Continuing our series on this year’s Pond’s Miracle Women, we introduce the miracle women chosen by Pond’s Miracle Mentor Saba Hamid. One of the most recognisable faces in our entertainment industry, Saba Hamid began her career as an actor on Pakistan Television nearly three decades ago. Since then, her diverse and nuanced acting talent has led her to work for numerous television channels in classic productions such as Family Front and recent hits like Dolly Ki Ayegi Barat. Her versatility has also led her to work in theatre and she has proven herself to be a natural in both comedic performances as well as serious dramas.
Respected and loved in the industry for her professionalism and talent, Saba is also a dedicated mother. Her two children with husband Waseem Abbas, also an actor and director, have grown up to become artists in their own right with successful careers in music and acting.
Saba has chosen a set of extraordinary women for this year’s Pond’s Mircacle Journey including businesswomen, educationalists and designers. These are their stories…
Executive Director at Olomopolo Media
Kanwal Khoosat left a thriving career in television production and dedicated herself to an old dream — theatre. ‘I’m a visual communications designer from NCA and after graduating I started directing and writing for our own production house with my father and brother,’ she says. ‘But after eight years of getting bored of market standards and compliances, I switched my medium from television to theatre which had been my passion at college.’
This took a lot of courage as Kanwal was highly successful in television and theatre is still an uncertain territory in Pakistan. ‘Catering to niche audiences and addressing culture and social interest issues was something that was missing from our city. It was a tough decision,’ but someone had to do it. Decisive and quick-witted Kanwal made the jump and today runs her own show at Olomopolo Media. Director, writer, teacher and now an entrepreneur as well, Kanwal’s first love remains acting. However as first loves go, hers too remains unrequited.
‘The bias and prejudice began at home. We are a family of artists yet when I expressed my passion for acting I was strongly snubbed because of the perception it has in society. I was discouraged from it in front of the camera though encouraged behind it. That’s why I got into directing and story telling.’ She turned this into a positive experience and instead of letting it drag her down, she rose to the challenge of finding an alternate medium for her creative outlet.
Kanwal Khoosat’s miracle journey shows that it is ok to follow your dreams, and in her case, it’s more than ok. Her grit, determination and absolute passion are sure to inspire many other dreamers to carve their own path and reach for the sky.
Assistant Professor at Lahore School of Economics
Wagner said that imagination creates reality and inspirational teacher Mira Hashmi’s motivates her students to do just that. A favourite at Lahore School of Economics where she teaches film studies, Mira has inspired many of her students to take up acting, directing, or just generally explore cinema with a passion and seriousness they did not know before. These she considers her miracles. ‘Anytime that I’m able to inspire students is a miracle,’ she says. ‘No better joyousness than to know you have made a positive difference in someone’s life.’
A multi-talented personality, Mira describes herself as, ‘A writer, trained film maker, trying to become a practicing film maker, but my number one position remains that of a mother.’
About striking a balance between her two starring roles, Mira says, ‘It takes a lot of effort and patience to try and strike a balance between family and profession. There is no perfect balance but that’s ok because I think perfection is boring! It’s great when you get the balance right and a learning experience when you don’t.‘
Working mothers have to make choices all the time. Sometimes the choice is between your children or work and those are the ones which Mira feels are the toughest. ‘At such times you have to make a quick choice. Usually kids win but I try to make sure it’s not at the expense of my work. For my students are also my responsibility just like my children.’
Mira finds her emotional strength and will from that of her mother and grandmother’s strong work ethics. ‘My mother and grandmother were both working women in very adverse circumstances. They led by example. I’ve seen my mother working very hard all her life, in fact one could call her workaholic. But at the same time she had a great relationship with her kids. She was absent a lot but not at the expense of her children. I really don’t know how she did it.’
We don’t know how Mira does it either. Her miracle journey shows that if you want to make your dreams come true all you have to do is free your imagination while staying true to your principles and core values.
Federal Inspector of Drugs
Beautiful and charming Muneeza Khan gives new meaning to the expression beauty with brains. A dignified drugs inspector and a mother of two, Muneeza’s soft demeanour hides a tough interior. A pharmacist by training and an inspector by profession, Muneeza belongs to a conservative Pathan family where traditionally women were not allowed an education let alone careers. Yet Muneeza’s father encouraged her to study further and instilled in her a dream to become a dignified government officer one day.
