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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Seven common mistakes Pakistani women make at the masjid

It is wonderful to see more and more women in Pakistan, especially in urban centres, developing a flavour to be part of congregational worship at mosques (masaajid), especially for the taraweeh prayers in Ramadan, and Eid prayers. The prophet (pbuh) not only encouraged but directed women to be part of the Eid congregation in particular, so that they get a feel of collective worship and feel part of the extended community. Also, prayers said in congregation give us 27 times more reward according to authentic ahadith, which is a great incentive.

But while the trend has caught on, the adaab or the decorum of HOW to say our prayers collectively is missing, and causes problems. The men are very trained in the art of ba jama’at prayers since a young age, but women are mostly and unaware, and even resistant to being advised to do better.

badshahi

Here are seven common mistakes we make, pointed out in the hope that these ahadith will help us perform our prayers at the masjid correctly.

1. Row over the rows:

What basically is the purpose of congregational worship, when we can pray in the peace of our home as well? The purpose is to develop equality and a sense of community, which makes the spirit of sharing a must. But many women in Pakistan, new to the idea, do not know the adab of praying in rows. They insist upon bringing their own prayer mats that take up the space that could accommodate one and a half person. Thus, there are huge gaps between the women praying.

Narrated Anas bin Malik (RA): The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Straighten your rows for I see you from behind my back.” Anas added, “Every one of us used to put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion and his foot with the foot of his companion.”

( Bukhari).

Foot close to your neighbour’s foot, shoulder close to your neighbour’s shoulder – that is the way. But we become so selfish that we are unwilling to make space for people who join in. Mosques that allow women are already limited in number. If everyone starts taking up too much space, fewer people will get the chance. How can one develop a feeling of equality or brotherhood if we don’t even share space? The Quran advises us:

“O you who have believed, when you are told, “Space yourselves” in assemblies, then make space; Allah will make space for you.” (58:11). Selfishness makes our worship worthless.

Another problem is that rows are not formed straight and properly.

An-Numan bin Bashir (RA) said, “Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) used to straighten our rows, as if he was straightening an arrow, until he saw that we had learned it. Then he came out one day and was about to say Takbir when he noticed a man whose chest was sticking out from the row. He said: Slaves of Allah! Make your rows straight or Allah will cause discord among you.”

(Sahih Muslim, Sunan Ibn Majah).

Another huge issue is that if someone leaves the jama’at for any reason in between prayers, or their are empty spaces in the front rows, women do not fill those spaces. They want to pray with their own sister, mom or friend. Thus, gaps remain.

Jabir bin Samurah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “Do you not (wish to) line up just like the angels line up in front of their Lord?” We asked, “And how do the angels line up in front of their Lord?” He said, “They complete (& fill-up) the first row, and they line up closely in the rows.”

( Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Sunan Ibn Majah).

2. Not knowing how to move between rows when prayers are underway

To begin with, one must avoid to the fullest not to pass in front of someone in prayer. Especially  if someone passes in front of the one who is praying, i.e., in the area between the spot where he puts his forehead when he prostrates and where he stands, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “If the one who passes in front of a person who is praying knew what (a burden of sin) he bears, it would be better for him to stand for forty rather than pass in front of him.”  (Bukhari, Muslim). 

However, in emergent situations, one has to, or in some situations wants to join prayers even if one has come in late.

In that situation, one can use what is called a “Sutrah” or a barrier. The size of the Sutrah is something over which opinions have differed. The hadith here gives an idea about the size.

And it was narrated that Talhah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “If one of you puts something in front of him that is like the back of a saddle, then let him pray and not worry about anyone who passes beyond that.” (Narrated by Muslim.)

However, what if you one must pass through the rows and those praying do not have a Sutrah? The simple answer is that in that situation, pass through vertically, as the rows are formed horizontally. This way, one can avoid passing in front of the one praying.

