Pakistani Women in Tech – Sabin Muzaffar

In our latest series of articles, we want to highlight the wonderful women from Pakistan who are the movers and shakers of their tech scene. Pakistan is a country which earns a reputation for all the wrong reasons. However, it is full of amazing and talented people. In this article, we focus on Sabin Muzaffar. Sabin is the Founder of Ananke, an interactive, digital platform empowering women. 

Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your work and your

I am the Executive Editor and Founder of Ananke – an interactive, digital platform empowering women through awareness, advocacy and education. I started my career some twenty years ago back in Karachi, Pakistan right after doing my intermediate before even starting the university. I was hired as a trainee sub-editor at daily The News International. Six months down the line, I enrolled at the Karachi University, studying English Literature, History and Philosophy.

From 1997 to 2003, I had the opportunity and privilege of working for and contributing to leading Pakistani publications including SHE, Women’s Own, Aurora, Dawn, Health & Beauty; also editing monthly SPIDER at a time when the web of social media was just being woven.

After moving to Dubai, UAE – I contributed to local as well as international media entities such as Gulf News, Khaleej Times, ITP Publishing, Pakwired, Mangobaaz, InsideAsean.com, Tuck Magazine, Bayzaat.com, BBVA OPENMIND, Glassbreakers, World Pulse, International Women’s Initiative, Empower Women and many more.

It was in 2014 while I was freelancing for Gulf News and interviewing movers and shakers in the GCC corporate world, when I realized that not many women trailblazers and in leadership position were not being showcased as much as they should be. It was also a time when I was selected as a UN Women’s Empower Women Global Champion for Women’s Economic Empowerment. This is when I launched Ananke to not only showcase visionary women as role models for aspiring women to emulate; but also to document their achievements digitally so this data could be reached and read in every corner of the digital realm. Ananke was also launched to trigger an all-encompassing dialogue and discussion pertaining to issues facing women around the world.

Ananke was later selected among the 12 finalists of Hadafi program for women entrepreneurs from 2000 plus submission in 2015.

Eventually, I launched multiple digital internships and mentoring programs for women and girls from around the world. It gives me such a sense of pride to say that in one year, we mentored over 25 girls from Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, UAE, USA, Canada and Australia. Many of who have gone on to become Empower Women Champions themselves as well as being selected to participate in TechWomen program. We have also launched a Vimeo channel Anankemag with programs like POWER TALK and the newly launched Speak Now!

It is truly humbling to say that my efforts and Ananke were featured in the Moroccan Times, which lauded the initiative as an empowering, one-of-a-kind platform across the MENA region.

What motivates me is the resilience of women across the world. From the young girl who walks miles to bring water to her family to the mother who is the sole carer of her family and also earns a living – doing her best to maintain ‘work-life balance.’

What has affected me is the wretchedness of our society – patriarchy, gender-based violence, lack of equal opportunities, in access to education and modern labour markets – issues and grievances that disempower and marginalize women. I personally know victims of honour killing, harassment and abuse and feel it is our duty as global citizens AND virtual denizens to act responsibly and do our bit to make the world a better place.

Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society, in terms of letting women take on jobs?

There is change – yes. Certain awareness among the educated and enlightened one. Our youth is also more aware thanks to the Internet and revolutionary events such as the Arab Spring, the many dharnas and discussions held on social media. The mindset is still there and it will take a lot of effort to dismantle rigid taboos and social norms, but things are set in motion – thankfully.

We have come a long way even if I look back at my journey as a professional female journalist and those of others. That’s the term used before, now there is more emphasis being put on not placing gender as far as profession or vocation is concerned. You are a journalist – not a female or male one!

