Naila Jamall is the founder and Principal of The Learning Tree, a co-educational school, which started in the year 2000 as a toddler program, and caters to children from preschool till Grade XI. A mainstream school, providing high quality education to its students, TLT also has an inclusive program that caters to the needs of students with differentiated learning styles and abilities, and integrates them as equal members of the society. Throughout her journey, Naila has endeavoured to remove barriers in education to provide fair opportunities for all. The Learning Tree is an authorised IB World School offering the Primary Years Programme, and a registered Cambridge Associate School offering the GCSEs and IGSCEs to all senior students. It coordinates with the British Council to provide access arrangements to students with varied learning styles in order to facilitate and accommodate their shortcomings; these arrangements include provision of extra time, reader, scribe, etc. Naila is a source of hope and inspiration for Pakistan.
Naila has chosen the following as her miracle women, a speech and language therapist, an airport services manager cum ballet teacher, a writer, a doctor and CEO of a NGO, a school administrator, an academic trainer, a disabilities and rehabilitation advisor, an educationist, a fashion designer running the label ‘dragon fly’ and a health sector planner.
She is a speech and language therapist
She is a college principal
She is optimism
Amina Siddiqi believes in equality between men and women not only in intellect but also in the perusal of dreams. In her opinion, it translates to men and women complementing each other rather than competing to be the same in every aspect.
She lives that philosophy everyday as she juggles the roles of a being a speech therapist, managing the ‘Ziauddin College of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences’ as principal, and being a mother of three. What keeps her going is the immense support she gets from her family. “I have a wonderful family who support me in everything I do. I have complete freedom of mind to pursue what I want to accomplish”, she says while adding that, “The one major challenge I do face is the lack of awareness about my profession. I have been in this field for twenty five years and though there is vast improvement now, people still need to be educated about speech and language therapy.”
She talks about how, in her field of work, one gets to experience small miracle moments on a regular basis. “There are so many moments in my life where I have dealt with a patient with severe speech impediments and that has made me thank God for who I and where I am.”
She recalls a time she had to choose between motherhood and work. Her pregnancy brought along complications that needed to be addressed and that put a stop to her work life. She does, however, feel that there is an ever present feeling of guilt that she experiences about not giving enough time to her children. But a supporting family and an outlook built on positivity has helped her calibrate her emotions.
Amina urges women to step forward in contribution to society. She ends by asserting “I think women must contribute whenever possible. It is not necessary to earn big or become a big name. It is, however, important to reach self-actualization by using your talents and abilities to their maximum.”
She is an Airport Services Manager
She is a ballet instructor
She is accommodating
Anita Contractor takes life as it comes and ensures that she is flexible enough to withstand all challenges thrown at her. Her job, which she has been excelling at for three decades, as an Airport Services manager for Emirates is an unorthodox one. Not only is the aviation industry predominantly male, the hours are long and unusual, and the security situation of Karachi only adds to the problems. Initially her family wasn’t comfortable with her working at an airport especially during the night shifts. But with the perseverance she has exhibited throughout her life, Anita convinced her family about how the importance of her career trumps the concerns about safety. “I am a proud mother of three daughters and very happily married,” she exclaims, “but it wasn’t easy to convince my family about my job. It took me time to explain to them that my career was important to me and this is the path I want to take.” Her message to women is that first they must be convinced of their own abilities and only then will they find solutions to squeeze through constraints and juggle the various roles they occupy.
Apart from her main job, Anita contributes to the wellbeing of Karachi by investing a lot of time in social work and by being one of the few ballet instructors for little girls in the city. She recalls the difficulties she had to face in the initial days of her motherhood because there was no trend of women bringing children to work. “Twenty one years ago there was no concept of taking a child to work in a public area. Feeding, and everything else, was a major struggle. Without the immense support of my parents and husband it would not have been possible.” At one point Anita also had to look after her ailing father after her mother passed away. “He was immobile. I wanted to be with him so I used to get to his house immediately after work.”
