High in the mountains of northern Pakistan, it seems that men do not serve the traditional, patriarchal role of ‘leading’ women, as in the rest of the country.
A manifestation of this culture can be seen in the development where women are now training to be guides for mountaineers and tourists. The Shimshal Mountaineering School in Hunza, which was set up in 2009, is training its first batch of women to become high altitude guides. This is certainly noteworthy, particularly for a country that is dominated by patriarchy, as most Pakistani women play a subservient role when it comes to household decisions. But the women of Hunza seem to have a brighter and more free-spirited future.
When it comes to women empowerment, Pakistan has its share of problems although the situation seems to be improving with time. However, there are extreme cases at both ends of the spectrum. There is the example of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as a woman in a position of leadership, but it is contrasted with women who face marginalisation, or even decimation, regularly at the hands of their male counterparts, such as Mukhtaran Mai and all of the young girls traded or murdered through medieval practices, such as vani and honour killings. We have examples of all sorts of extremes, but we need to instead, set the positive examples of women leadership as the norm for society.
The progressive work by the women of Hunza should serve as an inspiration to Pakistani women in other areas. Unfortunately, when it comes to women empowerment and speaking out for women’s justice, it often seems that the international community is more vocal than Pakistanis. Nonetheless, the Hunza guides are a beacon of hope and should be celebrated by everyone in the country. The major concern now is that these courageous women remain protected from the misogyny of those who deem it improper for women to come out of their homes and play a leading role in shaping our society.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2014.