It’s not easy being a woman and working in the male-weighted hospitality industry of Pakistan. But Rubina Qadeem Khan, who inherited all the disadvantages of belonging to a poor family in a remote village of Chitral is doing just that. Talking to Express Tribune, she said she considered herself as an ambassador of women in this highly competitive modern profession.
She said she was inducted into this profession by her sister who was working in a hotel. Rubina had just finished high school and it was an opening she could not refuse. The hotel kitchen fascinated her. She thought that as a woman, it was her place. Men had no business to be there but women had been too shy to step out; it was all their fault. Setting her heart on this goal, she graduated and got a diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
“Except for my father, all other members of my family opposed the idea. They thought I would not be able to give time to my studies. My mother was not happy with my decision at all. She did not consider my job good for me. She used to cry when I got home with hands singed from handling hot pots. But my father, who worked in the government and who I used to help in the kitchen, as he also ran a small food stall as a part time job, thought differently. He said, “Never mind the burns: Rubina is learning to make new dishes every day. I cannot forget the bitter cold in which I used to work with my father but that tough training with my father made me so determined that today I am a scholar of Culinary Arts at a University in the United States,” Rubina said glowing with understandable sense of achievement.
“We lived in a small village strung along the valleys where the life and economy was based on subsistence farming. The idea of going out of my small village was novel and thrilling. I was very adventurous. Hiking, climbing and camping was my passion. I am also very determined and once I take a decision I don’t step back. When I came to know about COTHM, I applied for a student loan from my community and a scholarship from the college which I got. At that time I could only afford to have one meal a day and few hours to rest with my full time study and full time job, but I knew this would pass. When the USEFP announced scholarships in 2007, I was working in Lahore and had completed my certification. I applied for the scholarship and was one of the 11 people who got it from among hundreds of applicants. In the US I was enrolled on the President’s honored list. Now when someone asks my mother about my work she proudly says her daughter is a chef, and it makes me smile.”
“My work demands mental and physical strength. It’s not about cooking for a small family. It’s about thousands of hotel guests. If you are not strong enough to work then you won’t stay on your job for long. Men outnumber you in the kitchen. I was the only girl in food production area among an all male staff. So I used to be very quiet and observant. Everyone was good to me. But then things started changing when I reached the senior level. I was faced with jealousy of the males. But I have learned to survive; it is a great experience.”
“The hospitality industry demands the readiness to accept change and diversity. I would say it is a challenge for young women to be taken seriously. Women need to project a great deal more confidence than their equal male counterpart to be noticed as an authority. Once her head is held high and her eye contact is direct, there is no stopping a woman. In the great hospitality industry we do best because women are naturally care takers and warm humans. Hospitality is about relationships and women are naturals in this area!”
“For me, there is still a long way ahead. It’s important to take decisions for your own self, think what you really want to do- look at its pros and cons. Don’t let society decide for you,” Rubina said philosophically. “At the end of the day it’s your life. So you should be the one to decide. I am fortunate that my parents always preferred their children’s education and career over social pressures and taboos. And this has really helped me to focus on my profession. I wish every girl is given that chance,” Rubina said. She looked a picture of satisfaction.”
Rubina explained that hospitality was a multibillion dollar industry that had a potential to absorb women in different departments such as housekeeping, beauty salon, massage centers, guest relations and the kitchen etc. The media can attract women to this profession by projecting it in a positive manner.
The writer works for International Labour Organisation (ILO). This story is a part of an ILO-The Express Tribune project: Promoting Gender Equality for Decent Employment (GE4DE).
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.