However marriage and motherhood brought its own set of challenges. Muneeza married into a conservative family where working-women were discouraged. Regardless, as she puts it, ‘where there is a will there is a way.’ Her dedication brought about a change of heart and in the end it was her father-in-law who encouraged her to apply.
‘Today I feel blessed,’ she says. ‘When I got married I was just a graduate with no future career in sight. But I knew in my heart I could do more and when you have that self belief no one can stop you.’
Muneeza suffered harassment, difficulties and hardships in her line of work but she persevered through sheer self-confidence and will power. Balancing home-life was not easy with a career as demanding and stressful as hers yet she ploughed through with the support of her husband whom she considers her best champion.
Muneeza’s miracle journey is a lesson to all those struggling women out there harbouring ambitions buried deep but not forgotten. As she says, ‘If you cannot fly you should run, if you can’t run you should walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, whatever you do just keep moving forward.’ For that is what success is all about!
Designer and Owner of Nazli Akbar
Designer Nazli Akbar’s miracle journey shows that there is beauty in the pursuit of passion. Gifted with a great aesthetic sense, Nazli always knew she wanted to do something creative. She wanted a world that would give her a chance to experiment with colours and textures, a passion she cherished since an early age.
‘I’m a fashion designer and mother of three,’ she says. ‘I have a love for beautiful clothes and fine embroidery and I find it very exciting to be able to produce something that others can wear.’ Her enthusiasm is infectious even though balancing business with family life hasn’t always been easy for her.
‘Nothing in life is easy but I’m an organised person so I manage to juggle both. A good support system is essential and for me, my kids are my biggest supporters.’ Eighteen years on, Nazli feels it’s been a, ‘a slow but steady journey.’
‘I started very small but have grown over the years. I used to work from home. Now I have a small store.’ Nazli’s steady rise to fame is inspirational and her design philosophy of simplicity even more encouraging for those who want to stay true to their principles. ‘I like to design clothes that do not overpower the wearer. I’m not trying to make a statement.’
Few have the courage to stand up for their beliefs in the cut throat world of fashion where innovation and shock value often go hand and hand. But for Nazli, it’s all about elegance. She remains true to her principles, unyielding to trends and making her own mark quietly.
Business Domain Manager for Karachi at Habib Bank Limited
Ace banker Qamar Motiwala believes in taking 100% responsibility for the life and career she has created by staying true to her priorities and infusing her personal values into her profession. Qamar’s miracle journey started 20 years ago when she boldly made the decision to enter an industry, which at the time, was mostly male-dominated. ‘I never thought I’d come into the service industry,’Qamar says. Today she is the vice president of a leading bank. However, the journey has been far from easy.
Hailing from a traditional family, Qamar initially found being thrust into a world of men very challenging. ‘Coming from a conservative family, I had no experience of handling men.’ Far from being daunted, Qamar took on the challenge and today advises other aspiring females colleagues to do the same. ‘These days the banking industry has become very diverse. Lots of women are coming in now but that fear of handling men is still there. My advice is that always draw a line, professionally and ethically. Also stand up to men. Men tend to dominate by nature. If women believe that someone is in the wrong they should have the courage to take a stand.’ Otherwise, Qamar warns, they will get stepped on.
She has learned this the hard way for Qamar recalls how, when she became pregnant, she left a promising career in banking only to be divorced soon after her daughter was born. Qamar once again displayed amazing courage when she went out in the job market, knowing that once you got off the career ladder it was twice as difficult to get back on. ‘To regain the 7 year position I was at before leaving took a long time. I had to start over.’
And that is not the only struggle she faced. One challenge she faces daily is that of motherhood, which is hardly compatible with the life of a busy banker. ‘Banking has a start time but no end time. Sometimes I don’t see my daughter the whole day. Every day is a choice. At the moment, she is going through some health problems and needs me more. Luckily my boss is a female so she understands.’ Which is why it is so important to have women in leadership roles, she feels.
‘Nowadays corporations are giving equal opportunities but men still believe that women can’t work as hard as men. Females can rise to a certain level before they hit the glass ceiling. Most of the CEOs of the big corporations are men. They still don’t trust women at that level. To get to upper level of management, the hours and the kind of networking required is something most women would not like to do.’
Her advice to aspiring females is to stay strong. ‘If you are not emotionally strong, people don’t take you seriously. You can’t break down in a professional environment. Men can do that but if women do that they are labelled as being temperamental.’ She is a strong advocate of female empowerment and encourages women to be ambitious. With miracle women like Qamar in the lead, it won’t be surprising if more and more women are inspired to define success on their own terms.
