floundered against opposition from the ‘mullahs’. Many of these laws continue to deny women their constitutional rights to gender equality, raising legal and administrative barriers to their political and economic empowerment.

Pakistan’s successive governments have demonstrated little courage in standing up to the clergy who consider women ‘a commodity’ and vehemently oppose any progressive legislation. And any change that has been approved, the governments have been too lax in implementing them. Pakistani men, it seems, are not ready to give up male privilege.

One major reason why these oppressive attitudes and customs have persisted is the low level of education among women in Pakistan. According to the 2015 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index, Pakistani women spend only seven years in education compared to men who are marginally better with 8.5 years. With only 1.9 per cent of gross domestic product earmarked for education, women end up benefitting even less. Pakistan is meeting only nine of its 33 indicators on women’s empowerment for the Millennium Development Goals, says the UNDP report.

Educated urban women, from well-provided families, who, like Chinoy, should be drivers of change in Pakistan, have mostly chosen lives that are not resistant to societal norms. The premium on their education is not what they give back to society, but finding a good marriage match. There are few people like Chinoy bringing forth the plight of women who are suffering the strangulation of a culture often misrepresented in the name of religion.

Educating and empowering women can address many of Pakistan’s problems. While the ruling structure dithers, ‘determined women’ such as Chinoy, Yousufzai and others are the trailblazers in Pakistan and much of the developing world.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan airline ‘pilot sisters’ make cockpit history by flying Boeing 777 as Captain & Co-pilot #WomensEqualityDay

http://tribune.com.pk/story/1172631/pia-pilot-sisters-make-history-flying-boeing-plane-together/

Maryam Masood and Erum Masood made history on Tuesday as they flew the coveted Boeing-777 aircraft to several local and international destinations concurrently, Express News reported.

The two sisters flew the plane concurrently from Lahore to Karachi, Manchester, New York and London.


The duo was able to turn their dream into reality after the younger sister Irum recently got her license to travel along her elder sibling.

It is reportedly for the first time in the country’s, in fact South Asian history that two real sisters captained a plane such as the Boeing to operate several flights together.

However, Pakistani women have earned honours for the country in the airline chapter, earlier as well.

In November last year, 24-year-old Flying Officer of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Marium Mukhtar was martyred when her training aircraft crashed near Mianwali.

In 2006, seven women broke into one of the country’s most exclusive male clubs to graduate as fighter pilots — perhaps the most prestigious job in the powerful military and for six decades closed to them.

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