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TEDxIslamabad commemorates Pakistani women breaking barriers

TEDxIslamabad commemorates Pakistani women breaking barriers

ISLAMABAD: Some 300 people from various cities came together at the TEDxIslamabad: Breaking Barriers event to listen to speakers from Swat, Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Dubai.

Organiser Saad Hamid said the event began as a simple idea: he was talking to his wife about the kind of world they would want to create for their daughter. “I replied to that saying that I would like to have a world where there are no barriers. In Pakistan, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has been able to break barriers by winning an Oscar, not once but twice. It’s not a matter of winning Oscars it is trying to break those barriers and doing something amazing for Pakistan.”

Going on to mention some of the incredible women who are no longer with us, he said: “The first being Shayan Poppy Afzal, the founder of Kuch Khaas. When I met her and I told her that I wanted to do the first TEDx event in Islamabad, she said, ‘just come and do it’ and that is how it happened.

The second is Sabeen Mahmud who really left a mark in terms of the ideas that she had and shared. Then, Huma Choudhary, whom I didn’t know personally, but she was an amazing soul who understood how culture needs to be presented through her stories. These three women have really left a mark and I think they were the forerunners of breaking barriers.”

Around 70pc of the audience were women, by design. Mr Hamid said: “Everyone here is doing something phenomenal... You’re journalists, you’re artists, you’re engineers, you’re problem solvers, you’re musicians, you’re students, you’re photographers, you’re everyone, and that’s the beauty of it.”

TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. The TEDxIslamabad event was designed to allow sufficient time for networking, sharing moments, experiences and ideas on social media and learn from the collective genius in Pakistan.

Hadiqa Bashir, a 14-year-old from Swat, said: “Momentous moments redefine how you think. My childhood friend was married off into a family which forbade her from studying and a husband who beat her with electric wires. Then my grandmother tried to get me married off.

“My father, who had always quoted poetry about realising your potential, agreed with her. With the support of my uncle I managed to convince them to let me study and become something. Then I discovered that in my community there was a child bride who had her nose cut off, another whose husband chopped her leg off. I decided to become a voice for all of those girls who didn’t have a voice. I went house to house speaking against child marriages, asked religious leaders to speak against child marriages.”

She added: “I have received an international award for my work, but all awards are an opportunity to take my message to all of Pakistan and the world. One human being with conviction can bring real change.”

Another speaker, Mahnoor Jamal, an artist from Peshawar, said: “The size of your city can never define the size of your dreams. There’s nothing scarier than self-expression and I have always feared being judged. Interestingly, what people notice about me first and what defines me the least, is my choice to wear the niqab.

“It seemed a natural choice given my culture but to people it seems contradictory to paint portraits but cover my own face, but I am not a niqabi artist but an artist who wears a niqab. All my seeming contradictions arise because of society’s limitations and perceptions, not my self.”

Discussing the event, ForiMazdoori CEO Dr Musstanser Tinauli, spoke about recognising and appreciating inspirational stories. “Every speaker presented a distinct insight into a cultural norm that either they had broken to become what they accomplished or what they would like the society to break.”

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2016

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