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In my last article I was stopped in my tracks from writing about the potential value of engaging females in the development of Pakistan, by two things. First, the half term holidays meant I could not attend the ladies tea laid out by the British Pakistan Foundation, and second Baroness Warsi, who was at the said tea and had rattled my cage about militant secularism ... so I strayed and ranted.

This week I caught up with Suniya Qureshi, the Executive Director of the British Pakistan Foundation to talk matters through. I have known Suniya for a while now, and as with many women, she has quiet, gentle knowledge – the diversity of which bowls me over every time I speak to her.

When we first met she told me of her wealth of experience in the civil service. Next, I heard about her enthusiastic plans for the British Pakistan Foundation. Months later, she shared with me her journey from writing a story about her family, to becoming a playwright – putting shows on in London’s West End and helping to form her own production company. This time, perhaps a little cynical from my bout with Warsi, I asked her about the role she thought women could play in Pakistan. I had in my mind a rather disconnected handful of Darjeeling-drinking darlings, scoffing scones and clotted cream at the House of Lords.

But according to Suniya over 80 women attended the tea. They were from all sectors and all ages, and despite a diverse range of backgrounds, Suniya claimed there was an unusual, but real "sense of sisterhood in the room". The good Baroness, I'll concede appeared to have given a rousing, inspiring speech, as no doubt did Suniya herself. They discussed what it meant being a British Pakistani woman, overcoming obstacles, making the most of opportunities, and the need to be more collaborative as a group.

Listening to Suniya’s good words about Warsi, my mind wandered to another political female with whom I have a love-hate relationship. Only this week had I been quoting Hilary Clinton in a lecture at London Metropolitan University. Last year Clinton hosted a Global Diaspora Forum – aimed at addressing the 60 million Americans from first or second generation members of the diaspora community. She spoke of the “potential” of diaspora coalitions – even naming the American Pakistan Foundation and claiming that using people-to-people exchanges is “the core of smart power”. I agree, but feel slightly unnerved by state sponsorship of such initiatives, even if strategic aims are in common. The British Pakistan Foundation – a brainchild of Foreign Ministers Milliband and Qureshi – was deliberately styled to be entirely autonomous from government – even to such an extent that it is able to lobby on policy. Perhaps, it’s important to say here that the BFP receives no government funding.

Those in Pakistan may snort their distaste at this apparent group of elites hobnobbing with nobility in London, but the diaspora now pack a punch. Suniya explained – with the 20th amendment, Pakistanis living abroad now have voting rights; many are passionate about change; have influence in lobbying for change; and are mobilising themselves.

Suniya’s story is not unusual. She grew up in London and Lahore – spending her teenage years in the latter. "It was during Haq’s time" she explains, "there was censorship, no magazines, TV, music, everything was censored!" But she goes on to say that whatever the situation is in Pakistan, the people never fail to be incredible.

Another motivated and inspired woman speaker at the BFP event was Ahmereen Reza, from perhaps one of my favourite charities Developments in Literacy Trust – or DIL as it is better known. DIL has been very successful in providing education, especially to girls, across Pakistan – as some of their stories illustrate.

Suniya explained that DIL is just one of the five charities which the BPF support. The others being Friends of the Citizens Foundation, Care Pakistan, The Rural Support Programme and UNICEF. Her passion for change was clear, and women, Suniya feels, can be part of this:

"Women can contribute beyond the home. In Pakistan, women are in the fields, looking after cattle ... urban women often have to go out to work now also. It's time to culturally acknowledge that women are 50 per cent of the workforce – there to contribute and invest in".

Comparing Pakistan with progress on equality and empowerment in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Suniya claims Pakistan lags woefully behind.

I pointed out to Suniya that I had been impressed with Pakistan gender equality in terms of its number of female lawyers, judges and politicians. In fact, I had felt uncomfortable raising gender as a Brit, because of our own very poor gender balance in politics. "Yes, Pakistan is better than the UK higher up – we even had the first ever female Muslim head of state, but it's lower down that the gender equality is worse than Britain, and worse than other south Asian countries".

I asked what the BPF was specifically doing about this, and Suniya gently reminded me of the commitment to the charities. I had a flash-back to the launch of the organisation I attended back in 2010 – in one evening a generous guest list raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for flood relief. It reminded me again, not to overlook the elite in favour of grassroots when it comes to change! The BPF are also planning road-shows in Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford this year. I was also delighted to hear that the BPF now have three women on the Board – there have been moments in its short life when there were none.

Given the Warsi piece, I couldn't resist asking whether the BPF had any religious or political affiliation. I didn’t use the word militant, but wanted to know if they were secular. Having been involved in the creation of the organisation from the outset, I was delighted to hear they held no biases. It’s difficult to find a Pakistani without some political affiliation, I suggested cheekily. Suniya assured me that although they had received criticism in the UK for being pro-conservative, this was simply because they were the current government and policy makers, so more time was spent with them. She added, we support Imran Khan’s charities, but not his politics.

So I return to Warsi’s words. I am delighted she supports the British Pakistan Foundation. Being secular and A-political is one of the biggest challenges for modern Pakistanis. The BFP does a fine job.


Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found on and facebook.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

raika45 Mar 05, 2012 06:52pm
So what is your point?You are talking about Pakistani women in England, who I am sure are British citizens.What they do with their life is their prerogative.What has that got to do with Pakistan?If you think that this idea can be supplanted in Pakistan, then you do not understand the physic of this country.
Syed N. Hussain, MBA Mar 05, 2012 07:50pm
The point been enunciated by Caroline is simply this, that in the wake of the 20th Amendment allowing Pakistanis living abroad the right to vote may lead to effective participation of Pakistani women ( both within and outside of Pakistan ) who are desirous of bringing change in Pakistani fabric by their insight and working experience. The idea of “people-to-people” exchange of ideas and thoughts would lead other women in Pakistan to relate to the changing reality and acknowledgment that women do constitute 50% of the workforce and therefore can contribute to economic development & progress in Pakistan.
Rubab Mar 05, 2012 08:13pm
nice one...informative :)
Faraz Mar 05, 2012 11:46pm
In order to comprehend what you are trying to say, I have to think from a somewhat obtuse angle of British philosophy towards Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular - you have to accept that you approach matters with your own bias helped by the ever conniving media in the West when it comes to Islam and any rate, I am glad that you met Suniya and look it lady...British or Canadian we make efforts to help uplift the lives of our kin in our motherland ... this is a process it took United States 250+ years to reach where they are today and still there is workforce inequality all the way to the top, women's rights are trampled upon everyday and yet you quibble about our honest efforts and attempt every opportunity you get to link it to extremism clearly ignoring your own fundamentalist-esque approach. My advice to you is to meet Jemima (if you would so lucky) and ask her about the socio-political make-up of Pakistan and the mindset of progressive Pakistanis living abroad and maybe you will be accepting of Muslims and Islam and of course Pakistan... Thanks, Faraz Canada
@Raika Mar 06, 2012 12:45am
I think the writer has every right to express herself. She is talking about Pakistani Diaspora, which includes those Pakistanis living in Britain.
Kashif Satti Mar 06, 2012 01:09pm
I think women have traditional played the role of mediators between different cultures and societies. British Pakistani women have much to offer in this regard and I think Caroline's article is excellent headway in same direction.
M T HASAN Mar 06, 2012 04:01pm
I think female Overseas Pakistani Intelligentsia have a lot to offer not only to the NGOs operating in Pakistan but also more importantly for the uplift of the next generation of British of Pakistani Origin kids who need a sense of direction both moral and material. But I would insist on more substance than style as the bloggers skepticism seems to suggest.
raika45 Mar 06, 2012 07:07pm
To @ Raika.I agree with your point.Those of you overseas have done well.Not all of course as your burka cases in France and elsewhere shows Your male influence and dominance in your life is there.Especially in Pakistan.You may be one of those free of these shackles, but what of the thousands in your country that cannot express their views and their aspirations.Your male dominated laws, be they cultural or religious are their domain.Yes your ladies overseas are making progress.The question is this .Can you do it in Pakistan?
S.A.Khan Mar 06, 2012 09:47pm
British Pakistani will have to blend with the High Street crowd. Women will have to adopt local wears Pakistani wear segregate them from the rest of the crowd
BRR Mar 06, 2012 11:46pm
The diaspora repatriates funds, and also conservative ideology. A lot of Pakistanis in the US seem no more tolerant or wiser than those back home - they prefer Sharia in the west too. Being economic migrants, they would have little to teach the folks back home, unless they learn to be tolerant from their experience, which is not really possible if they live in Pakistani enclaves in the west and fail to interact with the locals.
Tanvir Mar 07, 2012 05:30am
A long convoluted piece of writing where the "POINT" is lost somewhere!
British Pakistani Mar 07, 2012 06:49am
Has anyone else noticed the writer got the BPF (British Pakistan Foundation) wrong twice as BFP? I was left wondering what BFP stood for. This suggests the writer put this article together hastily probably over good old British tea time. I do not think it is sufficient to speak to one or two people then write an article about Pakistani diaspora. I suggest the writer does some more researcher and speak to more people like Jemima Khan who has lived in Pakistan for 10 years.
Tahir Mar 07, 2012 11:53am
I am sure they are doing a great job, but what's so remarkable about being secular?
Kay Mar 07, 2012 01:33pm
The establishment in Britain is very good at creating these teethless associations to gain brownie points amongst the minorities. It becomes a fora for local politicians of Pakistani and other origins to enhance their personal agendas
Syed N.Hussain, MBA, Mar 07, 2012 09:56pm
@Raika45. In almost every country including India laws are made by human beings and are not "gender-specific". There is no he or she law but simply the English Common Law in general that has been amended and therefore adapted to each country by their own law makers and parliament approval. No one in pakistan is in "shackles" as you contend. By the same yardstick there are hundreds of cited cultural, religious and legal differences prevalent in India stemming from the "Caste System" which treats members of each classes differently and prejudicely. Pakistani women have great potential and are capable of achieving greater heights.
Bharat Mar 10, 2012 10:50am
Dear Caroline It seems that this article is more about you then about Smart power
bharat Mar 10, 2012 10:53am
Secular is equal to Turkey - women have equal rights and status. non-secular(religious affiliation) is equal to Saudi Arabia - women have very few rights, where they cannot go out without a chaperon nor drive a car
Caroline Jaine Mar 13, 2012 03:37pm
That's really not fair. The BPF is non-political, in fact party affiliation or membership would bar participation. And it's teeth are growing. Their fundraising efforts are commendable.
caroline jaine Mar 13, 2012 03:39pm
It's an Op Ed piece. And if all you can fault is a few typos I'm happy. Perhaps check your own before you throw stones.
Prasad Mar 17, 2012 03:26pm
Man! Get over the caste system and riots in India! We dont care to which religion any one belongs to anymore. For us prime importance today is welfare of India as a whole. We know that slowly but surely we are reaching there. We believe every person living on this planet is our kith and kin. But for pakistanis there is a lot to think as to where where you people are heading. Another thing, not only pak women, women throughout the world have capability to achieve great heights.