So, why not in Pakistan? There is the inevitable question of whether our society is ‘ready’ for it or not. As far as I have observed, the educated elite has always been appreciative of measures aimed at women’s independence and empowerment. But of course, the educated elite cannot be taken as an accurate representation of the majority of the population, so let’s look at the villages. And there, as opposed to the picture painted by your fifth grade Urdu textbook, you see women working in the heat of fields as well as brick-kilns and even as road-side vendors. The word ‘mazdoor’ has no gender in these places. It’s mainly in the urban middle-class and in feudal systems where men feel this need to assert their masculinity and subdue women in face of the ‘corrupting influences’ of modernity. Unfortunately, the number of people with the regressive mind-set that needs to be challenged is huge. The challenge to these regressive forces, therefore, has to be well-organized, government-enforced and focus on changes within Pakistan’s technical education system.
The government could establish vocational training institutes where women along with men are especially educated to work as mechanics, electricians, rescue workers, plumbers etc. Such a place would actually be an excellent respite for the poor who cannot afford to pursue academics but definitely want to learn a skill that could earn them money and run their households. Moreover, the notion of being formally trained or educated would add to the self-esteem these women (and men); and in general this may be a step towards giving the blue-collar workers the respect that they deserve in our society. Also, the presence of female industrial workers could actually take us a long way establishing ourselves a progressive society, by forcing people to change their attitudes. And who knows, the enhanced work-force could even be an incentive for the government to move towards developing indigenous technology and cut down on our habit of importing every little pin that the country needs.
My views may sound very idealistic and since I’ve never studied economics or sociology, the views may even be flawed at more places than one. But one thing I’m sure of is that inducting a few female pilots, paratroopers and traffic wardens in this country’s elite institutions while good, is not enough. Women empowerment in the poor working-class still needs to see the light of the day. Change - in order to carry any meaning at all – must seep into the masses.