Power of a Pakistani woman

Published: February 29, 2012


Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar. She held the golden figurine depicting a nude man and inspired all Pakistani women with a simple but powerful speech. If she could achieve so much, then so can they. If even one more achieves the same, then the debt of gratitude we owe her will be even more limitless (if limitlessness can be extended, oh you know what I mean). At the very least, someone has to do so before Maya Khan gets the Best Actress award she is so clearly rehearsing for.

But the symbolic power of a Pakistani woman, standing in front of the world and dwarfing a masculine depiction of greatness should not be understated at all. It is an achievement that is awe-inspiring. If you are a Pakistani woman, then know that despite all the efforts of all the men in this country to oppress you, one of your own kind persevered. She did it by showing the world that two Pakistani women who had their faces destroyed by two Pakistani men, also persevered and did not surrender to despair. So, thank you Sharmeen for giving us this gift. We hope we live up to the standard you are setting.

Of course, given that it is Pakistan and being thankless and cynical is our national pastime, many have also attempted to belittle her achievement. My advice is to slowly walk away from these people without making eye contact. Do not engage them in conversation. They have clearly suffered some kind of damage to the intelligence centres of their brain, possibly due to inhaling too much carbon monoxide and in-breeding. Just chalk it up to bitterness and an overblown sense of entitlement. These people think Sharmeen Obaid won the Oscar AT them.

If, for example, you were to able to make yourself heard over their shouts of ‘She made us look bad!’ and ‘What about a documentary of good things!’, what could you possibly say to change their minds? That by winning she made us look good? The stories of hope she portrayed are actually inspiring? That if they want a documentary of good things they can go make it themselves and Sharmeen is only beholden to her own decisions? The words would fall on their ears with all the effectiveness of Shoaib Akhtar ramming a car into a steel barricade.

To take joy in her achievement is something to cherish. It is a sign that we are not yet consumed by self-involvement and are still capable of empathy. One can be forgiven for thinking that is the case when you see the kind of complete disinterest in the recent Kohistan tragedy. As more Shia bodies pile up, the lack of shock and outrage is depressing. It is the same absence of disgust that has resulted in so many forgotten dead in Balochistan too. In the former case, the extremist killers act with impunity and abandon because they know that there just isn’t enough motivation in the authority forces to stop them. In the latter it is the authority that is responsible, so to expect any retribution would be ridiculous.

After all, we have yet to see any explanations from those same forces regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden, living as he did so comfortably in Abbottabad, close enough to the PMA to steal their wifi. Is it a coincidence that access to internet porn has been shut down only once Bin Laden, an avid porn consumer, is no longer with us? My feverishly conspiratorial brain thinks not. Although, if local residents get their way, the building of a girls school on top of the remains of his compound will be a fitting tombstone. It will once again show the kind of perseverance that makes Pakistani women such wonders.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.


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Reader Comments (53)

  • Uza Syed
    Feb 29, 2012 - 10:53PM

    Abida Parvee­n has been symbol of power that Pakistani women have —— she has been showing this power and world at large respects it—–and we also must ——- this woman Sharmeen has also ably displayed power of our women. We must be proud of these women.


  • Awais Ch
    Feb 29, 2012 - 11:09PM

    Oscar to one Pakistani..and Image Distraction of 18 crore Pakistanis,how a patriotic citizen or a practical Muslim could be proud of ? If you sell Pakistan’s Negativity (0.000001) on account of acid throwing acts,to strengthen foreign driven Negative Narrative, I am sorry! you can win an Oscar but Loose the moral argument….Why not win an Oscar on Positive side of Women in Pakistan ? There are 10000000s of Women’s work Eastern / Muslim women could teach the Western World from their positive actions… something like.. Women in our part of the World not just Cover themselves by doing “Hijaab” but, but this, they also Cover Men too to avoid their dirty intentions. but May be they cant show because they themselves do not do it. or may be coz… (temporarily life this wont impress the Oscar givers) , Wish our only concern is of Impressing the real Reward Giver of this world and here after (the permanent one) million time bigger award then this worldly black 4 inch piece


