Capability - The ability or power to do something, that something could be as easy as washing the dishes or as difficult as understanding quantum physics. Either way whether it be the developed or developing world a stereotypical stigma is attached to women; that they are quote “incapable” of understanding let alone mastering the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M).
Thus, it should come as no surprise that when women in our nation choose such fields to specialize in it is followed by condemnation or worse, taken as a joke. However, the question arises is this truly the case throughout Pakistan? It is this burning question that has resulted in me writing an article about the development of STEM in Pakistan. With 2015 fast approaching its end and the New Year near to kicking off, by the looks of things, it seems the women of Pakistan have made a commitment to evolve, grow and develop in the fields of STEM.
Unsurprisingly, while conducting my research I found that when it comes to STEM in Pakistan most articles, online or otherwise, have had no moral difficulty in portraying a ruthlessly negative and grim image of STEM in Pakistan. Take the article by "The Nation" it talks about how a typical “fixed mind-set” exists and then gives a mediocre solution as to how to overcome this problem.
From my own personal experience as a Pakistani woman, majoring in International Relations and Politics (another, unconventional subject) let me state quite categorically that our nation does not have a “fixed- mind-set” when it comes to women in STEM and if anything the year 2015 proves that the future of STEM for women is a bright one.
For example, the number of women in the field of technology and engineering is increasing in Pakistan; one such example is Novaira Masood a graduate from FAST- NU in software engineering who designed and engineered Maleficent wings in the Disney film “Maleficent” and blockbuster films such as “Thor”,” Transformers 3” and several others.
It may also be surprising to know that Pakistan actually has numerous on-going STEM career projects. The aim of hosting these contests/projects is to encourage, inspire, and give our youth hope to not only pursue careers in STEM; but more importantly to do so in a manner which fuels their passion. Contests such as NSTC (National Science Talent Contest) and NEC (National Engineering Competition) do exactly that.
There is comfort in knowing that in 2015, STEM related initiatives targeted young girls encouraging them to explore and expand their talents especially, in the field of mathematics and sciences. One totally out of the box idea launched by Robokids is based in Lahore. This program has the potential to completely change the educational curriculum of most schools and is a living inspiration that with the right ideology, noble intentions and commitment anything is possible.
On a governmental level HEC and PIEAS have also formed a STEM program; funds through this joint venture have resulted in 3 students wining two bronze medals and one honourable mention at the 23rd IBO (International Biology Olympiad) hosted in Singapore. Out of the three students, one was female. It is wonderful to know that such ventures exist. Here the phrase ‘better late than never’ applies. As one can argue that Pakistan is a patriarchal society, where men will always have opportunities to excel in various fields - especially STEM. It is about time women start to do so as well, only then can Pakistan achieve its true potential and succeed.
Recently, all taboos were dismantled at the IEEE-WIE CIIT debating competition, which was held in Lahore. Not only did women boldly voice their thoughts and opinions on whether they should be in engineering and technical fields but also thanks to the winds of change they were given a formal platform to do so! This unique wave of change flies in the face of the status quo and the ill-informed notion that Pakistan is incapable of empowering women in the field of STEM.
Although the year 2015 has taken a stepping stone towards change there is still a long way to go. A lot of research needs to be conducted to establish proper quantifiable and valid data in order to attain a true picture of how dire the situation of women in Pakistan in relation to STEM actually is. This opportunity is currently being provided by the British Council. The council is launching its third strand of women and girls empowerment strategy, with the aim of building the skills and confidence of women and girls alike to achieve their full potential.
As the saying goes “where there is a will, there is a way.”
Women are breaking stereotypes in Pakistan and though realistically it may seem minute in comparison to the developed world at large. What our readers need to understand is that Pakistan stands at 180th in literacy at world level with only a 58.7 % female adult literacy rate in comparison to males. Hence, our nation’s issue of education and women in STEM are both being simultaneously tackled. Pessimists may see it as a baby step but in actuality it is a revolution of the mind that is currently being fought and 2016 is bound to show even more quantitative results, as the path for female future generations is being carved for us to excel in the field of STEM; the initiation of which has already begun.
Vivacious. And making waves.