According to Anita, being an independent woman does not mean ignoring the male influence in her life. One needs to enrich one’s life by embracing an understanding of each other and supporting each other. “Remember that it is God who created both men and women. Without women you are nowhere as a man, and vice versa. Work with your place in the world.”
Anita’s miracle moment came when she got her promotion purely on merit. She recalled how fifteen years ago she was almost selected as the Airport Services Manager but was told that being a woman will be a hindrance in the role. And now, several years later, as she performs and excels at that same role, she is setting the bar and leading the struggle to shatter the glass ceiling that still exists in the aviation industry.
She is a writer
She is a dreamer
She is Dynamic
The very flamboyant Bina Shah is a writer and a columnist, with a number of books and novels under her belt. She writes op-ed columns for a variety of prestigious international and local newspapers, such as The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Guardian, The Huffington Post and DAWN. “I am very happy and the quintessential single woman. Single women also have their place in Pakistani society which I have spent quite a lot of time proving to people. It is very much the norm for women to get married and have a family from early on. That was never my path. I took the career path. My life is full of value, joy, learning opportunities and positive moments. I have never felt there is anything lacking in my life and I want other women to know that too,” proclaims Bina.
Being a writer is more challenging than most people believe. It is a profession for which one needs solace. Bina’s family gives her the space for creative thinking and when need be, drags her out of the house to allow her to have the positive social interactions that every human being needs for balance and stability. Bina also explains that “A lot of my work is online so I use a lot of social media and blogging and there can be a lot of harassment and negativity coming my way as a woman, as a writer, as someone with a voice and is somewhat of a public figure. That can be difficult to deal with.” However, she has over time learnt how to handle that pressure and believes that negativity is not something to be dissuaded by. “It is important for Pakistani women to be out there in the 21st century and become part of conversations. I feel I have a lot of practice in handling these things coming towards me so I feel pretty good about it now.” She adds.
Bina feels that it is a mere myth that only women depend on men. Men also depend on women hence the relationship between a man and a woman is that of interdependence. None of us is an island and it must be recognized that “we are all interdependent, we support each other, celebrate each other’s diversity, talents and gifts.” However, she is a firm believer of the fact that women must have their own money which they can spend as they please, or save it, without being answerable to anybody. Women make 52% of the Pakistani population and yet are treated as second class citizens. Therefore, much of her writing is focused on feminism, the need to prevent child marriage, domestic violence and laws to protect the rights of women. Bina takes this to be her mission and, through her writing, aims to contribute the much essential social change.
Bina’s inspiration to address the issues facing the women of Pakistan takes root in the general restrictions that a woman faces while growing up in this country which make her feel uncomfortable when she’s young and slowly picks up in intensity as she grows up. “You get told not to flaunt your body, to cover yourself and that you are responsible of the honour of the family. Women are suffocated under these restrictions. Growing up, my mother made me very aware of the injustices towards women. It was a gradual awareness. I went to a women’s college (Wellesley College). There I was made aware of the feminist movement. We are made to think it is anti Islam that it is Western. For me, Islam gives me certain rights as a woman and feminism is the vehicle by which I can fight to achieve them. So, for me, the two things go very well together. I am both a Muslim woman and a feminist.”
As far as her Miracle Moment is concerned, Bina says that she has two – “the day I graduated from Harvard with a Masters in Education and the more recent one is when I got an offer from The New York Times to write a monthly column” she says with tears in her eyes.
To maintain her physical health and keep herself academically charged, Bina ensures a good diet that involves the right fruits, vegetables, water as well as supplements. She also exercises and gets enough sleep. In addition to that, she believes that it is “important to think good thoughts and find a way to stay positive/optimistic – that shows on your skin. I am very particular about cleansing. I never go to sleep with makeup on.”
The Miracle Woman Bina Shah is an example of a person who is perceptive, sensitive and wants to give back to the country in every way possible. She does not plan be disappointed; she plans on dreaming big and winning. With dynamic women like Bina leading the wave of social change, Pakistan is sure to become a more tolerant and progressive society sooner than later.
