As Diane Mariechild eloquently quoted, "A woman is a full circle; within her is the power to create, nurture and transform." With this notion in mind, ‘Women’s Day’ is celebrated annually on the 8th of March around the world. Although the initiative to celebrate Women’s Day was designated in 1909, it was not until 1977 when the United Nations officially recognized the 8th of March as a day to pay tribute to women and their achievements, regardless of their religious, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds.

Since the beginning of history, women have played an integral role in the survival and progress of society. Whether one investigates development in economics, society, religion or politics, there are several examples of brave, independent women who have guided others on a virtuous path. Hazrat Khadija (R.A), the wife of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), is a prime example of how women have proved themselves in leading positions even in times when no legal concept of women’s rights was in existence.

In 2019, as a worldwide pandemic of a newfound coronavirus, COVID-19, transpired; with no prior medical information about the virus, humanity went into a state of chaos, with millions of people falling ill surmounted by economic and social unrest. By mid-2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had become the focal concern of all nations. Furthermore, during this time, people were forced out of their comfort zones and safety nets to protect fellow members of society. In this challenging time, women's contributions in society reiterated the fact anything a man can do, a woman can too.

As healthcare workers, caregivers, innovators and community organizers, women have stood at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. On this Women's Day, we pay tribute to the women who are leading in their societies, striving for equality as well as the right to play their role in the development of Pakistan. We highlight a few out of many who have proven their leadership and crisis management skills for the betterment of our country.

Nusrat Shaheen has been working in the development sector for the past eight years, at a time when there were very few women working in the field. She aimed to not only enable other women but to support them in whatever way possible so they could come forward and prove themselves. Currently working at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for poverty eradication and equality, Shaheen is also the Chairperson of the Aga Khan Economic Planning Board for Rawalpindi, which helps create avenues and opportunities for many aspiring women.

Afreen Mansoor, a freelancing coach and founder of the Be Your Own Boss (BYOB) Lab, established her business amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to help people, especially women, who were unable to work in offices to be able to work from home and earn independently. The main goal of her start-up was to guide individuals about the dynamics of an online career through a step-by-step approach to achieving their goals.

Dr. Natasha Ali, Chairperson of the Aga Khan Health Board – Council for Southern Region, established the Emergency Response Centre (EOC) at the regional council and played a pivotal role in spreading awareness about COVID-19 and its necessary SOPs with the Jamat through webinars and awareness sessions.

Sifat Gul from Lower Chitral manages a sewing centre in her village. Even though she did not have a strong academic background, she did have the desire to progress. Starting with a small set-up, she applied for a loan from First MicroFinance Bank to develop her business. She was also awarded a cash prize of Rs.115,000 from State Bank of Pakistan which motivated her to further expand her business and empower women in Chitral. With the help of the Aga Khan Economic Planning Board, , she also enrolled in a fashion designing course to develop her skillset and improve her craft.

Malika Sultana and Rashida Begum from Hunza took the initiative and transformed a dusty, empty building in their vicinity into a boutique café. Following the Attabad disaster in 2016, the café was imagined to preserve the cultural heritage of local cuisine for natives and tourists alike. They started their business with minimal capital and lots of courage and are now supporting their families financially while providing quality education to their children.

Women in leadership positions have always been encouraged in our Jamat and by Mawlana Hazar Imam. Examples of such inspiring women help others to continue to dream and work hard to achieve those dreams. That is the only way we can progress as a society overall. As Sheryl Sandberg once said, “If more women are in leadership roles, we will stop assuming that they shouldn’t be.” This Women’s Day, pay homage to the women in your life by taking a stance for women’s empowerment, gender parity and women’s rights.