3. Going into rukoo’ and sajda before the Imam

Ladies, what is the hurry? The Imam has barely begun saying “Allah u Akbar” and you are already in rukoo’ and sajda. Remember, the Imam is leading the prayer, so wait a few seconds till you are sure that he or she has gone ahead, and then follow. the same holds true for saying the salaam.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“Surely the imam is there to be followed.” (Muslim)

So our actions should not precede the Imam’s.

4. Not knowing how to join the jama’at if the prayer has already started

Commonly, if the jama’at has started, women make their place in rows but start praying their own individual prayer that causes confusion to those close by. So here’s the thing: If you have joined in late and the prayer has already started, no problem. If you join in any raka’at at a time that you had the chance to join in for Surah Al-Fateha or recite it yourself, and the Imam had not yet gone in rukoo’, then you can count that raka’at in. What you simply need to do is that when the Imam says his/her salaam, you don’t say it and instead stand up and complete the raka’at you missed. In that case, it is possible that you end up saying at-Tahayyat even upto thrice if you, say, joined in the second raka’at. In that case, each time say your at-Tahayyat but say the rest of the duas in your last raka’at.

5. Fidgeting and rocking

It is true that it’s not easy to manage the scarves, that chadars and the dupattas that tend to slip off during prayers. So it is best to fix them properly before namaz starts so that one is not distracted during prayers.

Also, we women tend to rock forward and backward during prayers, especially if we are listening to a beautiful recitation of the Quran. Yet, composure is a must during prayers.

All unnecessary movements must be avoided. See this:

When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was asked about smoothing the earth before prostrating, he said, “Do not wipe it when you are praying; if you have to, then just smooth the gravel once.” ( Abu Dawud,  Saheeh al-Jaami’).

6. Scolding women with children

If your own children are now grown up, chances are that you have forgotten how tough it is, and how much a mother misses saying prayers peacefully. Yes, little kids can be a bother at mosques or even at a Quran study circle, but how will they observe and learn unless they come?

So merciful was the Prophet (pbuh) that he (pbuh) said:

“When I enter the prayer I intend to prolong it. Then I hear the crying of a child, so I shorten it knowing the difficulty his mother will have with him crying.” [Bukhari]

He never stopped mothers from bringing children to the mosque, neither did he ever stop mothers from coming themselves. However, mothers should realize their share of the responsibility and watch out if their children wander off or get out of control. But scolding little children by elder women leaves a very bad impact on the child’s mind who may become averse to mosques for life. Remember the hadith that says

“He, who does not show mercy to others, will not be shown mercy.” [Bukhari]

7. Not knowing how to say Takbeeraat during Eid prayers

There are additional Takbeeraat (saying Allahu Akbar) during the Eid congregational prayers.

The step by step directions to that can be found on the internet.

It was reported from ‘A’ishah: the Takbeer of (Eid) al-Fitr and (Eid) al-Adhaa is seven in the first rak’ah and five in the second, apart from the takbeer of rukoo’.

[ Abu Dawood; Ibn Majah ]

Best to ask the men in your house before you go, as they are mostly experts at it.

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After the heatwave: Invisible helpers continue to take care of victims’ families

Published: July 14, 2015
Volunteers hand out water bottles and juice to people outside Indus Hospital during the recent heatwave that gripped the metropolis. Over 1,200 people died of heatstroke in the city. PHOTO: FILE

Volunteers hand out water bottles and juice to people outside Indus Hospital during the recent heatwave that gripped the metropolis. Over 1,200 people died of heatstroke in the city. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: A few weeks ago, Imran’s mother and others like her were making headlines. Today, they have been forgotten by all except their loved ones. Officially, over 1,200 people lost their lives to the brutal heatwave that gripped Karachi. Mumtaz Bibi, Imran’s mother, was one of these victims, reduced to a mere statistic.

“We live in tiny houses with tin roofs that become cauldrons in the summer,” explains Imran, who sells fabric and lives with three siblings in their house in Korangi. “My mother could not take the heat. We rushed her to Jinnah hospital, where she succumbed to the heatstroke five days later.”