Dr. Ruby Abbasi
She is a CEO
She is always smiling
She is grateful
“My youngest son Bilal fell victim to meningitis. As a doctor I had worked in PEADS and never seen a child survive from that condition but he did. However he became a patient of Cerebral Palsy and became wheelchair bound.” Dr Ruby Abbasi, delightfully warm and ever smiling, recalls the difficulties she and her family went through after Bilal’s birth. Along with her husband, an army officer, and elder daughter she moved to Karachi for her son’s sake. Cerebral Palsy, an outcome of damage to brain functions controlling physical movements, resulted in Bilal losing his speech as well and he could only communicate with his eyes. Ruby and her daughter were the only ones who could understand his eye communication. At first, it was extremely difficult for her and she felt she was on the brink of breaking down. But her family, especially her husband, mother, siblings, and elder children helped bring her back to stability. Ruby recalls how her husband, who had to be at work by 8am every morning, never left without feeding their son. “I’m extremely grateful to Allah for my life, for my health and for my family.”
Today Ruby is the founder and CEO of Al Umeed Rehabilitation Association (AURA) for children suffering from Cerebral Palsy. The NGO runs on donations, fundraisers, and sponsorships. “Al Umeed’s facility is all about the donors in Karachi and world over. They are all large hearted. Bless them,” Ruby says. Those who can afford it, pay one tenth of the Rs.15,000 spent on each child per month. The organization began in 1985 in a two room premises in PCHS. Bilal, along with two other children were the first patients. It has come a long way since then. Currently they are located in Gulistan-e-Johar and have 122 children including 43 street children. Working for the integration of able and differently abled children is Ruby’s passion. Over 2000 children have gone through her foundation.
With her relocation to Karachi, communication challenges with Bilal and the burdens of running an organization dependent on charity, there is no doubt that Ruby has had her fair share of hardships. But for her the biggest hurdle has been trying to change the mindset of people. She used to take Bilal everywhere on his wheelchair to make his life as normal as possible, but people would stand and stare. Even in Karachi she couldn’t find a place for children suffering from Cerebral Palsy. She had done a world renowned course from England and could have stayed home and worked with her son. But she decided that the best use of her knowledge and experience would be to open a centre that could not only give care to children but also work on awareness of this crippling disease. No carpenters or shops would make equipment suitable for CP patients and their location was a big issue but with the support of her family she cleared all hurdles. And then, 6 years ago, her husband passed away and she lost her biggest pillar of support. The rest of her family and her friends continue to be there for her.
Today, Al Umeed is Ruby’s miracle. The way it was made and where it is now is all miraculous. She attributes her success to God. “He wanted it to happen, so it happened. We had to go through turmoil because Allah wanted Al Umeed to be made.”
Ruby continues to radiate with love and warmth. “I love dancing, so I dance with my friends. I love laughing so I laugh with them. I was that person before and today, to a slightly lesser extent, I still am.” Bilal passed away when he was 32, yet his legacy continues to live on through his mother, inspiring us and helping more families and children every year.
She is a school administrator
She is a mother
She is patient
Huma identifies herself as a caring and patient person and that is evident within the first few minutes of talking to her. She states that her journey has been smooth despite starting her career when she had two pre-teen daughters and an ailing mother-in-law. Only a person with unlimited patience can make such a statement.
She believes that emotional independence means not projecting your negativity on others. “If I am in a bad mood then it’s important that I deal with my emotions myself so I can give out positive vibes to people around me.” She continues by stating that financial independence is equally important for women irrespective of how much someone else is earning in the household. “It gives you pride and makes you aware of your self-worth.”
Her message to young women is that they need to be true to themselves and believe in their talent. “Start wherever you are, do what you can, and use what you have and soon you will rule the world.” However, she advises that one must not overthink about gender equality because both men and women face their own set of challenges. The key to balance and stability in a home is that a woman understands her role and the husband his responsibilities. “When a husband is supportive and the wife patient, there is harmony at home automatically.”
Everyone has weak moments in their lives. Huma shares her own when her mother in law was not well, she often would want to quit her job, finding herself torn between work and home. However, Huma dealt with the situation with serenity and managed to emerge as a victor.
