On The Forefront

  • 20 Oct - 26 Oct, 2018
  • Pernia Suhaib
  • Focus

Here is a lowdown on the wonder women of Pakistan’s sports scene who are pushing the boundaries with their unmatched sporting talent

Sana Mir with her teammates

In a man’s world, where the male population has dominated most career choices, making a mark isn’t easy for women. Most fields push aside female presence and don’t give them the acknowledgment they deserve. Pakistan is a country where decisions about a woman’s life are taken way before she is born. However, there are a few cherry blossoms in the green that stand out. In a world which has set the position of women so profoundly, there are incredible women who turn a blind eye to the harsh voices and move forward without any fear. These brave soldiers bring pride not just to their respective countries but to the entire female body at large.

Facing the double-standards has never been a child’s play. Moreover, sports is such a field that highly discourages the participation of women. Clear evidence can be seen as in Britain, thought of as the home of the sport, the women’s game was banned for 50 years until 1971, and was only officially brought under the British soccer governing body in 1993. Only recently have women started taking up crucial roles in FIFA, the sport’s global governing body; on an international platform where the belief that women are not fans of sports is prevalent and where ‘throwing like a girl’ is voiced as an insult. Although by law, women's sports are equally funded as men's in collegiate athletics, the coverage has never been remotely similar.

When discussed with prominent female sports stars about the misogyny, they state how everyday sexism characterises the culture of sport. Elite female athletes who gain social fame and acceptance tend to embody a femininity which that appeals to white, male heterosexual audiences. Thus, this makes them a victim not only to the unparalleled attainment with male athletes but also sexualises their presence on every forum. These ladies are pressurised by the media to display an image of femininity and delicacy to be accepted by the general public. For example, the talented Serena Williams, a talented star with an exceptional merit, although she has been bagging medals from a very young age, emphasis is always given to what she’s wearing instead of how she performs. We cannot challenge the undeniable truth that women are depicted in traditional roles that reaffirm their femininity - as wives and mothers or sex objects.

Pakistan too, is not exempted from the list of sexist nations. Gifted with several talented ladies who are driven with their passion of sports, Pakistan has a history of brilliant athletes. People have a strong belief that sports aren’t for women and highly discourage them from taking any part in it. However, a general study by Women’s Sports Foundation found, there is no research that shows boys are more interested in sports than girls. It’s a “lack of opportunity” and “lack of peer group support” that leads to girls dropping out of sports at a much higher rate than boys. The “real” problem for gender equality in sport is not simply fewer numbers of female athletes and events, but the lack of females in decision-making roles more generally. When questioned about what the toughest part of their profession was, the girls expressed, receiving support. 

Support not just from the society, but from their families and the ones they hold dear to themselves. Growing up as a lady in this corner of the world isn’t easy. Dreams shattering and clothed with tradition is a story one hears regularly. The families fear that by promoting a career in sports their girls won’t be seen as lady-like. People would point fingers, who would wed their daughters? Who will accept them in the role not designated by society for women? This thought clearly builds up on the insecurity of a man. The presence of a strong, confident woman, sharing space with him, a man feels his manliness is at question. All of a sudden he is not at the need to answer to her being fragile, when she is financially and mentally capable of being the women she is, even though, the general public should view this in an absolute different perspective. Such sturdy women need to be appreciated, as when both genders are mentally capable, then only can a nation rise. Many girls struggle within their circles to get acceptance, the battle is truly heart- aching as they are forced to choose between following their passion and to obeying their love ones.   

Despite the old saying ‘Log kia kahain gai!’ that shapes our society, Pakistan still manages to produce rare gems. Fierce ladies present the nation on many international forums with pride. Waving the Pakistani flag, these lasses march up to the field expressing their passion in its most raw form. However, they too are not spared from the sexist attitude faced by women all around the world.

In a recent advertisement of a fairness cream, wherein Mahira Khan portrays how a woman can’t be successful without having a fair complexion or maintaining her appearance. This only fuels the old insecurity in the female population. The strong conditioning in the minds of our wheatish complexioned ladies is that without being fair the society will not have a place for them. The word kali stings in their ears. The advertisement also seemed to demoralise the efforts made by Pakistani sportswomen. In a silent message conveying to all the talented young lasses, that without reaching to the designated bar set by the societies standards their efforts are futile. The famous Pakistani cricketer, Sana Mir strongly condemned this ad, in her tweet, stating that. “Make no mistake: you need strong arms, not smooth arms, on a sports field.”

