Women’s Leadership Conference 2007
Sunday – June 17 – the Marriott Hotel Karachi – the theme of the conference was “Women with no limits …” a theme that unfortunately generated more winks and grins than was the intent of whoever thought this theme up.
The conference was divided into several panels:
Successful Women Entrepreneurs
Registration was scheduled from 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. with the conference starting at 10:15. Of course this did not happen. It actually started at 11:40 a.m. because, as is usual in this country, only a few of us got there on time. Strangely it was the speakers who were there on time – perhaps that is why they are successful. When will we as a nation learn to value time I wonder? The number of events that start late because the Chief Guest, the delegates or the organizers are not on time, amazes and depresses me.
The success of the Asian Tigers is to a large extent due to hard work and punctuality. Valuing other people’s time is an indication of respect. I lose it whenever someone says “but this is Pakistan” as if that makes it alright.
Anyway, once the conference began, I was totally engaged. Most of the speakers were absolutely brilliant and the Q&A sessions brought the event to life. It is difficult to put down what everyone said but some of the key issues that were discussed were:
Micro-Finance: The interest charged is 18 – 22%. Is this supposed to assist women with small businesses or penalize them? This came through in the Q&A. I also brought up the fact that for some reason financial institutions and government were of the opinion that women only needed micro-finance (i.e. between 30K – 100K) to start businesses. What about those of us who wanted to start an SME operation and not a cottage industry? This amount was nowhere near enough. Shehla Akram Javed, Chairperson of the FPCCI Committee on Women Entrepreneurship, brought up the question of collateral-free loans for women. She said the Bank of Punjab was offering them so why couldn’t banks in Sindh be persuaded to do so well – especially the Women’s Bank and NBP. She said this was especially necessary unless the government was going to do something about addressing the women’s right to inherit property.
Role of Women in Media: Seema Tahir of TVOne, Mehreen Meher, City Editor of Daily Times and a lady who used to work for BBC for many years were amongst the panelists. Some of the barriers and challenges were discussed as were the opportunities. However, through Q&A it was highlighted that women needed to play a more pro-active role in ensuring that advertisements and programming did not present stereotypes and further propagate cultural norms that hurt the integration of women into society.
Women’s Rights: Justice Majida Rizvi in her talk pointed out articles in the constitution that ensure equal rights for the women of Pakistan. She also quoted from the Quran and said that certain politicians were interpreting the Quran and Hadith incorrectly to refrain from giving women their just rights. Her co-panelists were Kashmala Tariq and Farooq Sattar who emphasized the contributions of this government in terms of amendments to the Hudood Ordinance and the Women’s Protection Bill as well as the 33% reprsentation in Parliament for women.
Kashmala is a very good speaker and did bring out some of the problems with existing laws. I don’t know her personally but I would like to believe that she is sincere in her efforts to help change the status quo for women in this country and get for them the rights they deserve.
However, I think I did not make myself very popular with at least two people on the panel when I asked if they didn’t think that further work needed to be done by government to ensure that a large number of the women in parliament were not merely puppets of political parties and politicians.
I spoke about Careers for Women in IT – mentioned some of the success stories, the barriers and challenges that existed and what could be done to overcome them.
Overall I enjoyed the conference and thought that it brought out a lot of important issues. My only regret was that there weren’t enough younger women in the audience. Registration charges were Rs. 2,500 but when I asked the organizers why there weren’t more young girls from the colleges and universities taking part, they said they had asked the universities to send their students and that the registration fee would be waived. I hope that is true. If it is, then I am surprised that there weren’t more of them.
Of course the turnout increased in the pre-lunch and pre-dinner segments <sigh> … will we never get our priorities right?
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