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21 February 2020

Women at work: All it takes is one to make a difference

Gilgit: As daunting as the prospect of working in December’s below freezing temperatures may be, head of Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) Gilgit-Baltistan’s chapter Noorul Ain has never been one to shy away from a challenge.

That is hardly surprising considering the social worker has worked tirelessly throughout her career. When she started her professional life in the early 1980s, the male-dominated society of G-B offered few opportunities for working women. Three decades on, the situation has evolved and the change owes plenty to women like Noor, who braved the odds to make their mark.

Though she has plenty to be proud of, humility is one of her traits that shine through.

“I think I am among the few lucky people who were supported instead of opposed in the early stages of their career,” says the soft-spoken woman, recalling her first job at Aga Khan Rural Support Development Programme (AKRSP). As a social organiser, Noor remained associated with the programme from 1984 till 2006.

A native of G-B’s Nomal Valley, she assumed office at PRCS in July 2013 and became the first woman to lead the financially-troubled organisation.

“In AKRSP, my job was to focus on women and raise their standards of living by creating opportunities for them to generate an income,” she tells The Express Tribune in her PRCS office.

Educating generations

Noor and her husband, a retired engineer, Yaseeni clearly lay emphasis on education as their three sons and one daughter are well qualified—the latter working at a hospital associated with the Aga Khan Foundation.

The Red Crescent Society G-B chief herself studied sociology and obtained a masters’ degree in Peace and Conflict from England’s Sunderland University in 2004. Noor was able to travel abroad for further education thanks to funding from the AKRSP.

Now settled in Gilgit city, she has worked with women from all over the region in her three-decade long career.

“The conditions for working women are much better now compared to when I started out. For this, I must give credit to Public School and College Jutial Gilgit,” she says of the institute built back in the 1980s.

The right woman for the job

Noor served as an adviser on education and women’s development in the G-B government from 2006-2009 during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s tenure. She was appointed on the G-B legislative council through special seats reserved for women.

The social worker was definitely the right woman for the job as Noor had plenty of relevant experience.

In her stint as the adviser, a number of girls schools were upgraded to colleges in remote valleys. The establishment of the Gilgit Directorate of Women was another feather in her cap.

However, she regrets the lack of progress made by the directorate in the years that followed.

“We worked hard to establish the directorate back then,” Noor recalls. “Those who replaced us in successive governments ignored its affairs,” she says despondently, referring to all her hard work gone to waste.

Rebuilding, leaving her mark

Now she has the task of rebuilding PRCS, replacing a male predecessor. The organisation has been caught up in a financial crisis, leading to the closure of offices in Baltistan and Hunza-Nagar valley.

“The lack of support for PRCS from authorities has hampered progress,” Noor tells The Express Tribune. “Imagine, our organisation doesn’t have its own building in G-B. We work out of a rented space.”

However, the lack of resources has not deterred this woman from achieving the organisation’s goals. “I have taken it up as a challenge,” she says without a hint of bravado.

In 2012, former Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari ordered ex G-B chief minister Mehdi Shah as well as the Azad Kashmir government to allot land for PRCS offices in their respective areas. Complying with the orders, the AJK government allotted land, but authorities in G-B government failed to follow suit. Noor holds Shah’s government responsible for the muddle that has hampered progress for financially-disadvantaged people.

But with the sort of determination shown by Noor throughout her career, few can doubt she is the right person for the job. The mercury may read minus five degrees, but it seems little can stop this woman from pulling PRCS out of the blues and enriching the lives of those in need.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2014.

Shabbir Mir, The Express Tribune
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