Read: The need to acknowledge climate change

The sole help Imran and his family have received has been from a group of Karachiites who mobilised volunteers and raised funds to help the heatwave victims, both in terms of relief during those sweltering days and sustained efforts to help the families of the deceased later.

Team Karachi, as it is called, was formed at the time of the earthquake in 2005. We rush to help whenever there is a disaster,” says Muhammad Zahid, head of the Shariah compliance department of Pak-Qatar Family Takaful Limited, and one of the most active members of the group.

Read: Karachi heatwave: NEPRA faults K-Electric for deaths

In the absence of any support from the government, 35 families of heatwave victims have so far been given grants of Rs30,000 to Rs50,000 with the help of donations from concerned Karachiites, Zahid discloses.

“The government and some philanthropists announced compensation but the questions of how much, when and how remain unanswered,” Team Karachi’s Saqib Zeeshan, the head of marketing at the Indus Hospital, says wryly. “It is always the people who step forward to help. I don’t have the words to describe how many people volunteered, donated and raised funds.”

However, while the support from Team Karachi has given temporary relief to the families of the heatwave victims, the future looks less promising for them.

“My father-in-law had just gone out to sell balloons as usual. He came back home, complaining about feeling hot, and later developed fever. We rushed him to the hospital, but he passed away,” weeps Farida, who lives in Yusuf Goth. Although she is grateful for the grant from Team Karachi, she says that a large chunk of that money was spent on his funeral rites. The rest was spent in paying off loans the family took at the time. “My children have no new clothes for Eid. We don’t even have enough money for a Fateha for the departed soul.”

Read: Lessons from the heat wave

Similarly, 54-years-old Suleman, a peon at a government office, left behind a widow and three children when he succumbed to the heat. “His eldest son is just 15. His widow should get compensation and his pension as a government employee,” reasons Sajid, his nephew. “But everyone says this will not be possible without a bribe of at least Rs100,000. Where will a 15-year-old boy get that sort of money?”

Zeeshan narrates that the OPDs at Indus Hospital were converted into emergency camps for the heatwave victims, with all of the hospital’s doctors deployed there on an ad hoc basis. “In four days, we treated around 2,200 patients. Handling them and keeping them hydrated was a tough task, and volunteer organisations helped us immensely,” he says, adding that people were so eager to help that the hospital decided to let them distribute supplies themselves.

Efforts have been made so that lives can be saved if a similar catastrophe hits the city in the future, with attention directed to smaller health facilities and hospitals that are usually neglected. At Landhi General Hospital, for example, Team Karachi has helped install industrial exhaust fans to cool down the emergency wards. The water and sewage lines that were mixed near the hospital have also been separated and water filters installed to provide cold water.

Read: Heat is on: Similar heatwave may scorch Pakistan in 2016

Such efforts need to continue. After all, as Zeeshan points out, “It is always only the people who step up and offer help.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2015.

Women in rural Pakistan champion the cause of population planning

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: July 11, 2015

Benazir With the government lagging behind, women in villages of Pakistan are working for population planning. PHOTO COURTESY: SHIRKATGAH

