Gender Economics in Pakistan
By C. Naseer Ahmad

The Atlantic Council hosted the screening of “Rehaii” in Washington on March 31, 2014 for an influential audience comprising of academics, officials from governmental and non-governmental organizations, and friends of Pakistan. The film is a production of the Kashf Foundation – a non-profit microfinance institution based in Lahore that specializes in the economic empowerment of low-income households, especially women in Pakistan.

The South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council – a Washington-based think tank – is led by Shuja Nawaz and has presented many interesting events that help provide better understanding of the challenges, and for navigating the dramatic shifts, in the economic and political influence that are shaping the twenty-first century.

The all-star cast of “Rehaii” includes Sameena Peerzada, Nauman Ijaz, Maria Wasti, Dania Taimoor and Sania Shamshad. The film takes head on issues of patriarchy and extreme attitudes about the social and economic rights of women in Pakistan. “It is the story of three women, who are dependent on the whims of one man, who as a son, a husband and a father, personifies the penultimate macho male,” describes a pamphlet provided by the Kashf Foundation. The intricate plot of the film is a story that seems to be inspired by the stories of the Kashf Foundation clients.

“The film is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of hundreds and thousands of Kashf clients and the daily miracles that they are able to achieve despite the immense odds,” says the Kashf Foundation.

The film is an adaptation of a popular television drama directed by Mehreen Jabbar. According to Wikipedia, the plot “is the story of Shamim, a woman married off when she was barely more than a child. Her brutish son Waseem is married to Shehnaz, a wife he uses as a convenient punching bag anytime he feels the need to vent his frustration, about anything and everything.”

“‘Rehaii’ film — telling a long powerful story short!, ” Saira Agha noted in a raving review in the Daily Times, Jan 23, 2014.

Huma Haque, Associate Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, moderated an interesting discussion on Gender and Economics in Pakistan following the film screening. Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director, Kashf Foundation and Zaineb Saeed, Manager of Internal and External Engagement, Kashf Foundation, were the featured speakers who spotlighted the inspiration of the film. Together they fielded questions from the audience.

The Kashf Foundation leaders are distinguished in their respective fields of expertise. Ms. Zafar is a graduate of the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania and Yale University – specializing in development economics. She worked with the World Bank as a women-in-development associate. She founded the Kashf Foundation in 1996 after a chance meeting with Dr Mohammad Yunus, Grameen Bank. Ms Zafar is a recipient of many awards and has represented Pakistan and the Kashf Foundation in many international forums, including the World Economic Forum.

Ms Saeed is a graduate of the London School of Economics, specializing in development studies. She has also represented the Kashf Foundation in numerous forums internationally. Ms Saeed has also been a part of the visiting faculty at the Lahore School of Economics and adjunct faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The Kashf Foundation played an active role in the flood relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating floods of 2011. The organization distributed relief packages to 10,000 households in the most affected areas.

In a recent Diplomatic Courier feature article “Child, Not Bride”, Calie Hill notes “there are many children, particularly girls, who will be called out of the sanctuary of childhood to take on the role of adults through forced early marriages.”

The film as well as the discussion moderated by Ms Haque addressed the issue of child marriage, a scourge afflicting Pakistan. Both Zainab Saeed and Roshaneh Zafar provided examples of how the Kashf Foundation is providing opportunities for women to improve their life to escape grinding poverty.

Famous Pakistani artist Mansoora Hassan also participated in the event. Hassan is famous for her Rumi Series beckoning the sufi spirits in us with Rumi’s words: “Come, come, whoever you are. Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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