  • sabeen irfan
    Feb 29, 2012 - 11:15PM

    women’s state in our society won’t change unless women decide to change it themselves.No one gives rights to anyone on a silver platter,women have to stand up for themselves.too many of our educated girls have no ambition,no conviction to use their education to have lifelong careers.too many MBA’s,MBBS’s,BBA’s aim to sit at home living off the earnings of their husbands.there is no concept of earning for yourself in our women.They seem pretty content sitting at home.As long as men know that a woman is totally dependent on them for her survival they know they can abuse her,beat her up because she won’t go anywhere because she won’t be able to survive without them.by not having jobs after completing their education,women put themselves at the mercy of the men in their lives.It’s time women started having careers of their own,till now women only get jobs when there is a financial necessity to do so,i’ve heard too many working women say ” you think i like working outside my home,i don’t ,it is my majboori that i have to work”. as long as this mentality of only working when it’s a majboori is embedded in our women,they won’t progress and they’ll always be at the mercy of men.Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 29, 2012 - 11:26PM

    @Awais Ch: “There are 10000000s of Women’s work Eastern / Muslim women could teach the Western World from their positive actions… something like.. Women in our part of the World not just Cover themselves by doing “Hijaab” but, but this, they also Cover Men too to avoid their dirty intentions.”

    SO let me get this right. Sharmeen should have made a documentary about the fact that many Pakistani women wear hijaab? What exactly would be the purpose of that documentary? Who does not know this fact? Who would watch it?

    Just in case you hadn’t realized the primary purpose of a documentary is to talk about some actionable issue and motivate policymakers to take appropriate policy action. Who would be the intended audinece for the documentary you suggested and what type of action would it try to accomplish?


  • Beg to differ
    Feb 29, 2012 - 11:32PM

    @Awais Ch:
    Please do enlighten us on what positive factors exactly a documentary on Pakistan could be based on. Once you have done so, please go ahead and produce such a documentary. Once you have done that too, why don’t you win an Oscar and show us how it’s really done, eh?

    If you think Saving Face isn’t a documentary about positivity, well then you obviously HAVEN’T seen the documentary. I’m sure it’s going to be put up in all major Pakistani cinemas soon, so do be sure to go and watch it. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to see that it’s a documentary about how women, acid burn victims, are fighting against the hand dealt to them. It’s about punishing those that need to be punished and helping those that need help. It’s about fighting against all that is wrong with Pakistani society. It’s about Pakistanis who have empathy, who have passion, who wish to ACTUALLY help others rather than simply sitting on their asses criticizing the status quo and being completely selfish with their lives.

    If you aren’t doing anything to empower the masses and bring pride and glory to your country, please stop about people who ARE making that effort. Maybe once you put your life in danger to bring to light the stories of the disenfranchised and those without voices, you’ll be in a better position to comment on the brilliant work done by a driven and patriotic Pakistani woman.
    Do your research before you start talking .

    That is all.Recommend

  • Feb 29, 2012 - 11:39PM

    Sharmeen’s documentary is crap. They only gave her the award because they wanted a stick to beat Pakistan with.


  • ajmal khan
    Feb 29, 2012 - 11:40PM

    @sabeen irfan:

    yes,as long as enabling goes on,women’s place in society won’t improve.the women who are beaten up by their husbands,whose husbands cheat on them,continue to stay with their
    husbands because they don’t work themselves and can’t survive without his money.every time a woman stays with a husbnad,boyfriend,fiance who abuses her verbally or physically she’s just enabling him to continue beating her up because now he knows ye kahi nai janay wali .

    no one amount of crying,complaining to people is going to change a man’s abusive ways,it’s upto the women themselves that they should leave these husbands,fiances,boyfriends.