To ensure that her age is merely a number, Huma practices yoga regularly. In addition to that she moisturizes her skin as a daily routine. She is a perfect role model for young women who find having a career and managing a home difficult. She embodies how with a bit of love and care everything is possible.
She is an academic trainer
She is a mother
She is committed
Globetrotter Iffat Basrai has finally settled in Karachi after being away for 18 years and living in a total of 8 countries. She has moved many homes over this period and had 3 children in the process. Currently, she is working at the Karachi Grammar School as the Continued Professional Development convenor, which, in simpler terms, means a teachers’ trainer.
Although living abroad can be an adventure and can teach you various different skills, it comes with its challenges. The key is to look at the positives and to continue to learn from each experience life has to offer, just as Iffat has. “I’ve relocated a lot. It has taught me how to be resilient and self reliant. When you are globetrotting, you adjust very easily as you go and that has been my forte. It has added to my interpersonal skills as I am able to understand people a little better and can empathize more. It’s unsettling, physically draining and stressful. Children keep moving schools. You have to get the kitchen started; you have to get kids settled. However, children who move around blend easily and become citizens of the world. I try to look at life positively and wouldn’t change anything,” says Iffat.
Iffat believes that where it is good to have your own bank balance as a woman, it is not the road to freedom. The key to emotional stability is to foster good relationships. That gives a woman more security and whether or not she chooses to work is a matter of choice. “Women who work to support their families may have a different opinion but my husband has never made me feel that I need to work in order to enjoy myself. I have been fortunate that way. We have always had a joint bank account and a very balanced relationship,” proclaims Iffat. She adds that “People always say a woman should learn to put herself first but why isn’t the same said about a man? This must not be a gender specific suggestion; it should apply to men too. We all need ‘me’ time and I get mine after putting the kids to bed.” There have been times when Iffat has been absolutely shattered and barefooted, sorting out boxes and feeling tired while moving but she doesn’t view constant changes in her life as road blocks. Everything is precisely about give and take. “I have always received more than I have given,” she says.
The very positive and optimistic Iffat has had her fair share of weak moments too in terms of her career. “I used to work for Unilever and then subsequently moved to banking. Then I made a career change to teaching and I did that when I was working abroad. There were moments when I was made to feel that I need to change my style of teaching. In Pakistan, we are too used to didactic style of teaching. Yes, that was my moment of weakness because there came a point I didn’t know how to proceed forward, what sort of changes to make. But by talking to the right people and with some reflection, I was able to overcome it. I learnt how to be open, to get rid of my ego and deal with criticism positively. And that has allowed me to improve.”
As far as her Miracle Moment is concerned, Iffat believes it to be the time when she overcame her stage fright. “I was a very shy reader. I would never raise my hand whenever a teacher asked us to read. But, as a teacher, you have to be very well versed with public speaking. The first time I went on stage as a master of ceremony and was able to speak in front of so many people, that was my Miracle Moment,” recalls Iffat with pride.
Iffat Basrai’s journey is surely an inspiration for all those women who relocate from their native cities for the sake of their husband’s careers. She shows how, by not choosing to be a mere ‘trailing spouse’, a woman must strive to stay positive, rediscover herself as life turns its pages and not to lose her own identity for her husband and children. A woman can successfully fulfill all her duties as a mother and a wife without sacrificing but her roles should never hinder the greater need to be recognized and if she is determined enough, she can allow herself to blossom and bloom along the way.
She is a disabilities & rehabilitation advisor
She is a single mother
She is unrelenting
“Within seconds of the 2008 earthquake, more than 750 women and men got spinal cord injuries and were paralyzed. People with disabilities are mostly unheard and unseen in Pakistan, so working for them is a rewarding feeling. It has become my passion,” says Maryam Mallick, the Technical Advisor Disabilities & Rehabilitation at World Health Organization. After the earthquake, her first and foremost objective was to empower individuals with disabilities and with the support of the government, she has been able to achieve it. Maryam established a community based rehabilitation program in the earthquake-affected areas, which was the greatest government funded project in Pakistan for people with disabilities. Currently, her focus is on empowering the disabled women in southern Punjab by linking them to skill development and mainstreaming them in society. Other than that, she is a proud single mother of 2 brilliant and extraordinary children.