Manager of Corporate Communications at United Energy Pakistan
Sabeen Jatoi’s miracle journey shows that women can turn their dreams into reality by taking charge of their destinies. All they need is determination, commitment, and a guilt-free focus. Originally from Dadu, Sabeen Jatoi grew up in Karachi then went abroad to study law. ‘My family was not very keen to send me abroad to study literature. The only way I was allowed to go was to study something professional. Law seemed like the natural choice.’
Unfortunately the tragic murder of her father brought Sabeen back within a year. She continued her interest in law, joining Zia Awan and working for human rights. ‘I worked in women’s jails, on children in captivity and on all kinds of human rights cases,’ she says, ‘then I began working as a journalist until finally I went back to complete my education.’
After graduation, Sabeen continued working through marriage and motherhood in the field of corporate communications. A mother of two, Sabeen is a living example of a working mother juggling many balls in the air. The stress that comes with it is not easy. ‘I have two children under five and at times it can get very stressful. But I want my children to grow up accepting that it’s normal for women to work. When women are independent they have more options. It gives them courage. It’s liberating, empowering. Whether it’s paid or voluntary work, it’s very important for women to work; to combat that negative pulling back of women who step out. Working women are important role models for others.’
She feels passionately about the need for financial and emotional independence for women, something she thinks is often discouraged in our society. ‘If you think about it,’ she says, ‘The Holy Prophet’s wife, Hazrat Khadija was a businesswoman. She was confident and took initiative. She is an excellent role model for us.’ Sabeen’s spirit, her enthusiasm for life and her unflagging energy is inspiring. With working mums like her taking the lead, change is soon to follow.
Owner of SRS Interior Architectural Design
Owner of a successful interiors company, Sabeen Shiraz is one lady who means business. A graduate of IVS, Sabeen moved to New York after graduation. There she found that her real passion was to be out there exploring her creative instincts rather than being tied to a desk. She started working for an interior design firm and did a celebrity’s house which was featured in an international magazine, bringing Sabeen’s talents to fore.
After marriage, Sabeen moved back to Pakistan and started her own business, no easy feat by any means. ‘If you’re working for someone, at least at the end of the day you can switch off,’ she says, ‘but if it’s your own business there is never any time off. Even in my sleep I’m thinking about work.’ She also rues the unprofessionalism that owners have to face in the business. ‘There is no respect for time, professionalism or meeting deadlines. I am where I am because of professionalism and punctuality.’ Something she feels she learnt working abroad. ‘People appreciate it when you are on time but unfortunately don’t follow it.’
Being an entrepreneur is a full time commitment and for working mothers especially, the juggling can get difficult. ‘You need to know what you are getting into,’ she advises. ‘Have the full support of your husband otherwise it can lead to conflict, and if you have children then definitely get the support of your family and all the help you can get. It’s hard for a working mother anywhere in the world. Perhaps we have it easier in Pakistan because you have support system.’
Stay-at-home mums don’t have it any easier and Sabeen talks about the importance of me-time. ‘It’s important for every woman to take out time for herself.’ Being a designer, aesthetics are important and as she says, ‘If you feel good, you look good.’ Personally, Sabeen is fond of Pond’s facewash for keeping her skin fresh.
Passionate, determined and committed to turning her ideas into reality, building a successful business and living the life of her dreams, Sabeen’s miracle journey is sure to motivate others to do the same.
C.O.O at Sana Safinaz
With a face that could launch a thousand ships, miracle woman Sadaf Jalil is a rare combination of beauty, personality and intellect. But what really stands out about her is an aura of contentment. With a degree in International Relations, a successful modeling career, involvement in the Sana Safinaz clothing line and two young children, Sadaf has her hands full. But that doesn’t stop her from trying out everything that life has to offer.
Perhaps it is her welcoming nature or just a zest for life, but Sadaf feels things just happen to her. She had just come back from studying abroad when the failure of a model to show up for a clothes shoot launched her into the limelight. ‘The clothing business, too, just happened to me,’ she says. ‘My educational background was in international relations as I was a history buff. I really wanted to take it forward and I even interviewed at a few UN agencies but they required you to go back for a Masters which never happened as my life changed course. I was taking some time off after my undergraduate, just trying to figure out what to do next, when my cousin Sana told me to get off the sofa and get involved in the business.’ And Sadaf has been there ever since.