She talks about how all her life she has been subjected to such discrimination. Sana speaks, that in the sports industry, many female broadcasters and athletes are promoted for their appearance and not for their performance. The ladies are forced to take their looks into consideration. Sana states, “I have rejected several offers to endorse beauty products just for the very reason. I want young girls with a passion for sports to know that all they need for a practice session are the will to succeed, comfortable shoes and clothes, a water bottle and a cap if it’s hot.”

Alas, we are in a country were the main struggle for these athletes is to get accepted by merely looking good, despite setting many records on the field. Despite the hardships, the sports industry is the home to a handful of capable ladies. 

The first and foremost is the one and only Sana Mir. This former captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team, is quite likely the most admired and successful female athlete in the history of Pakistan. She is ranked 5th in ODI Bowlers and 5th in ODI All-rounder in the world. In the ICC Championship series against New Zealand in November 2017, her four-wicket haul helped her team make history and secure Pakistan’s maiden ODI win against the Kiwis. The former captain currently ranks 8th in the Women's ODI Bowlers in the ICC Player Rankings. She still continues to be a huge inspiration for all, as the engineer-turned-cricketer was announced Player of the Tournament at the 2008 Women Cricket World Club Qualifier. Sana Mir was made captain in the year 2009 and she did not look back since. The mere qualification of the Pakistan’s women cricket team for the world cup was only because of her efforts. Despite the fact that the team had minimum resources, a lot of effort was put forward and our team fought bravely.

Other than her struggles on the field, her character and drive is an inspiration in itself. Although losing the world cup, and receiving the backlash, she continues to push ahead. Leading an amateur group into the battlefield isn’t easy and to push away your biggest shot of success reflects out the non-serious attitude of PCB. She’s a brilliant groundbreaker, not only on the field but off the field as well. Sana is one of only seven women in the 1000 runs and 100 wickets club. Apart from this, Mir is the first woman from Pakistan to reach the 100 ODIs landmark; therefore, proving to be a role model for women in the country. 

Another bright star, who went through her fair share of struggles, is Maria Toorpakai Wazir. Coming from an extremely conservative homeland, Maria disguised herself as a boy by the name of Genghis Khan to push herself in sports until the age of 16. Her story is quite capturing, as the young girl only revealed her identity to the people when asked to submit her birth certificate. Toorpakai at first competed in weightlifting, frequently beating the boys at tournaments. She later switched to squash, after the pressure of her family. Turning professional in 2006, she came third in the World Junior Women's Championship in 2009. In August 2007, the President of Pakistan, bestowed the Salaam Pakistan Award upon her. For her passion, she was threatened many times by the Taliban, making it difficult for her to move. Seeing no other option, she locked herself for three years, practicing by bouncing her ball with the bedroom windows. However, the voices didn’t stop her and she continued to perceive her career. In 2011, the young lady went to Toronto, Canada to get training from Jonathon Power. As of May 2016, she is ranked 56th among female players in the world. Her struggle is truly a motivating story.

One of the recent names in list of star athletes is the young Nargis Hameedullah. This youngster’s regional home is Balochistan. She participated in the Asian Games this year, bringing home a bronze medal in Karate. A comparatively new name in the industry of sports, the young girl has potential. Nargis directs her win to a long struggle in the world of Karate. She spent her childhood competing in national matches, playing for WAPDA. Her coach, Ghulam Ali Hazara states how he had complete confidence on the young lass and how she would prove to be an exemplary role model for young girls of this nation. The 19-year-old, who is a black belt in Shotokan Style, had the whole nation holding its breath as she faced Nepal’s Rita Karki. Going through a long run of failures, Nargis proved herself in this match as she won by 3 to 1. She continues to be the apple of our eye, as we wait with hope in our hearts that the future will bring medals on Nargis’ wall and pride to our nation. 

Being a girl has never been easy. Most decisions in our life are made by the pressure of the society and social norms. Meeting the bar, moulding our personality, our dreams just to merely merge into the clouds. That long run for acceptance feeds the insecurity in all of us. Alas, standing out is never easy. Considering the small number of dare devils we have, as well-learned people, it is our duty to encourage their efforts. Praise their boldness and encourage the youth to be a part of them. •