  • Chief "Saab"
    Feb 29, 2012 - 11:40PM

    @Awais Ch: Awais mian, I suggest that you focus on the Nigar and/or PTV awards since Oscars don’t seem to be up your alley. She won an Oscar (the highest award in films) and you have to somehow downplay it by bringing religion into the mix. As a Muslim, I am sure she too understands the concept of the life hereafter but does that mean she should stop competing for awards during her life? Should students stop competing for top honors in educational institutions and focus on the “real” award? Should the Pakistani cricket team stop focusing on winning matches and focus on the “real” award? The only thing wrong with your logic is that you are placing all the eggs in the deen bucket. If I am not mistaken, Islam does stress the importance of deen and duniya and maintaining a healthy balance. Based on your comment, it seems that people should concentrate on deen only and forget about duniya and worldly matters.
    Perhaps next time when Aisam ul Haque wins a tennis tournament, you should give him a namaaz ki topi and a tasbeeh and ask him to stop playing. Until then let us enjoy this Oscar moment, let her bask in glory, and appreciate the “power of a Pakistani woman“.


  • John B
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:22AM

    @Awais Ch:
    “They have clearly suffered some kind of damage to the intelligence centres of their brain, possibly due to inhaling too much carbon monoxide and in-breeding”

    In case you have not paid attention, the author refers to you here. Get a life!


  • Parvez
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:26AM

    Thank you Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for what you have done. Speaking out like you do, is not every one’s cup of tea, it requires courage. While being petty, nasty and critical is easy especially when one is full of insecurities and unwilling to look at the truth.


  • Mirza
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:35AM

    Thanks for the great Op Ed. I salute Sharmeen for standing up and being vocal for human rights of women in Pakistan. Let us hope and pray it is only the first of many more successes. It is a great inspiration for young women of Pakistan.


  • Abdul
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:48AM

    Sharameen sold what west want buy i.e. Negativity


  • Awais Ch
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:51AM

    @Chief “Saab”
    @Beg to differ

    Sharmeen’s documentries on Pakistan
    1- Childeren of taliban
    2- Pakistan’s open secret
    3- Reinventing taliban
    4- Pakistan’s double game
    5- Saving face

    all of above mentioned documentries are defaming our state, society and our Pakistan!!! isn’t that??? reason behind there international fame is that west wants to defame Pakistan more and more thats why
    NGOs and other external powers provide funds for these documentries, these documentries bring fore the dirty face, ignorance and insane attitude of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Awais Ch
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:01AM

    Secondly i don’t give a damn to “oscar award”, congrats to you guys on achieving this milestone as i have never thought of throwing acid on women LOL.


  • ob
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:14AM

    to those who insist that sharmeen’s documentary portrays pakistan in a bad light, let’s not forget the positive message in her story; that there are still pakistanis, like dr. mohammad jawad, who care enough about their people to actually make a difference in their lives.

    congratulations to all involved in the production of “saving face”. a well-deserved victory at the oscars!


  • Sajid
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:21AM

    @Awais Ch:
    I feel so sorry for your intellectual incapacity. I do not blame you. You missed the answer to your objection altogether.


  • Sajid
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:28AM

    How ironic that your own comment is so badly laced with negativity.


  • Supressed, Opressed, Depressed
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:58AM

    @ Awais Ch: Either you are a misguided teenager – in which case I hope the coming years knock some sense in your head – or a gone case.

    Sharmeen’s documentaries are based on REAL things and life events that are happening in our Pakistan. Its not something that is made up just to show the world the dirty face of Pakistan. What Sharmeen is doing is inspiring, shes diverting our attention to these atrocities so that we can try and better ourselves for the sake of our society and our country.