KARACHI: Her father earns a meager Rs4000 a month as a gate keeper in the village school. Yet, this 18-year-old girl, whose biggest dream in life is to have her own computer, choses to do social work free of charge. “Anything that will help my people,” she says. She visits every home in the tiny village of Allan Chandio in district Shaheed Benazirabad, Sindh, convincing them to practice family planning (FP) and allowing their daughters to study so that they can make informed decisions about their lives. “I even visit my uncles,” says Benazir Chandio with a broad smile. She does this in a culture where issues like contraception are brushed under the carpet. “They say you are too young to be teaching us. I reply that if God has given me more awareness than you, then I have every reason to teach you.” Benazir, who has been given a well-deserved place in Shirkatgah’s “Building Momentum – Strengthening Champions” initiative, convinced two families to delay the weddings of their very young daughters. “Postponing those weddings for two years gave those girls some time to get ready for marriage and motherhood,” she says, and shares with pride that one of those girls recently gave birth to a baby girl at the right time. For women in her village, having anywhere between eight to 12 children is a norm. But she feels that with counseling, villagers are getting convinced to plan their families. Standing at number six among the world’s most populous nations, Pakistan needs more such girls. In absence of satisfactory performance from the government, the onus to cause a change has fallen on the civil society. Read: Addressing the baby boom: Women’s reproductive health an urgent issue Experts like Country Director Population Council Zeba Sathar express dissatisfaction over Pakistan’s success in FP. “Pakistan’s performance in lowering its fertility is indeed dismal; while we had some success in the 90s, the last 15 years have been a virtual standstill,” says Sathar. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2014-15, Pakistan’s estimated population is over 191.71 million. While there seems a definite decline in Pakistan’s population growth rate (1.49 per cent in 2014, according to CIA’s World Fact Book), there is much to be done. At the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, Pakistan had committed to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate to 55 per cent by 2020. Five years short of 2020, the world looks on to see if the commitment will be honoured. “Pakistan’s pledge at the London Summit is an opportunity, perhaps the last, to actually ratchet up efforts, drum up the political will and redesign the programs to accelerate family planning in Pakistan,” says Sathar. Dr Azra Ahsan, technical consultant to the National committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health (NCMNH), says that health care providers need to be convinced first. “When they are not on board, how can we convince patients? What our medical students are taught is not relevant to ground realities. We know more about endoscopic and robotic surgeries, but our medical graduates don’t know about maternal health or public health policies.” Ahsan adds that every health care provider should be trained to guide patients in FP. “Why is it just the gynecologist’s job? Between being referred from one specialist to another, patients slip away,” says Ahsan, and suggests that The World Health Organization’s (WHO) medical eligibility criteria (MEC) wheel should be on every doctor’s table. “It is such a simple guide advising which contraceptive is advisable for whom.” Dr Farid Midhet, demographer and Country director Jhpiego, feels that one factor could be the general instability on many fronts in the country. “We are struggling with the same issues since the last two decades.” One thing that could work, according to Midhet, is integrating population planning into the public health system. Talking about unmet needs of contraceptives, he says that the use of traditional methods of contraception have gone up by ten per cent, citing the latest PDHS results. However, traditional methods in his opinion are not reliable enough. “A Population Council Pakistan research on Barriers to Contraceptive Use, 2013, shows that contrary to popular belief, neither religion nor male dominance are the main reasons for unmet need. Supply is the main factor here,” he says, adding that if supply is steady and is accompanied by counseling, use of contraceptives in Pakistan can go up by 50 per cent safely. Sharing research showing the gap between what women want and the four million unwanted and mistimed pregnancies that are happening annually, Sathar says, “Two million of these end up in abortions, which could be avoided by better family planning programs.” The aforementioned Population Council study confirms what most experts say – that Punjab is way ahead other provinces in terms of reaching developmental goals, including FP. “Punjab is the only province that may abide by its commitments in this regard. It is initiating the post-partum contraception program, which will be putting to use new technology,” says Midhet, adding that in comparison, Sindh faces more serious issues like lack of implementation of policies, corruption and shoddy governance. Read: One death too many: One death in childbirth every 37 minutes “The provinces are ready to play their role and have set ambitious goals for 2020,” says Sathar, expressing hope that the provincial governments now realize that they must set family planning as a priority. “While there are improvements in the budget lines for contraceptives (previously supplied by donors), funds and priority still lag behind.” Conflict and insecurity has affected more than just health initiatives, with mental illnesses on the rise in Pakistan, especially in women, says Dr Rukhsana Ansari from Indus Hospital, Karachi. “It has a close link with inflation and poverty. Too many children exacerbate women’s problems,” she says, adding that mothers from underprivileged backgrounds suffer from nutritional deficiencies, muscular and skeletal diseases and sleep deprivation. In turn, the children they give birth to are also malnourished. Mothers feel frustrated when they cannot go back to work because of their small children dependent on them, in situations where earning could alleviate their miseries. “If at all women chose to use contraception, the decision is not theirs. It is either the husband or the mother-in-law who decides.” Mehnaz 1 If the Lady Health Worker (LHW) program is re-focused on FP, it could yield results. Mehnaz is one such promising LHW. She has succeeded in convincing most households in the village of Kahazana Dheri, District Mardan, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, to use contraceptives. “I can safely say that now at least half of the couples in our village are using contraception,” says the 36-years-old woman, another one of the Shirkatgah Champions. Yet, the obstacles are many. “Our area was devastated by the 2010 floods. Additionally, incidences of terrorism affect everything – when roads and bridges are blown off in bomb attacks, how will contraceptives reach small health facilities? People lose jobs in conflict areas. For an unemployed man, feeding his family becomes priority instead of buying contraceptives.” Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015. http://tribune.com.pk/story/918815/women-in-rural-pakistan-champion-the-cause-of-population-planning/

