Bridging the Gap through Storytelling

Author: Khawar Mahmood

A couple of days back on my long way to office, I came across two very interesting articles on my facebook wall. The first article published in The Express Tribune titled “Pakistan’s youngest social entrepreneur is nine years old” written by Unushay Ashfaq was about a 9 year old Pakistani girl who recently won the Prince Abdul Aziz Award for Children Pioneer/Ecopreneur.  The nine year old Zymal Umar is the founder of an inspiring social project called Zee Bags, an endeavor that not only aims to help the underprivileged but also the environment. This young lady has a vision to clean her city of hazardous plastic bags and replacing them with economical and environment friendly paper bags. The news, if shared on a larger scale to the young and aspiring young girls, can prove to be a beacon of hope for them.

The second article was published in world economic forum titled “3 ways to get more women into leadership positions” written by Carol Li Rafferty, Managing Director, Yale University Beijing. The articles highlight that there are three ways to increase the participation of women in leadership and decision making tier of society. The first and most important key step toward achieving gender balance in leadership is by Women helping Women. It is a moral duty of women in power to advocate for more female representation in all sectors, thereby starting a virtuous cycle of influence. The second important element is Men helping Women, the concept that women should be encouraged and supported by their male family members. Finally the author suggests that this process is not possible until Women help themselves. Suggesting that women themselves should define what their goal in life is and identify the resources that can help them to achieve these ambitions and overcome any obstacles that come along the way.

After reading these articles I spent the whole weekend trying to figure out where the gap lies in our society. On one hand we have brilliant examples such as Zymal and on other hand the percentage of women in leadership and entrepreneurship is incredibly low. According to a research published in World Economic Forum, only 1 out of 10 CEOs is woman. Another research suggests that companies with gender diversity outperform others financially by more than 15%. Below chart depicts a clear picture of why there is this gender gap in workforce.

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What can we do?

After looking at this chart one can easily determine his or her role in reducing gender gap in persisting social setup. To my analysis it is duty of every women entrepreneur to engage more and more women in their circle and encourage them to break old and conventional social barriers to embrace their true goal in life. The success stories of women, breaking gender stereotypes, should be highlighted at every forum to build a more conducive environment for other aspiring young girls. Young girls should be given wider opportunities to observe different career options so that they may have a wider array of choices to opt from, in their professional life. Later, they should be encouraged to boast their confidence to fulfill their aspirations.

On a social level we should try to minimize the “unconscious bias” regarding gender differences. Famous radical feminist Florynce Kennedy once said, “Very few jobs actually require a penis or a vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody.” There should be complete gender neutrality while recruitment in industry. Media is considered as the fourth pillar of state in present times; this important forum should be used at all levels to uphold this issue of national importance.

Filmmakers in the Spotlight: Nida Fatima

Author: Khawar Mahmood

“Being a woman is the biggest challenge in our patriarchal society and I believe that anyone who is capable of confronting this challenge can stand off any other challenge very easily.”

These are the words Nida Fatimah Zaidi, a very bold and courageous filmmaker and television producer. She is one of Pakistan’s most successful PTV producers making her way up very swiftly with passion and hard work.

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Nida did her Masters in Psychology from Quaid-e-Azam University also known as mini-Pakistan due to its cultural and ethnic diversity. Being a quaidian myself and a very big fan of “Alloo k Parathe” of NIP’s canteen, I bonded with Nida even before meeting her. So our small tid-bits conversation in-between filming her story went very well.

Nida says that she always wanted to do something creative. She was very creative and expressive as a kid and wrote her first poem when she was around twelve. She made her first film for a competition when she was only 22. Although she got in television by chance but she made it her passion and coined her name as a successful female producers in national television at a very young age.

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Ten years ago when Nida joined PTV the situation was very different than it is today. The specialized courses and degrees on film-making and media were not in fashion. People with the background of social sciences used to join TV. It was particularly difficult for a girl to be in this field. According to a study conducted in the USA in 2013 there are only 36.3% women in media in USA while only 16% account for higher hierarchy of top directors, writers, producers and cinematographers.


In Pakistan, the situation is even worse, as on Global Gender Gap Index Pakistan stands at 132nd position among 134 countries. According to a report on women participation in media industry, less than 5% of journalists are women. Graph bends further backwards when we consider the situation in national television and news agencies. However, Nida, very courageously, withheld all social and systemic challenges, as the famous journalist and feminist author Tiffany Madison said,

“Never trust someone that claims they care nothing of what society thinks of them. Instead of conquering obstacles, they simply pretend they don’t exist.”