Maryam is a pioneer of establishing polio rehabilitation initiative in Pakistan, which happens to be the only country amongst all polio affected countries to have taken this initiative. She has also been to Afghanistan and Yemen for this purpose and initiated a similar process there. When she was told she would have to travel to Afghanistan, it was a difficult decision for her. She was worried about leaving behind her children and the security situation in Afghanistan was very tense. “My passion to work for children across the border overcame my fears and I did go.” Maryam’s work there not only involved meeting with government officials and NGOs in Kabul but also to gain the trust of local tribal leaders in other parts of Afghanistan, for whom a woman with a career was an alien concept. “I was in a room with almost 70 tribal Pathans. The health minister started my introduction in Pushto. He didn’t know I understood the language. He told them I’m his sister, and that I’m brave to have come all the way from Islamabad for our kids. They asked me to speak in English and I said no I’ll manage in Pushto. A lot of tension was there because in their society, women don’t come out of their homes. But as I started in their language, I could see the tension dissipating and eventually being replaced with smiles on their faces. I was very nervous and it was a difficult moment for me but I learnt how language can be so powerful in impacting others.”
“Challenges are always tough. But I think while being challenged is inevitable, being defeated is optional. It is all about how you react to those challenges.” While she did face the regular challenges of the workplace, she had the additional struggle of raising her children single handedly. “I wanted to instill a belief in them that they are not less than anyone else in the society,” she explains. She had to make sure they were strong, self-assured, and had self-respect. Managing that with a demanding career is no easy job and Maryam made them realize they should appreciate the sacrifices their mother made as single parent. It was difficult road but she managed with the help of her supportive parents.
Maryam’s father played the fatherly figure role in her children’s lives and when she lost him to cancer, she was shattered. “He was my role model, a military commando, won lots of gallantry awards. We were not expecting him to suffer from cancer. I handled the news of his illness with strength as I was sure he will get out of it. But finally when his doctors lost hope and gave me 3-6 months more, I was distraught. That’s when I felt defeated,” says Maryam. “We develop walls around ourselves especially at a time of suffering and pretend we are very strong. We need to surrender to moments of weakness and invite the love of others for comfort.”
According to Maryam, our professional institutional structure is gender biased so women have to prove themselves that they are not less than anyone in capability. Working women face constant struggle but if you have passion, it doesn’t seem like a struggle at all. Financial independence is very important for her and should be for every woman, regardless of her background. Whether you are single, married, divorced or separated, anything can happen to anyone and hence, a woman must be prepared for any sort of hardship. A perfectly set life can be subject to calamities and be dismantled in a matter of seconds. “Women who are able to stand up on their feet and support their family socially and emotionally are inspirational role models,” believes Maryam.
Being a mother, Maryam sees her miracles in her children and their achievements reflect the fruits of her sacrifices as a single mother. “My son is on a scholarship in Canada because he won the International Leaders of Tomorrow award. All scholarship students held the flags of their respective countries there and when he sent me his picture holding the flag of Pakistan; that was a very proud moment for me. It was because of my son that the flag of my country was raised in that university,” says Maryam with a twinkle of emotion in her eyes. “When my daughter graduated, she was announced the best head girl, sportswoman of the year and best delegate. That was a very happy moment for me too.” But there is no dearth of proud moments for Maryam in her career as well. When the government awarded her with the Fatimah Jinnah Award for outstanding work for people with disabilities, it was her professional Miracle Moment. Indeed the Miracle Journey of Maryam Mallick is truly inspirational and we hope to see more women following in her footsteps.
