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WASHINGTON: Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir and Malala Yousafzai are not mentioned at the Pakistan Embassy except on a special occasion and Wednesday night was one; it was the International Women’s Day.

Pakistan’s first woman Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua was the chief guest on the occasion. She paid rich tribute to women leaders of the freedom movement — Rana Liaquat Ali Khan and Shaista Ikramullah among them. In her speech, she focused on the achievements of women in the foreign service where they proved that women could be as good diplomats as men, if not better.

“There were once only four women on the top floor but now there’re many,” she said. “In this year’s batch, there are 70 per cent women and 30 per cent men, forcing some to suggest positive discrimination in favour of men.”

Ms Janjua said most Pakistani ambassadors dealing with security issues in sensitive places were women. “In Vienna, dealing with the nuclear issues, in Geneva at the United Nations in New York, in Brussels dealing with the European Union and in Australia, and even in Washington and London, we have or have had women ambassadors,” she said.

The foreign secretary emphasised the need for “all successful women to reach out to those women who have been left behind and need their support”, noting that Asma Jahangir was one of the few who reached out to them.

Lauding the rise of women to important positions in Pakistan, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry highlighted the contributions made by Pakistani-American women in the United States.

Sidrah Aslam, a senior diplomat, named the women who struggled not just for women but also promoted democracy, human rights and values in the country.

The names of those women were — Politics: Fatima Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir, Hina Rabbani Khar, and Fehmida Mirza. Award-winners: Malala Yousafzai, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Arfa Karim. Philanthropy: Bilquis Edhi, Asma Jahangir, Roshaneh. Arts and culture: Perveen Shakir, Bano Qudsia, Noor Jehan and Abida Parveen.

To highlight the diasporas’ accomplishments, three prominent Pakistani-American women — Tazeen Hashmi, Nabeela Khatak and Shaista Mahmood — were invited to share their experiences.

The speakers gave brief accounts of their achievements and encouraged women of Pakistani descent to work hard and excel in their respective disciplines to build a stronger community and help build stronger ties between Pakistan and the United States.

A prominent Washington-based journalist Behjat Gilani introduced the guests to the attendees.

US government officials, representatives from the academia and the think-tank community as well as prominent members of the Pakistani-American diaspora attended the event.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2018