May 2020



By Zeeshan Ahmad Published: May 29, 2020

KARACHI: There are few countries in the world that have shown the kind of dedication to United Nations peacekeeping missions that Pakistan has. For six decades, the country has ranked consistently as a top five contributor of personnel, deploying more than 200,000 troops in almost every continent in the world.

But while Pakistan’s peacekeeping role in Africa and the Balkans remain rather well known, the women peacekeepers the country has deployed have received rather less attention. Indeed the role of women is often glossed over even though they are understood to be vital contributors in any peacekeeping activity.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Major Fauzia Parveen, the first Pakistani officer to serve as a peacekeeper in Cyprus, explained how crucial women were to peacekeeping operations.

“Ever since the UN deployed the first woman peacekeeper in Liberia – and opened the door for women like me to have the honour of serving as blue berets – the world body has recognised the importance of women in peacekeeping,” she said. “As 50 per cent of any society, it is a no-brainer that women have to be equal stakeholders if there is to be peace. In terms of peacekeeping operations in particular, women bring a certain nuance and sensitivity that makes the process much more robust,”

“In the past there have been some controversies and the presence of women peacekeepers has greatly reduced the risk of such incidents happening again,” she added. “And then there is the on-ground impact the deployment of women peacemakers has.”

Maj Fauzia explained this impact using the example of Cyprus, where she was deployed for a year and which is currently split into two zones with their own administration.

“In Cyprus, our main role is to bring two communities together and to bridge the gap between them. To do so, we have to maintain a high level of engagement with local communities,” she said. “In my experience, locals, particularly women, are more open to engagement if the officer dealing with them is a woman.”

She pointed an interesting and pertinent feature of the UN mission in Cyprus. “I had the unique opportunity of serving in a female-led mission,” Maj Fauzia said. “The head of the UN mission in Cyprus is a woman, a civilian officer from Canada. Not only that, the head of the police component of the mission is also a woman.”

Talking about her own role, she said she had served a military public information officer for the UN mission. “It was the same role as the one I held back home as I have been serving Inter Services Public Relations since I was commissioned in 2007,” she said. “So, I was comfortable in that respect at least.”

But that is not to say Cyprus was a cakewalk, Maj Fauzia was quick to point out. “Before I went there last March, everyone had told me it was an easy deployment since there was no active conflict in the country,” she said. “However, I quickly realised that when things appear simple, they usually aren’t.”

According to Maj Fauzia, the dynamics in the island nation were completely different from what she had encountered before. “Cyprus is a very old nation and one that is very politically sensitive. In essence, I had to model myself into a diplomat-soldier.”

On a personal level, she also had the challenge of being the only Pakistani officer in the country when she landed. “Pakistan has a long history of taking part in UN peacekeeping operations, but until I went there, it had sent no officer to Cyprus. The only Pakistani in the UN mission when I landed was an NCO. I was the first officer,” she said.

“As a woman officer who began working without the support of full Pakistani contingent, the experience provided a new challenge and an opportunity to learn. I had to prepare a lot of things on the ground, like coordinating logistics, independently. In this was on top of being away from my family and my people with the heavy responsibility of acting like an ambassador,” she added.

That said Maj Fauzia took pride in being the first Pakistani officer to serve in the UN mission in Cyprus. “Participating in the UN mission provided me with an experience like none I had before. The mission had three components – military, civilian and police – that work hand in hand. So I had a chance to learn how to work in a cross-component mission,” she said.

“The mission in Cyprus is one that makes it difficult to assess progress in tangible ways. But we feel a sense of pride and success whenever we bring two sides to the table to talk and achieve confidence-building measures,” she added.

According to sources, Pakistan was the first country to deploy women peacekeepers in Female Engagement Teams (FETs) in peacekeeping missions. Currently, the country has deployed two FETs comprising 30 women officers in the UN missions in Congo and the Central African Republic. Another FET will be deployed in Congo next month, they said. One Pakistani woman peacekeeper has also laid down her life in the line of duty.,and%20the%20Central%20African%20Republic.