Razia Khan Jamali
She is an educationist
She is a mother
She is a hard worker
Razia Khan Jamali, the Vice Principal of the Primary Section at Bay View Academy, has been in the field of education for the past 23 years and for her “It’s been a long road but it’s been great.” She has her share of struggles in her profession but believes with the constant strive to learn, one can find solutions to all difficulties and ensure that schooling is meaningful for all students. “I have to keep pace with how children are learning and have to try to keep abreast of the latest methodology. School can be really difficult for a lot of children and it’s our job to make it accessible, fun and draw children into learning. That is a challenge. I have to ensure that the teachers are also kept engaged and motivated. I think when you go through difficult times you feel overwhelmed and you can’t see what lies ahead but I love that when you look back you actually see it brought you to where you need to be.” Razia explains.
Razia is very proud that she earns her own money and for her, financial independence is very important. This independence has allowed her to support her own family a lot through the years, and even after being married, her power to earn for herself gives her a sense of security. As far as emotional independence is concerned, she feels a woman is dependent on others for emotional security by nature. “We like to give a lot of love and affection to others so I don’t know if I can say I am emotionally independent. I need my husband, family, friends and colleagues for emotional stability.”
Miracle Woman, Razia, has a lot on her plate but she feels it is important that sometimes, a woman must put herself first. “I see this with a lot of my friends when they’ve got young kids, they feel totally lost because their day is all about being a good mum but I think in part of being a good mum or being a good woman you need to give time to yourself, take care of yourself and feel good about yourself. Only then can you take care of others. So, I pursue my interests just as going to watch a movie or just spend time with my family and friends. But I also need my work as that is a big part of who I am. That’s something I love doing for me.”
Razia feels strongly about gender inequality in Pakistan and says that it is tremendous. “Some of us may be fortunate enough to not experience it at its worst. It is the little things. On your ID card you have to be identified as somebody’s daughter or wife. You are not a person in your own right which I find a little strange. Those of us who are fortunate enough to travel abroad sense the difference the minute you are in another country. A woman has the freedom to walk anywhere, to do anything, we have certain constraints on us and definitely the majority of Pakistani women face tremendous inequality – sociologically, religious constraints, they are not allowed to live, dress or speak the way they want to. Somebody said to me, which really resonated with me, that when they had gone to Sri Lanka which is so close by, they saw women were completely free, they dressed how they want, they walked where they wanted to, they did whatever they want and he sensed that it was such a big difference compared to our country and for a man to notice that, I just feel that’s so true. We don’t have that freedom or comfort to be out and about,” proclaims Razia.
The beautiful and the very perceptive Razia has to say that “I have been an administrator for 7 years but for me the Miracle of my work was when I was a teacher. That for me is when I really made my connection with my students.” If we have administrators such as Razia at the helm of the education sector of Pakistan, we can surely see a better learning experience and a brighter future for all children going to school.
She is a fashion designer
She is a mother
She is emotional
“Act as if everything is rigged in your favour.”This quote by Rumi has been the guiding principle in life for the very talented Riffat Alliani. Trained as a painter and having a ten-year experience as a professional graphic designer, Riffat is currently running a fashion label with the name of Dragonfly. As a fashion designer and a mother of 3 children, she has her hands full for sure but with her passion, family support and a reliable team she can trust, Riffat combats the day to day challenges of life with panache. “I think as a mother the biggest challenge is time, to fit in the requirements of work and family.” However, Riffat made a decision from the outset that her family comes first so that she doesn’t have any regrets in that department. She carefully plans her day in a way that she is home during the hours her children need her most.
Riffat believes that on the one hand, financial independence is very empowering for a woman but on the other, it can also prove to be problematic. “Women have to deal with male egos,” she explains, “I have seen many marriages break up where the wife was more successful than the husband.” Therefore, it is her advice for women is to tread upon this path with caution. She also adds that “I am a traditionalist and I believe roles are clearly defined for a reason. If that is understood, we can have harmonious relationships. Having said that, I think times have changed and roles are evolving. It is becoming more important that both spouses contribute. It’s helpful and it’s a need due to times. Personally, I found my independence to have a positive impact on my marriage.” Emotionally, however, she says we all depend on each other for love, care and support and that being emotionally independent is not possible.