  • whatever
    Mar 1, 2012 - 2:01AM

    @Awais Ch:
    Women in our part of the World not just Cover themselves by doing “Hijaab” but, but this, they also Cover Men too to avoid their dirty intentions.
    Are you sick sir. what intention do you think the documentary maker had. she’s a woman who addressed a very difficult issue. she didnt cause the issue it was there…. acid attacks happen in pakistan. showing the world we have ppl who’re willing to address a problem for what it is. showing how woman who suffered these attacks managed to make it through somehow. showing a doctor working for this cause. she put us in a good light!!! ppl here are willing to address a very painful issue, which also is a heinous crime against humanity. think fast sir. she’s shown victims of these attacks… yes there are others here, that there is a light at the end of what is for some a very dark tunnel. try not to be small minded and petty. for the country to survive ppl need to stop being nasty. have a heart and then have a think also. if you don’t care about the oscar think about how women watching others survive the worst kind of nightmare will feel! hope perhaps…… sometimes its not about who’s defaming who. women were hurt here… and Here too are ppl who want to help. wheres this defaming.


  • Waqas
    Mar 1, 2012 - 2:17AM


    You dont give a damn? thats very clear! u dont give a damn how minorities are treated in Pakistan, u dont give a damn how women are treated in Pakistan, u dont give a damn how innocent kids are being brainwashed by talibans, if u dont give a damn about the negativy in Pakistan, then dont cry we have a corrupted government!


  • Mirza
    Mar 1, 2012 - 2:34AM

    @Awais Ch:
    You write ” i have never thought of throwing acid on women LOL.” I do not take things personally and do not attack but it is sad to read that the topic of throwing acid at women is a lughing matter for you! Please for the love of God thik about the victims of such crimes and their families. Think of your sisters and daughters, please. I apologize but being older I must give you right advise.


  • Mehnaz
    Mar 1, 2012 - 3:05AM

    Absolutely love the idea of building a girl’s school on the remains of OBL’s compound! Someone should really look into it seriously!!!


  • Pollack
    Mar 1, 2012 - 4:15AM

    @Abdul: Yes. The are no acid attacks in Pakistan. Woman are treated as equals. Everything is fine. There is peace everywhere. There is no reason to be critical about Pakistan. It’s a fine world you live in but it’s not real.


  • Semra
    Mar 1, 2012 - 5:41AM

    @Awais Ch: maybe you should recommend filming a documentary on a more inspring and thought-provoking topic next time…..like for instance your 16th birthday?


  • raw is war
    Mar 1, 2012 - 9:04AM

    Pakistani women are really powerful- some of them at least. Ms.Marvi Sirmed comes to mind immediately.


  • Armita
    Mar 1, 2012 - 9:23AM

    @Awais Ch: Your comments are revolting and absolutely disgusting. You have the right to have your own opinions, but seriously? I won’t waste any more time on you, as I’d rather focus on more positive things, like this article. And, I’ll chose to follow the wise advice of the author, to “slowly walk away from these people without making eye contact.”

    @Sami Shah, absolutely loved it the article. Great job. You projected my every thought, and have given me solace in dealing with people like @Awais Ch.


  • Naila
    Mar 1, 2012 - 9:42AM

    @Awais Ch:
    To Awais: By saying ‘Women …Cover Men too to avoid their dirty intentions.’, you admit you men are sickos with evil intentions. And expect women to provide cover to your evil actions. Well guess what …those days are going…going …gone. Now we write and make movies and tell the world what sick minds Pakistani men have. My advice: Clean up your act.


  • Happy to hear the news!
    Mar 1, 2012 - 10:54AM

    @ Awais Ch: you really need to get a life buddy!


  • Bataan
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:09PM

    Will you please stop singing about the Oscar now and move on.


  • What?!
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:11PM

    for thoese who say “She made us look bad”, thought to ponder is whether these things happen in our society or not? they certainly do, so what has been done internally to curtail such activities…. absolutely zilch!!!! now that somebody has highlighted this cruelity, then hats off to her!! hopefully, this documentary may create more anit-acid throwing sentiments in Pakistan…Oscar is a happy bonus!!

    As for Maya Khan, the sad thing is that she may come off the hook from the people since she “only lied”. Unfortunately, we have stopped the comdemnation of perjury, which the western socities still hold as a serious moral offence.Recommend

  • Anthony Permal
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:45PM

    Someone just said ‘the documentary is absolute crap’.

