UK-Pakistan University project provides boost for women's empowerment

Posted by ap507 at Oct 25, 2016 10:45 AM |
International project builds research capacity and mentors women researchers at four public universities in Pakistan

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 25 October 2016

We, the women in Pakistan, are still struggling to make ourselves audible in our culture and society. Such partnerships facilitate in rationalizing what we are doing and help us to present our point of view with more confidence and energy.” - Dr Samina Qadir, Vice-Chancellor Fatima Jinnah Women University Pakistan

Images of Dr Shah’s visit to Pakistan are available here:

A major international project investigating women academics’ careers in public universities in Pakistan has shattered preconceptions about women-only universities and identified them as progressive spaces that play a major role in developing women personally and professionally, and preparing them to participate in mainstream activities with confidence.

This British Academy funded project, led by Dr Saeeda Shah from University of Leicester and Dr Maryam Rab co-applicant from Fatima Jinnah Women University Pakistan, working with UCL Institute of Education (IOE), has established strong and sustainable collaboration between two UK and four Pakistani HE institutions, opening opportunities for further collaborations.

The UK institutions - University of Leicester and the UCL Institute of Education - team included Professor David Pedder, Director of Research at the School of Education University of Leicester, Dr Victoria Showunmi Lecturer UCL Institute of Education and Dr Tamjid Mujtaba UCL Institute of Education, while the Pakistani team included Professor Samina Qadir Vice-Chancellor FJWU, Dr Humaira Ahmed and Dr Rukhsana Hasan.

The four HE institutions in Pakistan were: two women-only universities Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) and Lahore for Women University (LCWU) and two co-educational universities - University of Education (UoE) and Hazara University (HU). All partner institutions have been extremely co-operative and supportive in every possible way, while colleagues from UCL Institute of Education have generously shared their time, expertise and scholarship offering seminars and workshops for the project.

The three-year project devised a research training programme for research capacity building, developing and mentoring 5/6 early career women researchers per each Pakistani institution to support continuation of training programmes after the life of the project.

Dr Shah said: “These researchers have done a great job not just in conducting the research to investigate women academics’ careers in Pakistani public universities, but also by building themselves as independent researchers and developing their potential for leading research in future.

“These early career researchers have since confidently presented their research at international conferences both in Pakistan and the UK.

“The dedication and commitment of these women academics who are working to change the society is the strength for women-only universities and for the society at large.”

She added that Pakistan is a traditional Muslim society where many parents are reluctant to send their young daughters to co-educational institutions.

Dr Shah said: “Women-only universities have widened female participation in higher education by providing a culturally-sensitive environment, and it is amazing and exciting to witness the talent that is now developing in these women-only universities.

“Although women-only universities are a comparatively recent phenomenon in Pakistan, they have made tremendous progress as HE institutions both in research and teaching. They have emerged as highly progressive institutions, providing spaces for women academics and young female students with ambitious opportunities for development through international collaborations, travels, conference participations and hosting international scholars.”

Dr Victoria Showunmi, from UCL Institute of Education, added: “A fundamental aspect of this research was the collaboration between UK universities and those in Pakistan, enabling early-year career researchers to come together. In developing countries individuals often don’t have access to high-level research organisations, so what felt particularly worthwhile about this project was that it enabled them to do so. However, I think what is also key is that it allowed both sides – those in UK universities as well as the researchers in Pakistan, to learn and develop from working with each other.”

Dr Samina Qadir, Vice-Chancellor FJWU, added: “It was a very fruitful and productive experience for FJWU to collaborate on this project with the British Academy and Dr. Saeeda Shah at University of Leicester. We were the host university in Pakistan and it gave my faculty and staff a lot of opportunities to network and organise academic and non-academic activities with their British and other national colleagues.

“We usually establish links with international organisations and remain detached from our own institutions. FJWU tries to follow a more inclusive routine by inviting at least the universities in the twin cities to most of its programmes. This project once again highlighted that our own collaborations and shared experiences are also possible and enriching. However, this project was further enriched by the input and insight from the British colleagues. The opportunity for my young faculty to go to UK also enhanced their learning experience and broadened their outlook.

“We, the women in Pakistan, are still struggling to make ourselves audible in our culture and society. Such partnerships facilitate in rationalizing what we are doing and help us to present our point of view with more confidence and energy. The interactive workshop sessions encouraged reflection also which led to introspection and made the group re-visit their preconceived notions. I think this in itself is positive learning experience. I think the contacts and connections will survive even after the life of the project. This is a sign of success of a project.”

Dr Maryam Rab, Co-applicant from Pakistan, said: “I think the British Academy grant was helpful for the budding women faculty in Pakistani universities. Apart from the training and capacity building of these young researchers, there were opportunities for each one of them to be exposed to the research and academic culture of the UK universities. The way the project was designed there was a greater ownership from the participants about the project and the research emerging from the project.

“I strongly believe that this project has had a lasting impact on the lives of these women, their experience has helped them mature as a professional in higher education sector which is a significant output in countries like Pakistan where higher education barely gets 4% of the total budget of the country and women have much less opportunity to be part of international academic communities.

“I led the project for almost a year in Pakistan and I see this as a best practice for capacity building and knowledge exchange in the higher education sector. It had the economy of time and financial resources without straining their work and assignments.”

The project aimed for sustainable collaborations, research capacity building, and to investigate women academics careers in women-only and co-educational public universities in Pakistan. Dr Shah’s research focuses on gender and leadership which aligns with the institutional policy and aims. The University of Leicester is a champion of HeForShe -a global solidarity movement for gender equality, with the aim to promote female empowerment. The University of Leicester was invited by the United Nations to be one of just ten universities in the HeForShe ‘10x10x10 IMPACT Champions’ programme.

The project has given a new understanding of the role of women-only universities in Pakistan and enhanced cross-cultural understanding and expertise for all of us. Informed by this experience and expertise we are now working on developing further research partnerships with other countries as well.

Dr Shah added: “We have been very successful in achieving all our objectives. I have also been successful in getting another three year award, jointly funded by the British Council Pakistan and the Higher Education Commission Pakistan under Knowledge Economy Partnership Program.

“There were certainly challenges in managing cross-cultural collaboration. UK and Pakistan are two quite different countries and societies. It was a challenge initially even to manage the travel of the UK team to Pakistan, threatened by issues of safety and security. However, with the co-operation of Pakistani partners it has all been safely managed. I would particularly like to thank Professor Samina Qadir, Vice-Chancellor Fatima Jinnah Women University for her active interest, practical support and maximum facilitation that hugely contributed to the success of the project.”


Research Capacity Building Through International Partnership for mapping women academics' careers in Pakistan

For interviews contact: Dr Saeeda Shah, University of Leicester, email: and Dr Victoria Showunmi on

About the British Academy

The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire and support high achievement in the humanities and social sciences throughout the UK and internationally, and to promote their public value. For more information, please visit
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About the University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is led by discovery and innovation – an international centre for excellence renowned for research, teaching and broadening access to higher education. The University of Leicester is ranked among the top one per cent of universities in the world by the THE World University Rankings and also among the top 100 leading international universities in the world. It is among the top 25 universities in the Times Higher Education REF Research Power rankings with 75% of research adjudged to be internationally excellent with wide-ranging impacts on society, health, culture, and the environment.

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About the UCL Institute of Education

The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leader specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In the 2014 and 2015 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for Education worldwide. It was shortlisted in the 'University of the Year' category of the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) awards. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its 'outstanding' initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education.   In the most recent Research Excellence Framework, 94% of our research was judged to be world class. On 2 December 2014, the Institute became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education.

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