Just because you give your Zakat, is it ok to over-eat and over-spend?

Pakistanis open their wallets in Ramazan, but do they open their hearts?

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/28440/pakistanis-open-their-wallets-in-ramazan-but-do-they-open-their-hearts/

Pakistani Muslim women shop for bangles at a market in Karachi ahead of Eid ul Fitr. PHOTO: AFP

Ramazan – the month of giving. As one of the world’s most charitable nations, and with the desire to earn an even higher reward than other months, Pakistanis open their hearts and wallets in Ramazan.

The same holds true for Muslims all over the world. This is heart-warming and wonderful, but with just one exception. Somehow, somewhere, we have made this “giving” a justification for extravagance, excessive spending, and consequent showing off. The common understanding is that if I am giving my prescribed percentage of Zakat, and also a bit of additional charity, it justifies any amount of money that I squander.

This, then, is a deeply flawed and worrisome understanding of the concept of charity. Charity, primarily, is meant to keep the flow of money going in society instead of allowing it to stagnate in a few hands and a few bank accounts. Instead, the economic divide is getting wider. Despite the affluent giving so much charity, the poor are literally dying of poverty. Clearly, we are missing a key part of this whole equation.

It is then no wonder that in Pakistan, the 18 million richest people’s total consumption is 1.5 times more than the poorest 72 million people. Studies show that among the four key signs of perpetuating poverty, the first is that the poor remain poor and the rich remain rich. There is no level playing field for everyone, despite our charities, and our overspending has something to do with it.

Imagine this. I get my domestic helper a decent dress for Eid worth Rs1,500 or more. And that, in my head, makes it okay for me to spend on up to three dresses for Eid, shoes and accessories amounting to Rs20,000 – more than 10 times of what I gave. In summers, even the middle class Pakistani woman will end up spending thousands on an average of sixsummer wear ensembles. Upper scale lawn dresses are known to cost even up to Rs7,000 or more each. But what she will give away as her summer charity is not the same quantity or quality.

While from among the upper-middle class, or those whom we can crudely call the rich, people with tender hearts give generously to the less privileged. Yet many of them will feel no guilt in spending even a thousand dollars on a handbag as a feel-good factor. Our weddings cost millions, resembling lavish fairy tales. Maintaining ourselves and our homes costs us exorbitantly. From our prayer beads to our cell phones, everything is opulent or “classy”. There is a resulting disconnect between people from different economic strata in Pakistan.

In Ramazan, instead of being reminded by the hunger pangs that a hungry child in Tharparkar goes through, we numb the few spiritual lessons we get with “all you can eat” deals. Sales lure us into buying separate designer clothes for taraweeh prayers, others for Eid prayers, and yet others for the family Eid dinner. The month, instead of being an intended exercise in self-control, becomes a festival of overabundance. What is left of the piety that we may have gained through worship is blown away within the three days of Eid. And throughout it all, we are telling ourselves that it is okay because we give so much charity.

To keep consumption of anything under check and balance is part of the ethics in any religion. In Christianity, the seven deadly sins are on the same page, gluttony being one of them, which is the over-consumption or obsession with food, and we see a lot of that in Ramazan, including related sins of greed, sloth, pride and envy.

