AN ODE TO THE WOMEN OF PAKISTAN AND THEIR EFFORTS DURING COVID-19

by Sarah Adnan – Research Associate at WOWPK

The year 2020, what a year this has been, what a disastrous year, so far! This year, as the Coronavirus pandemic progressed, taking the world by storm, billions of people suffered the unthinkable and unforeseeable.
Death of loved ones, illnesses, lost jobs, isolation, and for those less fortunate, hunger and disease, all resulting in depression and anxiety and even more suffering amongst the masses. COVID-19 has literally changed the world as we know it. For better or for worse, only time will tell.

Between all this suffering, we have found our heroes, in invisible capes. And although there are so many people who have made life a little less unbearable, a little easier for those in distress, I want to specifically highlight the role of women and female heroes of Pakistan who came forward and went above and beyond their personal capacity to provide relief.

Women in general lead a very challenging dual life. Their professional life and their life as a homemaker. Raising kids and running a home is a full time job unto itself. How they manage to build a career for themselves, only they know. And this workload has multiplied ten folds during this pandemic when all the members of the family worked from home, the children on online schooling and the domestic help on leave. How these women managed to keep their careers, take care of their homes and ensured an endless supply of food for her family at home is a feat no less than a super power. Kudos to all the women who have / are managing multiple roles and wearing countless hats, being the unknown saviours for their families during this testing time.

As an ode to women around the world, and especially our Pakistani women for whom society and culture is a bit more unforgiving, I would like to highlight the work of female superheroes of Pakistan who have played a crucial role during this pandemic and ensured to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

Dr. Sania Nishtar
Regardless of your political affiliation, you have to give credit to this lady for doing something that has never been done before in Pakistan. I met her once at an event at the Governor House in Karachi and found her to be an extraordinary lady. Extremely humble and down to earth, yet passionate about the work she does as the SAPM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety, Dr. Sania Nishtar is on the top of this list for a reason! Her brainchild, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program is the largest social-protection program in the country’s history.
Rolled out just 10 days after the lockdown began, it delivered one-time cash grants totaling more than 1.2 billion U.S. dollars to more than 16.9 million households, covering around 109 million people – approximately 50 percent of the country’s population. Recipient families are given 12,000 Pakistani rupees (75 U.S. dollars) to cover their immediate subsistence needs. The handouts brought stability and comfort to millions of families, and the whole country watched as countless tragedies were averted.

Tania Aidrus
Keeping aside the propaganda surrounding Tania Aidrus, ex-SAPM on Digital Pakistan, Tania spearheaded Pakistan’s fight against COVID-19 through the digital platforms, which helped extensively in contact tracing and educating the masses about the pandemic. Under Tania’s leadership, Pakistan established a national dashboard to centralize the monitoring of COVID-19 cases across the country, making it possible for anybody anywhere in the world to easily access real-time information related to the pandemic. The state-of-the-art website at www.covid.gov.pk includes information on cases for each province, deaths and suspected cases as well as precautionary measures and other virus-related information.
Tania also lead the launch of another, more unique, platform called “Yaran-e-Watan” or Friends of the Country. www.yaranewatan.gov.pk opens up an emergency response system for Pakistani health professionals overseas that can use tele-health to share their expertise through tele-training sessions, use telemedicine to triage and counsel patients and other health professionals, tackle public health issues and engage in research collaborations.

Sabina Khatri
Sabina Khatri, founder of Kiran Foundation, who has played a major role in transforming Lyari has been on the forefront of helping those in need in Lyari especially during COVID-19. Through her school, she stepped up to bring a change in the crime and violence infested locality. And what a change she has brought. During the pandemic, Kiran Foundation, under the directives of Sabina, donated countless bags of ration, PPEs and sanitizers to the residents of Lyari and beyond. She was also on the forefront of relocating those displaced by the Khadda market (Lyari) building collapse in June this year, many of whom were already suffering due to the ongoing pandemic. Sabina was awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan for her efforts to restore and revive peace in Lyari earlier this year.

Fajer Rabia Pasha
Fajer Rabia is an innovative, passionate and highly experienced social entrepreneur, demonstrating an unwavering commitment towards creating social change, especially through education, which shows through her work as the Executive Director of Pakistan Alliance For Girls Education (PAGE). During Covid-19, she distributed ration to needy families in many villages. Most of the families were parents of her Star School students who already live under the poverty line. However, other deserving families were also supported through the drive. All those who received the food supply were daily wagers who had lost work.

Lady Health Workers of Swat (LHWs)
Even when COVID-19 had not touched Swat but was spreading in other parts of the world, the lady health workers (LHW) in Swat started visiting every house in their area to educate the citizens and silently collecting data of expatriates returning from abroad. This helped in controlling the spread of the virus to a great extent in that region.

Female Healthworkers and Paramedics
All healthcare workers and paramedics have been on the frontline of this battle against COVID-19. But the selfless devotion of the female medical professionals goes beyond words. Leaving aside their families, many with very small children, and working tirelessly, hours on end, these women deserve a standing ovation. Battling their personal demons of family pressure, many of these women especially in the government sector worked even when they were not paid.

Teachers
For the teachers, specifically female teachers, this year has been tough. Working from home, multitasking home chores and classes and then also overlooking their own children’s online schooling, these teachers re-learnt their trade completely from scratch. From video editing to usage of software, these teachers have evolved into super humans.

Women of Pakistan
Where the pandemic brought in misery and despair, it also showed us what we as a nation can achieve if we work together. The donations and zakat collected during this time, the ration distribution, the food buffets for the poor, these drives were mostly women organized. Women played a significant role by offering their homes as collection points for staple ingredients such as flour, oil and lentils. Many circulated their personal phone numbers to mobilize resources and donations – a rare practice in Pakistan before the pandemic.

Alongside fighting the challenge of COVID-19, Pakistan has this year battled crisis like locust attacks, countrywide floods, the PIA plane crash and the civic collapse in Karachi due to the September rains. In all these catastrophes the women of Pakistan have come forward to participate in the relief efforts, many a times, leading the crisis management teams.
Women, a fairly marginalized section of our society are now slowly starting to prove their mettle and it took no less than a pandemic for us as a society to at least begin to accept what women are truly capable of. We still have a long way to go but I believe that the journey has begun.
Do you know of a female Corona superhero? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.