Dr. Hafsah Muhammad is an academic in Peshawar who has faced a fair share of challenges during her professional life, particularly as a woman.
Her experiences have largely been shaped by the patriarchal society in which she lives, where women face multiple roadblocks and are often discouraged from pursuing professional careers.
This article sheds light on some of the unique challenges faced by women in teaching, as well as the steps organizations can take to promote gender diversity and inclusivity in such roles.
Need for Women’s Representation in Academia
One of the most significant challenges that women face in the realm of teaching is the lack of representation and the dominance of male voices in decision-making processes.
When male-dominated panels discuss female leadership, they often do so from their perspective, without considering the female point of view.
Dr Hafsah emphasizes the need for women to fight for spots at the leadership table, encourage other professional females to do the same and speak out when they get there.
In our society, there are so many instances where panels consisting of males discuss topics related to females. As ironic as it sounds, this is the reality of many organisations – and this is why we must continue to speak for gender equality, for our seat at the table, says Dr Hafsah.
In academia, there is a need for leaders who represent the diversity that sits in our classrooms, and women are each other’s best allies, she adds.
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Lack of Acceptance, Limited Opportunities, and Character Assassination
Dr Hafsah’s own experience highlights another major challenge for women entering the field of teaching. Society’s acceptance of a working mother, especially in a patriarchal environment like Pakistan, is difficult.
There is pressure from all sides, both from the patriarchal workforce and from the family, which makes it challenging for women to balance their personal and professional responsibilities.
Dr Hafsah believes that a supportive husband is essential for a working mother, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.
I entered this field when I was a mother and so, based on my experience, I can tell that there is pressure from all ends – from the patriarchal workforce as well as from family. So, you absolutely cannot do without a supportive husband, she says.
Dr Hafsah also speaks at length about some people’s attempts to tarnish the reputation of fellow working women, especially mothers.
“From what I have seen, women who aspire to excel in their profession and display ambition are sometimes subjected to derogatory remarks and character assassination,” she says.
Dr Hafsah says that this practice is prevalent not only among patriarchal workforces but also within familial and societal circles.
“Mothers, who face challenges in managing both their work and familial responsibilities, are especially vulnerable to criticism for even minor shortcomings and are often accused of prioritizing their profession over their children’s well-being,” she says.
In KP, circumstances such as these lead to discouragement and serve as significant obstacles for women seeking to pursue their professional aspirations.
Navigating the Gender Pay Gap
Another issue that women in teaching face is the gender pay gap. Dr Hafsah suggests that women do their research, get comfortable with negotiating, and come to the table with ways to demonstrate what they are worth.
In my opinion, women shouldn’t be afraid to chat with colleagues about what they are making and how they have navigated the issue of the pay gap, she says.
Women should also have an open dialogue about the domestic work burden that falls on many women and never blame themselves for the gender pay gap.
“Women should demonstrate what they are worth and have an open dialogue about the domestic work burden that befalls them so that organisations understand that the structure is flawed,” she adds.
Promoting Work-Life Balance
Organizations can promote work-life balance and support women in balancing their personal and professional responsibilities by respecting their time, recognizing the impact they have, knowing when to say no, prioritizing their health, and letting go of things that are out of their control.
As teachers, it’s easy to fixate on small things: the lesson plan that didn’t go quite as well as we had hoped, the assessment that needs tweaking, that email that should go out today – but sometimes you just have to let it go.
The earth won’t tumble off its hub in the event that you don’t compose that email or add that additional illustration on commas to the educational program this evening. We do our best, but we must recognize that some things are out of our control. Take a deep breath and let it go,” advises Dr Hafsah.
Teachers must learn to balance serious and fun activities, especially in their early years, to ensure that their teaching career is impactful, healthy, and long-lasting.
“Figuring out how to accomplish a balance between serious and fun activities as an educator — particularly in those early years — can be extreme. It is, however, absolutely essential for survival,” she says.
Role of Leadership Programmes in Promoting Gender Equality in Academia
Speaking on the importance of organisations and networks that support women in academia, Dr Hafsah emphasizes the role British Council is playing in carrying out the Women in Leadership Programme.
“Many institutions and sponsors, such as the British Council, provide financial support to academia and enforce stringent regulations regarding gender equality, thereby motivating educational institutions to ensure gender parity.
Furthermore, academic institutions have affiliations with international organizations that advocate for gender equity in the field and safeguard women’s rights, representation, and involvement,” she says.
On the modules taught by CLORE Social Leadership Training in the Women in Leadership (WIL) Programme, Dr Hafsah says these modules provide viable solutions to the problems faced by women in Pakistan.
The modules taught by CLORE Social have been really helpful in shaping the way women think. I personally think that we cannot change society with one programme, so the best we can do with the resources we have is to take the first step towards gender equality. And that is what CLORE Social teaches.
It teaches females and future leaders to change their mindsets about how leadership works. The modules taught in the WIL Programme help women in identifying their own potential and helping them understand their surrounding in relation to that. They help women in identifying where they can put in the work to change society because trying to change society without understanding how one’s own potential is counter-productive,” she says.
Dr Hafsah’s experience highlights the multiple challenges that women face in academia, particularly in patriarchal societies like Pakistan. And the British Council’s Women in Leadership Programme is one example of an initiative that supports women in academia by providing literacy support and promoting gender parity.
As Dr Hafsah suggests, women need to fight for their spots at the leadership table, encourage other professional females to do the same and speak out when they get there. With sustained efforts, we can create a more equitable and inclusive academic environment for all.
This article has been contributed by :
Tehreem M. Alam, Comms Manager SEED Ventures
These articles produced by SEED Ventures (in strategic partnership with WOW360pk) serve as additional learning material for Women in Leadership (WIL) Programme participants. The materials provide a local context that is essential for participants to have a deeper understanding of the content they have learned. They also offer diverse perspectives on how leadership is reflected at the grassroots level, and higher management and are designed to benefit both facilitators and participants of the WIL Programme.
The interviewee is a facilitator in the WIL Programme.