    So you’ve seen it?


  • Sikander
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:48PM

    “all the efforts of all the men in this country to oppress you”
    Do you really mean all? come on now. What about her father who educated her. What about “all” the men who treat there girls as equals and educate them and help them get jobs and become independent. What about my father, what about me.. Stop labelling all men in Pakistan as sick and evil please. Stereotyping is hurtful. May I also mention the guy who asked Mukhtara Mai to take a stand against her rapists was a mulana at the local mosque? So.. Yeah, don’t do that, its shallow, hurtful and insulting.


  • Sr
    Mar 1, 2012 - 2:56PM

    @ Awais Ch
    You may not have thrown acid on women, but the fact that you exist and have the audacity to keep thinking and typing this crap, is probably just as bad.


  • Sana N
    Mar 1, 2012 - 3:31PM

    Building of a girls school on top of the remains of his compound will be a fitting tombstone. It will once again show the kind of perseverance that makes Pakistani women such wonders.


  • JG
    Mar 1, 2012 - 3:34PM

    @Awais Ch: Those ARE strong women in the documentary! You try having acid thrown in your face and surviving with dignity! Your priorities are so screwed up, you can’t see hope and strength because of your hate and ignorance. Grow up and learn to looking at how facing the truth (esp. in front of the world) makes Pakistan stronger, not weaker.


  • geeko
    Mar 1, 2012 - 5:05PM

    Geez. What’s up with this ‘Pakistani women oppressed by Pakistani men’ rhetoric ? The doc. was about a backward social ‘custom’ – and any student in sociology will tell you that women too are part of the perpetuity of a traditional system, if not more than men – so don’t see why you make it some feminist-masala-mantra, esp. when the culprit herself in the most diffused itw thanked her parents and husband for their support.

    Wait. You’re a man too, right ? You don’t wanna throw some acid on the first non burqaized lady you see, innit ? Yes, there are a lot of men like you in the Land of the Pure too, so the very demonization of masculinity and the creation of some sexual dichotomy doesn’t help the fight against backwardness and different forms of oppression. Recommend

  • Adeel
    Mar 1, 2012 - 5:14PM

    You’re just making a big deal out of it as if Pakistani women are locked up in cages ! LAME think of something worthwhile


  • geeko
    Mar 1, 2012 - 5:26PM


    Now we write and make movies and tell the world what sick minds Pakistani men have

    Now, that’s not a generalization.
    I guess that your father, uncles, male cousins, … don’t fall into this category though, so there are exceptions too.


  • Achoowehshi
    Mar 1, 2012 - 8:00PM

    @Awais Ch
    You making a documentary on Pakistan’s Amazingly-Brilliant Human Rights track record?


  • AllahRukha
    Mar 1, 2012 - 10:52PM

    Thanks to such documentaries, Pakistan is among one of the most hated states in the world. Btw I am sure Shermeen made the movie for Pakistani male dominant society Not to secure an Oscar.

    @John B
    That was a very distasteful argument & indeed a personal attack.


  • Chulbul Pandey
    Mar 1, 2012 - 11:36PM

    @AllahRukha: Thanks to such documentaries, Pakistan is among one of the most hated states in the world.
    You are going on wrong about it. That documentary has just highlighted the issue. Rather than shooting the messenger, how about taking care of the issue?


  • Ata
    Mar 2, 2012 - 2:53AM

    Bad day for @Awais Ch

    Anything that I can say to this kind sir is already very nicely put in the comments above. What we fail to realize is bad reports are based on bad numbers and bad facts. Simple as that. If the facts are good, the report automatically changes face. If the world starts to spin according to the narrow-minded theory our friend proposes here, all news channels in Pakistan should turn down their operations. I watched a news bulletin just yesterday and out of that 30 minutes gazette, 25 minutes were easily spent on gracing and highlighting the works of our oh-so-awesomely-criminal-minded individuals. Now that gazette is ran the whole day on all news channels and is being watched by the whole world. What kind of a portrait do you think those colors paint? Not to mention an endless saga of crime, criminal elements, corruption, illiteracy and the list goes on and on. This is not a hidden secret of some sort. In this day and age where everything is researched and documented over the internet, facts are anything but secrets.