‘It’s been a lucky journey,’ she says. ‘Everyone works together as a family. If you can’t make it, there is always someone willing to cover for you. We always choose to work half a day because we want to be there for our families. This way we feel we have accomplished something yet we are there when the kids get back from school. It works out great.’ Sadaf’s charming smile and happy confidence shows that life doesn’t have to be a tough journey; happiness begets happiness!
Owner of Charcoal Homes
Saira Chapra carried a dream with her for many years: to be a part of a creative life, specialising in interiors. Although her vocational training was in a different field, she pursued her dream of creating beautiful homes by starting her own business ‘Charcoal,’ a leading furniture store known for its trendy designs and quality of workmanship. ‘I don’t have a degree in interior design,’ she says, ‘My degree is in retail merchandising but I’ve always been very interested in beautiful homes and interiors. I worked with Naheed Mashuqullah initially and really enjoyed it. Gradually my passion turned into my profession.’
Saira feels that her journey has been a relatively easy one because her passion is her profession. ‘I feel fortunate that I wake up everyday and get to do what I love.’ Although there have been challenges in her life which required great decisiveness such as expanding her business, she feels blessed to be doing what she loves best. ‘I started out on a very small scale, then made the choice to expand. That was a decisive moment in my life. It took a lot of courage to make the leap.’
Even her own mother, who has been her greatest supporter, was apprehensive about her making such a big decision. ‘My mother has been very supportive in terms of looking after kids when I went to work for a few hours but was apprehensive about me setting up my own business. She worried whether I would be able to manage. But once I did it, she was very supportive. Luckily my store is very close to my house so commute time is also less.’
A mother of two, Saira balances her life by working during the hours her kids are at school. ‘I work in the morning when they are at school, and go to the store late afternoon when they are at their extra curricular activities.’
Somehow she also manages to take time out for herself for. As she puts it, ‘Age management is very important. Especially past forty, you must take out time between work and kids to exercise a little, and eat healthy.’ That, for her, is the secret to ageing gracefully.
A dedicated mother and an aspiring career woman, Saira feels her secret is her persevering nature. ‘I’m very persistent,’ she says, ‘If I want something done, I get it done. I don’t give up easily.’ A role model for other working mothers, and an inspirational entrepreneur, Saira leads by example.
CEO & Founder of the Environment Protection Fund (TEPF) & the Pink Rickshaw Initiative
Aung San Suu Kyi’s words regarding how you should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right best describe miracle woman Zar Aslam’s inspirational journey. Some years ago, she started a non-profit environment protection organisation which led her to a new initiative that promises to change the lives of women in Lahore, making them more mobile and independent. ‘
We launched an initiative to empower women called Putting Women In The Driving Seat and that’s how the Pink Rickshaw initiative came about,’ she says. Through the Pink Rickshaw initiative, Zar and her team train women to become entrepreneurs and operators of rickshaws, teaching them to drive, arranging their licences and all other necessary paperwork. ‘It takes a lot for these women to come out and become rickshaw drivers because, culturally and socially, it is not something that is associated in the public space for women. We hardly see women on the streets let alone driving rickshaws. But these women are determined to break these barriers and change their lives. To me that is true empowerment.’
Zar has many stories where women have sought her out to take back the reigns of their life. And for this she is grateful because she firmly believes in the importance of financial and emotional independence of women. ‘It is the birthright of men to be financially independent, so why should it be any different for women?’ But that is not her only initiative. She also runs environment protection projects for school-going children, which not only increases their environmental awareness but also makes them more tolerant beings.
‘Every corner that you turn, whether in Lahore or in the mountains, there is a mini landfill; there is no concept of disposing your trash. I saw little kids jumping in the trash, picking out the recyclables and that’s when I decided we have to do something. No human being deserves that. I knew I had to get children out of that mess – that’s why I launched this initiative.’
Zar is determined to change mindsets and bring about a more harmonious attitude to society. ‘Through these green environment projects we also teach tolerance by celebrating different festivals. By the end of six to eight weeks these kids have turned into different, more tolerant human beings – much more respectful of each other.’
Her courageous thinking is commendable and her drive enviable. As she puts it, ‘I believe whatever you learn from your last foray brings value to whatever you do next. Every problem is solvable. Rather than worrying about it just do what you can. No point taking your worries to bed!’ With women like Zar leading the way, Pakistani women have much to look forward to.