Islam has not stopped us from eating or dressing well. It has not given us any prescribed limit beyond which we cannot spend. It has, however, given us a framework and examples from the lives of the Prophet (PBUH), his family and his companions as role models. Among them, there were men and women who were very poor. Others were extremely rich, and were known for the profuse amounts of charity they gave. What made them different from us, however, was that they exercised a degree of self-restrain when it came to spending. While they may have led comfortable lives, they were careful not to make evident the economic gulf between themselves and the less privileged. And to build those bridges, they did two things – they spent lesser on themselves than they could afford to, and they gave charity more than they needed to. In so doing, step by step, the gap lessened.

One may counter this idea by debating why we should be made to feel guilty if Allah (SWT) has given us more. That part is justified, and true, and if you look after your community and people around you, you may have done a part of your share. But looking at the bigger picture, let us exercise a little sensitivity when flaunting wealth. Ostentation and overspending willaffect others – both those who are on the lower tiers of the social pyramid, and also contemporaries who are silently competing. The rat race has and will continue to prove that prophetic tradition correct in which the Prophet (PBUH) expressed his fear that the biggest trial for his followers would be wealth. Even those strictly adhering to tenets of religion fall into this trap – they see use of intoxicants and promiscuous lifestyles as serious sins, but see over-spending, over-eating and flaunting of wealth as permissible.

In Pakistan, this causes deeper problems. Poverty, insecurity, economic frustration and jealousy are resulting in an angry and violent collective temperament. When they cannot get it by just means, they steal it, loot it and even resort to crime and violence. While this is not acceptable, this is a bitter reality. And somewhere, we are part of this equation and are indirectly responsible for it.

Considering that Ramazan is a good time for introspection, it might be good to try and aim for moderation in spending so that we may control the glaring economic disparity in our society.

Burying prejudice in football one kick at a time

Published: July 1, 2015
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http://tribune.com.pk/story/912944/kicking-against-the-prejudice-that-hurts-womens-football-in-pakistan/
Mashal Hussain. PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

Mashal Hussain. PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

KARACHI: Ask her a simple question like ‘how old are you’ and you get a very poetic response from her. “Born in the sultry Karachi summer of ‘87, I’m approaching the cusp of 27 years now,” says Karachi United’s Mashal Hussain. This female athlete who has become an advocate for empowering women through sports can kick the ball hard, speak eloquently and keep her head in the right place.

Mashal recently got back after representing Pakistan at the Girl Power in Play symposium, held on June 18-19, 2015 in Ottawa, Canada, against the backdrop of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015. Creating ripples among female sportspersons of Pakistan, she spoke about how ‪Karachi United Football Club – Women’s Squad, have used the medium of sports to create positive social impact and in particular helped empower women.

Coming from what she calls ‘a fairly athletic and active family, always bustling around’, Mashal spent her primary years between Karachi and Toronto. Inclined towards sports from the beginning, she dabbled with many sports. “I stubbornly pushed our school to introduce basketball into the curriculum.”

PHOTO COURTESY: MASHAL HUSSAIN

However, her particular interest in football began in her junior year at McGill University where she briefly worked with the Men’s Varsity Team as a fitness assistant.

“The captain of the squad at the time sustained an injury and I was helping him recover through various drills and exercises. In doing so, I developed a liking for the game and began watching European leagues, learning the game and playing it.” A few months of coaching and the liking grew into a passion and she has been playing and coaching the sport ever since. She, accompanied by her younger sister, represent the same team now.

PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

Pushing boundaries as a woman

For Mashal and others like her who have pursued their passions on the road less travelled by females in Pakistan, the path is not always easy.

“Women’s football in Pakistan involves cultural frustrations, religious misconceptions, the issue of women’s rights, emancipation from a conservative tradition and a general changing of mind set of the local population,” says Mashal. The gender issue, according to her, is deep-rooted and is, globally, a feminist issue. In the context of Pakistan, Hussain admits that there is a gender bias regarding aspects such as funding, media promotion, government support, facilitation of infrastructure, grassroots development, and of course, awareness.