    So let’s not worry about our reputation getting screwed over cause just so you know, it’s already quite tainted. Lets just take a step back and appreciate the fact that Pakistan won its first Oscar. Maybe after 2-3 decades when a Sharmeen-like personality decides to make a documentary of the only Oscar award won by Pakistan – we will be able to show “the brighter side of our country“.


  • Mar 2, 2012 - 7:10AM

    @Chulbul Pandey:

    Rather than shooting the messenger, how about taking care of the issue?

    If all issues are taken care of, @AllahRukha will be left with no liberal extremists to shoot.


  • Mullah
    Mar 2, 2012 - 9:59AM

    West keeps higlighting plight of woman in muslim countries and keep magnifying these issues.Acid throwing in pakistan….Drving ban in Saudi Arabia….female circumcison in egypt ..etc etc. This West which champions the women rights and claims to respect woman…granted women property rights in1848 while islam granted these rights to muslim woman almost 14 centuries back. Nobel prize for Tawakkol Karman or Osacr for Shermeen Obaid Chinoy is an attempt by the west to westrenize the opressed & ignorant women of Islamic countries.


  • Yasir Qureshi
    Mar 2, 2012 - 2:56PM

    She deserves all the praise she is getting. Join the discussions on Think Twice Pakistan.


  • Ali Naeem
    Mar 2, 2012 - 2:57PM

    Think Twice Pakistan has highlighted the role of women in Pakistan.


  • Murtaza Elahi
    Mar 2, 2012 - 2:57PM

    TTP is not Tehkreeke Taliban anymore. It is Think Twice Pakistan


  • BLing BLing
    Mar 3, 2012 - 3:23AM

    A Pakistani hijab-wearing Muslim aunty actually said this to me, if she wanted to represent Pakistan so much, she should have at least worn a dress with sleeves. I was gutted to hear that because she is supposedly a well-educated woman, counted among the literates and lives in DHA.

    I told her, you should try to achieve something as big and then you can wear dress with sleeves and represent Pakistan better than her. I have known her for a long time now, before getting married, she used to dress up like that too pretty much. Now her standard of judging has suddenly changed, anyone less pious will be damned and condemned.


  • observer
    Mar 3, 2012 - 11:52AM

    @Sami Shah

    Is it a coincidence that access to internet porn has been shut down only once Bin Laden, an avid porn consumer, is no longer with us? My feverishly conspiratorial brain thinks not.

    More power to your pen and to your ‘feverishly conspiratorial brain’, Sir.


  • Hammad Bhutta
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:34AM

    the building of a girls school on top of the remains of his compound will be a fitting tombstone. It will once again show the kind of perseverance that makes Pakistani women such wonders.

    Great words Sami Sha, This just made me salute you, it cant get better than this , !!!Recommend

  • Muhammad Shoaib
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:07PM

    We guys are slaves and we produce what we are asked for. Couldn’t you find any good aspect of this Pakistani Society? There are thousands Alhumdulillah but these producers like Sharmeen don’t get credit and fame from foreign media on making documentaries on such topics.
    Furthermore, how many of you (who are in favor of Oscar) promulgate the evils of your family members in the World so that kind of evils in your home could be recognized by whole world? How many? Shame on you.


  • JudasPriest
    Mar 11, 2012 - 1:20AM

    Next time, I’m gonna make a video on the darkest aspects of Pakistani society, and hopefully get an oscar too. Seems like this is the only way to win an oscar as a Pakistani.


  • Anon
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:40PM

    @Awais Ch

    Chinoy showed the world that Pakistan is the kind of country where a “short documentary” can help change the LAW of the land in order to protect it’s women/citizens! This kind of freedom of expression is rare anywhere in the world! I think she showed one of the best possible sides of our nation!


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