But this is a situation mostly in Pakistan’s urban society. Women are going out working, even ‘permitted’ to sitting late in the office, which is finally becoming a norm now. But if you look at our rural society, women are already working, the only difference is their work goes unrecognized and mostly unremunerated.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

To put it bluntly – marriage. Many women in Pakistan have to leave their jobs once they get married or have to leave mid-way in order to tend to their family’s needs. This is an affliction faced by many globally as well. While I don’t mean to say that marriage affects negatively but we need to create an empowering space for women where they are able to work even after marriage and kids. What happens is when women leave their jobs, it creates a gap between freshers and mid-level positions and those of C-suite and managerial ones.

Another significant barrier is the gender stereotype women suffer. Look at the tech sector, how many women do we see in leadership positions, not many!

What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

The best decision I made was launching Ananke. Any decision one makes is a learning experience so I don’t count them as worst ones.

What woman inspires you and why?

I am daily inspired by the resilience of ordinary women – especially those living in the rural areas; who toil day and night inside and outside homes – their efforts go unrecognized.

But if I am naming a few names; I start with Pakistani women. Maria Umer comes to my mind. She is hard working, created a brilliant digital platform for women – Women’s Digital League – she is an amazing woman whose humbleness can sometimes be exasperating because she has achieved so much and is still so grounded and the fact that she speaks her mind.

Other include UAE’s H.H.Raja Easa Al Gurg, H.H Sheikha Budoor Al Qasimi of Kalmiat (a publishing group), Jane Goodall humanist, primatologist and apart from them a lot of my friends in Africa like Gladys Muthara who works for Action Aid Africa, Liz Guntai, my former intern Josephine Adeti. These women are unsung SHEroes who are doing remarkable things to empower women.

Do we have any role models for women? If not, what can we do to create them in Pakistan?

We have amazing role models like Maria Umer, Sadaffe Abid, Jehanara, Faiza Yusuf, Kalsoom Lakhani and many more.

And we need more! We need to work together to create more role models… It is really about women empowering women. Even a daughter can be a role model for her mother.

I believe creating different platforms like Circlewomen.org or the Facebook group Pakistan women in tech (by Faiza) are great in bringing women and girls together where they can share their experiences, knowledge and also mentor aspiring women – young and old.

Is there a neutral platform or forum for women to discuss their career needs?

Women in TechPK is one of them locally speaking. We need to have entities and events like fireside chats focusing women,  where women can meet up and discuss professional issues and needs.

Ananke is also one of them. We have our program Speak Now! on our Vimeo channel (Anankemag) where we invite women and girls to talk about issues. At the moment though, we are focusing on women’s health. We also do twitter sessions on various topics including Women in STEM etc and have collaborated with entities like UN Women’s Empower Women, Sayfy.com, Empowerment Hour, CircleWomen.org, Women Engineers Pakistan etc.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

Dismantling patriarchy and rigid mindset was and still is the biggest challenge women are facing. This needs to be countered if women truly want to be economically and socially empowered. Care work is another area that needs to be focused. Men and women need to work together and both are and ought to be responsible for care work. It is wrong to claim that it is a woman’s prerogative. It is not. Even work at home for women goes unrecognized and unremunerated, which devalues her as well. By being the primary caregiver and not having time and opportunity to work professionally, women also become dependent on others financially further disempowering her. The idea is to grow in a wholesome way – and only this can create a fair society.

What needs to change to help more women come forward?

We need to change because first and foremost, it is the right thing to do. Helping women, respecting them and providing them with equal opportunity means recognizing their basic human rights. By doing so we are helping to create a just and sustainable society.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Our education system. It should be free for all and the curricula should be inclusive, shunning gender stereotype.

How can OxGadgets and its readers help you and other women of the industry?

By raising awareness, through the power of collaboration and creating a forum that engages in meaningful discussions.

You can find out more about Sabin Muzaffar and Ananke by visiting the links below. Please do visit the pages and find out all the awesome stuff being done. 

Social media info:

Twitter: @Anankemag, @Critoe

Facebook: www.facebook.com/anankemag

Website: www.anankemag.com

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