Pakistan faces the same challenges regarding women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations as is common throughout the world. At the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro (MUET), only about 15% of the 6,900 students are female. Within the U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water, MUET the original faculty consisted of 10 men and no women.
The USAID-funded USPCASW has a goal to reach a 50% share of women in both new recruitments and in new admissions to the program and is already taking steps to achieve that goal. The Center recently brought together USPCASW faculty, students from MUET and other universities, representatives from Women Engineers of Pakistan, and members of other relevant Pakistani groups to host a workshop on gender. Not only did they discuss USCPASW’s gender equity plan, they also were able to discuss gender and gender equity in broader terms, looking both at progress and hindrances within Pakistan.
This event also introduced five new faculty members brought on for the water center project, of which three are women. Assistant Professor Zahida Jamali, one of the new faculty members, was the first from her extended family and her village to pursue higher education. Since then, she has encourage her sisters to follow in her footsteps.
While Zahida faced criticism from conservative elements in her community growing up, she always had the support of her immediate family. She has worked extensively toward mainstreaming gender consideration into community-outreach programs as well as working with international NGOs on education and water, sanitation, and health (WASH) activities. She hopes to bring her rich and varied field experience into the classroom and is keen to encourage women, especially from rural areas, to enroll as students in the USPCASW program and become tomorrow’s leaders in the water sector.
With the help of USAID and the partnership set up between MUET and the University of Utah, the needle is moving toward the 50% gender equity mark. These new women professors are already bringing new perspectives and providing an example for potential female students across Pakistan.