Pakistan's First Oscar-Winner Discusses Women's Issues at Mumbai Private Roundtable

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy touches on evolving gender roles, lack of equal protection

Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (C) at the roundtable discussion with women leaders in Mumbai on July 25, 2012. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, July 25, 2012 — The percentage of women in the workforce has been growing rapidly, but with this change, finding a balance between one's career and motherhood emerges as a major challenge.

A dynamic discussion explored this theme at Asia Society India Centre's Women of Asia series private breakfast with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Pakistan's first Oscar winner earlier in 2012 for her documentary short Saving Face.

The discussion also considered the similarities and differences between working women in the developed and developing worlds. One of the main points raised was that women in the developing world are conditioned or are under societal pressure to primarily focus on raising children. As a result, they often have to compromise or even give up their careers.

Obaid-Chinoy noted that gender roles in Pakistan are changing as there is a growing middle class in the country that is more liberal and vocal, and because the financial crisis has driven more women to work to meet financial needs of families. Because of this, women have moved into professions such as acting and news broadcasting, which were dominated by men a decade ago. There is also an increase in entrepreneurship among women for this reason, with their setting up organizations such as bakeries and catering companies.

On the topic of women leaders, many agreed that when women are being assertive, they are often mistaken for being aggressive. Further, several participants felt that successful women are too comfortable in their own spheres and so do not work to empower other women, thus preventing the formation of a large-scale women's rights movement in the region. Some argued that women need to be better role models in society, working to actively empower other women.

Obaid-Chinoy said that her main reason for making Saving Face was that she wanted people to be confronted with the issue of acid attacks on women. Although laws exist to protect women in such situations, she said, implementation and enforcement are sorely lacking.

This event was co-hosted with columnist and Independent Advisor Ameeta Chatterjee.

Reported by Mayanka S. Nongpiur, Intern, Asia Society India Centre