On 19 November, Commonwealth Alumni in Karachi attended a networking reception and panel discussion on the topic, ‘Challenging Gender Roles in Pakistani Society – Women Empowerment and Gender Equality’. Alumni were joined by representatives from the Government of Pakistan, universities, and international NGOs.

The event aimed to shed light on the challenges and opportunities surrounding gender equality in Pakistan and to highlight gender disparity as a pressing issue exacerbated by traditional patriarchal norms and societal expectations.

Highlighting disparities in opportunities for men and women

Following introductions and a short networking opportunity for attendees, the panel discussion commenced.


  • Dr Iffat Zafar Aga, Co-founder & COO, Sehat Kahani (2017 Distance Learning Scholar)
  • Syed Muaz Shah, lawyer and legal academic
  • Uzma Bano, Gender and Development Specialist
  • Zahrah Sehr Vayani, litigator, High Court of Sindh
  • Sana Pirzada, a Barrister from Lincoln’s Inn and the esteemed founder of Sana Pirzada Legal Solutions & Virtual Legal Advisory (moderator)

The panel addressed various aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Pakistani society and underscored the significant disparities in opportunities and outcomes between men and women in Pakistan.

Speakers emphasised the need to raise awareness about existing gender disparities, challenge traditional gender roles, and combat stereotypes. The discussion delved into the policy and legal frameworks surrounding gender equality, identifying areas for improvement. The speakers also stressed the importance of education in challenging gender roles and empowering women, along with promoting economic opportunities such as entrepreneurship and employment. For example, there is a noticeable gender gap in literacy rates, with female literacy lagging behind male literacy rates. In 2019, male literacy in Pakistan stood at approximately 71%, whereas female literacy was only around 46%, emphasising the substantial gender disparity in access to education.

Health and well-being issues, including access to healthcare and family planning, were also addressed, as well as the importance of engaging men and boys as allies in the fight for gender equality. The role of media and communication in shaping gender perceptions and strategies to promote positive representations were also explored.

Creating networks for women’s empowerment

Commonwealth Alumni in attendance shared their experiences and success stories in challenging gender norms and contributing to women’s empowerment. This highlighted the importance of networking and collaboration amongst those in attendance to create a strong support system and share knowledge, resources, and experiences.

A call to action concluded the discussion, urging all stakeholders to take concrete steps in challenging gender roles and promoting gender equality in Pakistan, emphasising the crucial role of networking in sustaining momentum and fostering a unified movement for women’s empowerment.