By Durdana Najam Published: May 7, 2020

A general view shows the newsroom. PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore and can be reached at

Other than putting up the general fight for a free press, women also have to contest a parallel duel of seeking freedom from the discriminating behaviour in the media. Even though women have come a long way, their journey to equality has only begun. It has been no easy chore to make the world realise that leadership had more than one gender. Until a few decades ago, women had to endure in newsrooms typical conventional denigrating looks, which essentially suggested: “you are not good enough for the job.”

The expedition from unwanted to the wanted has been strewn with visible discrimination such as low paycheques as compared to what men received and harder beats reserved for men. Women reporters were largely restricted to the coverage of lifestyle or showbiz.

Aggressive questioning, rude behaviour, and zero involvement in decision making — a forte that only men could hold — were other manifestations of discrimination. It took nerves to function in a power structure sustained by men. Though conditions are far better for women today, it still cannot be called a smooth sailing. Even in developed countries like the US and the UK, female journalists have to struggle to gain ground. In countries like Pakistan, she has yet to cross over the “middlebrow talent” definition.

Not that women completely failed in Pakistan in the field of journalism. Many stand out as examples of excellence, yet female participation is abysmally low i.e. lower than 5%.

A survey, conducted by International Alert in 2017, highlighted several challenges faced by female journalists in Pakistan such as harassment; forced adoption of masculine traits; absence of support from women co-workers; unhospitable environment during night shifts; and inadequate maternity leaves that are often unpaid. Of all these challenges, one that impacts the most is refusing to respond to improper advances from those in positions of power. The survey, which was conducted in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, highlighted that almost one in two journalists experienced gender-based violence during their work.

Another survey, conducted by the Digital Rights Foundation in 2019, entitled “Female Journalists in News Media: Experience, Challenges and a gendered approach”, stated: “The women in our study wanted more support from the editors and supervisors. They wanted to be believed. They wanted their news organisations to take action — from deleting comments quickly to training journalists on how to deal with abuse. Many of the women we interviewed felt unsupported or even afraid to complain about the problems to their supervisors. That suggests that newsroom leaders need to change the culture at their organisations to deal with this issue.”

Similar responses were recorded in a survey conducted by another non-profit organisation, Media Matters for Democracy to assess the challenges faced by women working online. The report revealed that 77% of women journalists used self-censorship to avoid online harassment that had taken a toll on both their personal and professional life. Their complaints also mostly went unheard by the law enforcement agencies.

As compared to men, women are hauled up on social media even if they merely challenge a certain narrative or policy, primarily because of the inherent dislike for female opinion.

At a time when the media is passing through a tough phase because of declining revenues and indirect controls or advice, forcing media organisations to lay off employees in droves, ‘establishing oneself’ is an issue both genders are facing. Lately, the deaths of many young journalists have been attributed to their financial hardships. As a common practice, media outlets either refuse to pay in time or seek free of cost services to “manage their expenses”. The façade to cover this behaviour is usually the government’s advertisement, which, as the refrain goes, are few to come by and that too at a cost that hardly makes a difference to the coffer. This is neither a whole truth nor a complete farce.

This rueful situation is partly an outcome of observing a worn-out business model that revolves around broadcasters/newsmen/reporters rather than consumers. News style that does not fit into the consumer behaviour, marked by diminishing attention span and multi-tasking, is set to fail. News can no longer be understood in its traditional sense of “dog bites man or man bites dog”. Rather, like any marketable product, it must excite readers and prompt them to make the news viral across a whole gamut of online media outlets: appealing to both speed and brevity.

Returning to our topic: Has this new development made life easier for women or harder? If in good times they had to swim through rough tides, bad times would have tested them even more fiercely.

Until 2018, a fraction of women could make it to the top positions in the media, promotions came by slowly and paycheques still slimmer when compared to those for men. As for sexual predators, women still had to contend with this “plain old disrespect”, said former television executive Kate O’Brien. The #MeToo movement has also vividly illustrated that women still have to bear with a range of toxic male behaviour.

The journey to complete independence or to an unfettered work environment may still take decades, yet the odds must not stop them from standing up and speaking for their rights.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2020.