ISLAMABAD - Almost all the women were seen with their hands raised when a hall packed with young boys and girls was asked about facing any unwelcomed remarks at a marketplace or sexism in lifetime.

All women have the responsibility to push back such deeply embedded behaviours and should not endure them silently as silence encourages such practices, asserted Jamshed M Kazi, Country Representative UN Women Pakistan, seeing almost 90 percent of women accepting the fact of facing discrimination for being girls.  

“Women must get united to fight and should start it from their own homes to educate their children, brothers and fathers and raise awareness against prescribed social roles and gender stereotypes. Men will only change and respect women if you ask them to do so.”

Kazi was speaking to students at a conference that gave an opportunity to students from different universities to showcase their presentations on different topics related to women empowerment in all aspects of society.

The British High Commission organized the conference in support of HeForShe UN Women solidarity movement for gender equality to mark International Women’s Day 2015 falling on March 8.

HeForShe is a movement for gender equality developed by UN Women to engage men and boys as advocates and agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights. The campaign encourages them to speak out and make take action against inequalities faced by women and girls.

Educating both men and women and providing economic opportunities to women at their doorstep are key initiatives to empower women, stressed UN Women Country Representative.

 “In a traditional and conservative societies such as Pakistan and Bangladesh it’s important that women in far-off and underprivileged areas are given access to economic opportunities by lending soft loans to start off their own work at homes.

The NGO community has worked on it in Bangladesh and then Grameen Bank model has borne fruits that’s why the situation is a lot better in Bangladesh than Pakistan and women participation is twice there as in Pakistan” shared Jamshed M. Kazi who himself hails from Bangladesh.     

Girls should not be denied of opportunities and disrespected because they are girls. When women are empowered, the whole family and humanity at large benefits, he said.

Waliya Mirza and Mahad Jan from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) shared about their project Zeest through which they reach out to impoverished child girls to educate them through different games.

 “We tell them about different women role models such as Naseem Hameed, a Pakistani athlete, Benazir Bhutto, female prime minister of Pakistan, Jhansi ki Rani, a warrior who fought against British rule, so that they look up to them and follow.”

The daylong conference included panel discussions on a range of topics including the role of men, women’s empowerment and the role of media in women’s rights.

One of the students pointed out the representation of only leading private universities mostly from major cities and regretted the lack of representation of Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and rural Sindh, areas that need such awareness raising sessions the most.