A Woman Par Excellence
Sidra Iqbal is a renowned television personality who first came to limelight at the age of 15 when she won accolades for her public speaking skills. She then became a youth ambassador and represented the Pakistani youth on a number of international forums. Since then she has been a development activist, a brand consultant, a PR practitioner and a prominent TV anchorperson. Having such a successful professional career at a young age, she is now not just a youth icon, but an inspiration for women from all walks of life. Mag4you.com had a candid chat with Sidra, where she talked about women empowerment in Pakistan and her own inspiration in life. Excerpts:
Do you think that celebrating one day as women's day can really help us solve our problems?
Given this day and age, there are tens of things that need to be prioritised, so I would completely discard this whole debate about celebrating one single day. Every day is important, and every day you need to work towards the same aim, but there is no harm in celebrating one day where you want to commemorate and re-synergise for that cause.
What do you think are the problems that today's women face in a professional environment?
If you look at a country like Pakistan with such a huge population, the social fabric is such that the women are divided into various categories. The urban woman is very different from a rural woman and there are some common issues, such as the cases of domestic violence, the issues of empowerment and emancipation of having her free will. But if I was to point out a specific problem, it would have to be empowerment. A Pakistani woman needs to feel more empowered, and she needs to make her own decisions in life.
You have achieved success at such a young age, who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
Undoubtedly my mother! Everything that I am, everything that I will be is all because of my mother. If it wasn't for her I don't think I would've achieved anything. I thoroughly believe that on top of all that, a mother's lap is your first educational institute. If you get confidence from there, you can take on any challenge in life.
Are you satisfied with the representation of women in the parliament and do you think that they are doing enough welfare work for the benefit of women?
I think, when it comes to the whole concept of democracy, I may have rather radical views about it. Although, it is great that there is 33 percent representation of women in the parliament, what matters the most is the quality of leadership. As a citizen I am not necessarily satisfied with their quality of input, because where they may be present in numbers, they are following political agendas, which may not be their own, and which may not benefit the women in the country.
Do you think that it is the change in society and the evolution of the media because of which women's issues are being discussed more openly now, than before?
I think it's a futile discussion, because back then when people assumed themselves as feminists or women's rights activists, they would come out and demonstrate. Although, I don't see how that was more impactful, but at least there was a certain level of vigour in their activism; they would take out rallies and write in magazines and newspapers. But today our unfortunate reality is that social media activism is actually limiting activism to just 'liking' a page which is constructed for women's rights and we feel that we have done our bit. I think more needs to be done.
Does an end to feudalism mean an end to women's issues?
I think that's a different ballgame altogether, it is the balance of power and the gender role in a feudalistic society. Unfortunately, we have not had our land reforms, we have not had education and empowerment and employment opportunities penetrate our rural areas. So just ending the feudal system will not help. There has to be a complete parallel system working for these areas and empowering women. It is all about empowerment and there has to be empowerment in their expression, in their life choices-in anything and everything.
Woman is an agent of change… your comments on that?
Definitely! I believe in the age old adage that a woman is a woman's worst enemy too. There is no doubt that women can bring about change, but this change can be either positive or negative. To be an agent of positive change, women should begin from molding their own ideologies. When a woman in our society gets victimised, abused, or subjected to domestic violence, there is a very strong tendency in our society, specifically amongst women to victimise the victim. They would in turn, turn around and say, 'Oh it must have been her fault, she must have made herself vulnerable,' or in literal terms, 'she must have asked for it' so I feel this behaviour needs to change. We have been stigmatised and sabotaged for so long, that we continue to actually sabotage our own kind, without even realising it.
Do you think that today's female is more inclined towards education rather than pursuing a professional career?
I think when it comes to corporate circles, things are changing really fast. I see women progressing in leaps and bounds. When I look at the business schools, I am really proud to see that at least fifty percent of each class comprises of women, but on the other hand this does have a downside as well. For example 70 to 90 percent of a graduating class from a medical school comprises of women, and according to a recent study conducted by us for Dow University of Health Sciences, the total number of graduates they have produced in the last decade, 90 percent of them don't practice. Now we don't have a clue where these missing doctors are, either they have fled the country or they are practicing abroad. But it is estimated that most of them get married and then don't practice. I feel that whatever cause you commit yourself to, if you are going to pursue higher education, it is very important that you practice and come out in the working field because that is the only way to apply yourself. Your degree cannot be your safety net because the moment you graduate, your education starts becoming stale so in order to stay updated, you need to start working in the field. Only practice makes the man perfect.
A message that you would like to give to the women of Pakistan?
One of my favourite sayings by Oprah Winfrey is that you go through a lot of things in life, you get run down by challenges, and by failures, so one of the best revenge is that 'don't fret it, just go hit the gym and get thin' (laughs). On a more serious note, I feel life is not going to be very stable, you are going to have failures, you are going to have setbacks, but the most important thing is to continue believing that you can't change the direction of the winds, but you can adjust your sails to reach your destination.