WoW-ing the world, one festival at a time

 “Women have to be each other's strength” – Sana Mir

The incredibly thought-provoking festival brought forth some remarkable and inspirational women.

Karachi : It’s a great time to be a woman in Pakistan, and if one doesn’t already know this, it means that they did not attend  the WoW (Women of the World) Festival in Karachi, this weekend.

What can be learnt from everything that took place is that women, or men, don’t have the room to make excuses anymore.  Whether you want to play cricket professionally, or want to join the government to take ownership of your country, a woman can achieve anything. The incredibly thought-provoking festival brought forward so many remarkable women who changed their lives, and helped others, by deciding that they will stop at nothing. And neither should you.

The very well organized event was structured in such a manner that all this liberation and freedom was spread across. In one corner you had the ‘feminists under 10’ movement, where young girls were talking about their inspirations and dreams to change the way girls are brought up in this country. On the other hand, you had the ‘behen chara’ corner, put together by the Girls at Dhabas, an informal and inviting environment where girls were brewing some tea, and having discussions with anyone who wished to join them. There were speed mentoring sessions for anyone who wished to be guided by these successful women – Sonya Battla, Sheema Kirmani, and Sania Saeed, to name a few.

The WoW talks were really inspiring because they gave successful women a platform to speak about their experiences to an eager audience, made up of men and women alike. Sana Mir, captain of Pakistan’s women’s cricket team, explained how difficult it has been for female cricketers to survive in this country but that did not deter her own passion for the sport. “Before 2011, there were no proper contracts for female cricketers. We would be playing for PKR. 300 – PKR 400 per match.” However, Mir explained that while these issues are now slowly getting resolved, the true battle doesn’t end here. “We need to learn to support one another so that our position in this country improves.” Mir announced that she wants to retire from captaincy from T20 so that she can help prepare the next leader. “This is a big problem in Pakistan. Being a good leader isn’t just about playing well and making sure your team plays well too. It’s about leaving a leader behind you, who can carry the team forward. Don’t think about your personal victories.”

Many women shared their initial hardships that led to them making history: Shamim Akhtar, an educationist and developmental professional, explained how her village shunned her for wanting to be educated. MNA Shahida Rehmani, shared an incident where her local mosque declared that anyone who would vote for her in local elections, their nikkahs will be declared null and void. Some very powerful words were heard from an even more powerful woman, Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who has tirelessly worked for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), an organization that has freed over 80,000 bonded labourers. “The red bricks in Pakistan are crimson by the blood of the labourers that make it.” She has been attacked, beaten, jailed and even electrocuted but still did not give up her fight for brick kiln workers in Punjab.

Things are clearly changing now, and that could be seen in the Nescafe Basement girls, an all-girls band brought together by The Nescafe Basement series. In a session with the girls, Maria Fatima, the charismatic vocalist/guitarist, explained that these young girls travel quite frequently to perform shows across Pakistan, mainly Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. But they do not face any resistance from their parents or families. This shows that the struggles of the women of our last generation have not gone lost and are now in play to create a society that is more tolerant and encouraging for women then the one they grew up in. The girls, who were set to open for the concert later in the evening, even gave a little demo of their vocals and it was so exciting to see that these young girls have so much skill. One can only imagine the places they will go.

The event wasn’t just all talk though. A powerful performance from Sounds of Kolachi made sure that everyone had fun too. Ahsan Bari, lead vocalist and founder of the band, ended the evening by saying that “women are the backbone of this country.” He gave tribute to his mother, saying that none of us would be where we are if it weren’t for our mothers, the silent warriors who make us who we are. He also gave a shoutout to Raania Azam Durrani, another inspirational woman who is the founder of Salt Arts, an entertainment agency that helped in putting the WoW Festival together.

‘Women empowerment’ is a word Pakistanis have been hearing a lot lately. With Sharmeen Obaid winning Oscars, to Girls at Dhabas becoming a globally recognized movement, women are definitely becoming empowered and thanks to the WoW Festival, it seems that they definitely have a lot more to achieve in the near future.