Riffat proclaims that she is a creative person and if not given an avenue to express her creativity, she would feel suppressed. She believes that the happiness of everyone around her rests on whether or not she as a person is content. Her own happiness will radiate love and care for her family. Therefore, every woman must be given the chance to pursue her passions for her mental and emotional wellbeing, whether or not that generates an income. In a way, working in a field that allows you to do something you love, makes you put yourself first, since you do it for your own benefit. She feels rewarded when her clients give their feedback on the outfits she designs for them. “They text me saying they got compliments when they wore my clothes. That makes me feel so good. I make people happy even if it is in a materialistic way.” Riffat says with a proud smile. For her, those texts are her Miracle Moments.
With a charming smile Riffat says, “Women can look really radiant and beautiful without surgery and makeup. It has to do with inner contentment, when you are inwardly gathered, it shows. When you see happy people, they look beautiful.” Hence, she does not rely on too many products or cosmetics to look as beautiful as she is. She admires women who accept their age with grace and trusts natural products more such as almond and coconut oil. She keeps her skin moisturized and practices yoga.
Faith and trust has gotten Riffat a long way. “There is benevolent design in the universe so if one has faith, success will follow,” proclaims Riffat. “Enjoy your work and don’t be attached to outcomes.” Her journey bears testament to the fact that if a woman masters the art of time-management, she can pursue her dreams and nurture a happy home environment simultaneously. When priorities are clearly defined, failure needn’t be worried about.
She is a health sector planner
She is a mother
She is a fighter
“My experience as a policy researcher has been in 3 areas – bringing my research to the table, training government ministries and technically assisting them.” Shehla Zaidi started off with a PhD in Health Policy and is now a health policy specialist. Her research is based on Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goals, Infant Mortality Rate, Maternal Mortality Rate, family planning and population growth. She uses her research to design policy responses from governments, NGOs and other development agencies. Shehla has had the opportunity to conduct various trainings not just in Pakistan but internationally as well and is currently the Director of Graduate Program in Health Policy and Management at AKUH.
According to Shehla, her life is a tango, one partner is her professional life, and the other is her family life. The challenge is to make them dance together with perfect harmony. Sometimes one steals the limelight, sometimes the other. It depends on the period of her life which is more dominant. Shehla feels she has always compromised more on her career, often pushed it to low key phases when her children needed her more. “I don’t deal with patients lined up every day, my field doesn’t involve emergencies, surgeries or clinics. So, luckily, I can schedule my work as per my family’s requirements.”
Shehla’s work is very impactful and very demanding at the same time. It’s mostly people-related, so she often has to travel to rural areas and international partner countries to create awareness about various issues and collecting feedback from people receiving healthcare. With this field work she has to determine where the blockages are and whether they exist due to governance failure or lack of funds. Garnering interest and getting genuine responses is another challenge since there’s mistrust involved: “people always think you’re there for something and that you want something from them. It’s often difficult to explain we are here to help design better systems. My area involves good medicines, interventions for childcare, child growth, and nutrition to name a few. Sometimes the immediate reaction from people is that they ask us to prescribe medicines! That’s simply because of their lack of access to proper clinics and doctors.” Dealing with government institutions sometimes poses a separate set of challenges. “Unless you find the right set of people, you have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy and systems are slow-moving,” explains Shehla.
Whether it is a man or a woman, Shehla believes in the financial independence of everyone because it gives you a sense of empowerment. However, emotional independence is harder to achieve. As social beings, at some level we all are dependent on each other. In fact Shehla herself unwinds by just hanging out with her close friends and family. She hopes her mother too will make friends with life and unwind. Sharing our highs and lows with others is the best way to take care of ourselves.
Shehla’s miracle moments have been small scale, small bubbles rather than one big thing. However the one thing she’s particularly proud of is presenting her PhD degree to her grandmother. She worked exceptionally hard for this degree while taking care of a baby. Her husband was in the media and they were living abroad. Overall, it wasn’t the ideal family situation at that time for her and it was the most challenging period of her life. “I thought I would end up getting divorced or something radical, but I pulled through, got my PhD degree home to Karachi and to my grandmother who brought me up.” Indeed, Shehla Zaidi’s Miracle journey is a motivation for all young women who fear juggling so many balls at one time.