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Talking about film, Nida said that films are widely popular and their audio visual nature provides them a pervasive power for social influence. Unlike television where the views of only a limited number and segment of society can be shown, film can be used by anyone to share and express their views. Nida  appreciated the initiatives by Women Through Film wholeheartedly, particularly the Women International Film Festival (WIFFest’17) and extended her best wishes for it.

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Filmmakers in the Spotlight: Yusra Ali

Author: Khawar Mahmood

As Steve Jobs puts it: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” Same happened when I asked Yusra Ali, an aspiring architectural filmmaker, that how she came around this very complex yet interesting idea of amalgamating filmmaking with architecture.

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Yusra Ali is a student of Architecture in one of the leading public sector universities in the country. She has already made a couple of very effective short films on social issues prevailing in the country, such as national security issues and importance of female education. She belongs to the Hazara community which has been prone to ethnic violence in the country since long. According to her that is why she is very sensitive to social issues. This incredibly talented and ambitious young lady wants to work in the field in which no one has tried to step in before her in Pakistan.

Recently while on the set of a short documentary on her plans, I got an opportunity to catch up with her and to ask a few questions about her passion and challenges she fear to face in her career. She was quite optimistic about her field of work. Architecture and filmmaking are both forms of conceptualization and creativity, and combining both of these is an excellent initiative, which is now being widely practiced in the developed world, but is still an infant in developing countries such as Pakistan.

Yusra is currently doing her thesis on the topic of “Urban Poor”. She wants to present her work using a film on existing structures, and wants to recommend changes in them accordingly. According to her, the idea of filming her projects came to her mind when she felt that she could express her observations more effectively using the medium of film. Describing the importance of film, she said, “Filmmaking unites all media, you can combine visual, audio, and illustrations in the same presentation, and that is more effective than using the outdated conventional methods used in architectural practices.” She says that using film, one can get his or her viewers to see what they are seeing in something, and in doing so it becomes more communicative and attractive

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However, the biggest challenge for any innovator is to gain acceptability in the system. Same goes for Yusra. She says that the biggest challenge for her is to create acceptability of her work among her peers, her teachers and the jury of her thesis. Also there is very little, or no work in this field to be used as a reference so that is another major challenge that Yusra is facing  but her resolve to coin her work is so strong that she does not consider these issues as hurdles, as was evident by her bright eyes and confident smile throughout the interview.

Talking about the scope of this practice she said that although this field is new, it is very fertile because in Pakistan very few places are properly documented architecturally, particularly our heritage sites, so turning this into a profession is not a bad option. While talking about filmmaking, she said that she found this medium as the most effective medium of expression, and so young girls should come forward to express themselves and about their issues through this medium. She commended the work of Women Through Film and was very excited about the Women International Film Festival; she said that she will submit a film for our festival. Yay!

Let’s Tell Stories

Authors: Khawar Mahmood & Hijab Siddiqui

Academy award winner producer & director Cecil B. DeMille said, “The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling”. Everyone has some stories deep embedded in their subconscious; all one needs is some encouragement and a medium to uncover these fascinating stories in front of the world. Every story has a lesson; a good story always bonds the storyteller with its audience who then feel and experience the moments the storyteller experienced a while ago. Stories are used as an agent of change; they can alter the mindset of communities in a very effective way. Digital story telling using film as a medium, is a comparatively new field and a more effective one as well.


Putting this faith to use, team Women through Film conducted a one-day workshop on citizen journalism and digital storytelling at Khatoon-e-Fatima school (a missionary school in Islamabad). The Women Through Film team was received by great enthusiasm by the young girls of Khatoon-e-Fatima school. The energetic bunch was introduced to the techniques of citizen journalism, story telling, and mediums that may be used to voice their opinions, and how they can become more active and responsible citizens by doing so. These included doing journalism via composing a written piece, creating photo stories, and/or making digital stories. The girls were given a space to get their creative juices flowing and came up with many interesting ideas.


Once they shared their ideas, Madeeha Raza, the trainer, along with the rest of the team guided the students on how to develop a story line and a script, and then selecting one of the three mediums they wanted to execute their project with. One group of girls decided to film on the issue of drug addiction, while others chose topics basing around building a clean environment, issues on public transport for girls, maintaining public toilets, and many other interesting and thought provoking issues. We saw remarkable enthusiasm, as the drive to have created the best project inspired all the groups to do critical thinking, as well as film and photograph relevant scenarios to their stories.


Though the workshop was conducted in a short period of time,it was very interactive, full of fun and learning for the participants,as well as for the Women Through Film team. The girls were excited to welcome the team again after the summer course, for a more detailed workshop, and our team is looking forward to help them build better projects and prepare for the Women International Film Festival next year.


As theNative American proverb goes:“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in heart forever.”