“Women who realise and follow their passion are rare in our society. And if that passion happens to be sports-related, we need to become the role models we want to look up to,” says Mashal.

When asked about the original and synthetic turf issue in the football world cup, which experts see as part of gender bias against female footballers, Mashal expressed satisfaction that at least the world has come to realise this.

“That is a positive step; not enough, though. While we’re fighting for media coverage and funding of grassroots development, the fact that uproar was created and acknowledged about this issue means that more people are paying attention.”

PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

Silver linings

Luckily for Mashal, her family has been supportive of her playing and forging a career in this field.

“I know how lucky I am and it is a personal goal of mine to influence today’s youth to become the kind of people my parents are.”

In addition, she has had a good experience since she began working at Karachi United.

“Most of our staff is male, but they never let the gender bias get in the way of football and my role as their superior. Outside the organisation, of course, no such utopia exists,” she says.

As one who has faced gender bias head on, Mashal does not only blame the men.

“Gender bias is also perpetuated and propagated by females in our country. So that is another barrier we strive to break.”

PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

Women must play

Women’s participation in sports is showing encouraging and important impacts on women’s development, of which Mashal is a strong proponent.

“Sport empowers women by instilling in them the confidence that they are often denied in countries such as our own. In sport, women are not only encouraged to be competitive, but they are also accepted for being aggressive and fierce with being labelled. It empowers women by giving them a sense of belonging,” says Mashal.

Mashal feels that including women would ensure the overall development of any sports industry that could potentially bolster the country’s economy and global standing and that the media will always sensationalize women’s sports.

“People shouldn’t be watching our players because of their aesthetic appeal or religious background. Instead, the success stories I consider truly inspirational are based on personal growth, economic empowerment, career development, societal contribution, impact and a personal sense of fulfilment.”

PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

State of women’s football in Pakistan

“Women’s football is abysmal in the country. That we are the only professional entity working towards grassroots development (girls between the ages of 3-16) should shed some light on why the country is ranked,” says a disgruntled Mashal.

The fact that an open trial for the national team has not been held in years sheds light on the plight of women’s football in the country. Mashal added that the local governing body is in cahoots and is struggling to understand that holding one tournament a year will not promote the sport at the grassroots or the competitive level.

“I cannot comment on discrimination, per se, but the state of affairs of Pakistan Football is laughable and sad at the same time.”

Aspiring female footballers look up to Mashal as a success story. When asked to comment on that, she replies that her story has barely begun.

“My story is in its initial chapters still. The plot has not thickened and the character development has only just begun. So, no, I do not consider myself a success story. However, I have had the pleasure of working with girls and women who are success stories already,” she says, and shares that some of the players that have come through the Karachi United (women’s) pipeline are proving to be real game changers for the organization, the team, and for Pakistan.

PHOTO COURTESY: KARACHI UNITED FC

Our voices must be heard

“It was empowering to be in the company of so many influential and driven individuals,” says Mashal, when asked about her recent experience at Ottawa.

Women Deliver, UNICEF, Right to Play, GAIN, and One Goal teamed up to host the Girl Power in Play symposium. The two-day event focused on the power of girls’ involvement in sport and gathered decision makers, sports stars, influencers, and girls and women involved in sport.

“I’ve met people whose stories resonate with me because I can appreciate their effort.”

Mashal had stumbled upon an open application for this event last year.

“I came across it while perusing how to get involved with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, for which opportunities were scarce. After I applied, they got back to me a few months later and we were good to go,” she says and commends Women Deliver for channelling everyone’s motivation and zeal into a productive and focused forum. Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization bringing together voices from around the world to call for action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women.

Mashal also said that the games have been great, though watching them from Pakistan poses problems due to relying on live streaming.

In the opinion of Mashal, the biggest obstacle to women’s participation and progress is opportunity.

“It will take a few generations, perhaps. I am so glad, however, to have been able to contribute towards this slow, but necessary revolution.”