Shafaq Masud (Pakistan)
University of New South Wales, Australia
Master of Integrated Water Management
While working with an organisation that provided school buildings in impoverished parts of Pakistan, Shafaq Masud decided she wanted to work for communities at a grassroots level where she could make a real difference.
Water was the field where she felt she felt she could best achieve this, and with an AusAID scholarship for support, she came to Australia to study the Master of Integrated Water Management.
Monitoring and evaluation in managing wetlands in the Murray Darling Basin
"I can't give you a lot of money as a legacy," Shafaq Masud's father used to tell her when she was growing up, "but what I can give you is a good education."
Despite gender inequality in Shafaq's home country of Pakistan, all the children in her family had the same opportunities for education. "It was a simple understanding," she said. "If we wanted to do anything for our education, we had our parents' support. Boy or girl, we all got our Masters degrees."
However, even this progressive outlook was stretched when Shafaq decided to follow her true dream.
It began a number of years ago. Shafaq was working with an organisation that provided schools to impoverished communities in remote areas of Pakistan. On a field visit to the province of Sindh, she was overwhelmed by the gratitude of the local people for the new one-room school her organisation had built.
"This gave me a new spirit," she said. "I knew at that moment that I wanted to work with communities, in grass-roots projects that would improve the lives of the people of my country."
Water was the field where Shafaq decided she could make the most real change.
The second step, however, was not so straightforward. Despite the strong family support she had in her pursuit of postgraduate education in the western world, when Shafaq returned home and wanted to work with an NGO, her family were not happy.
A man's job
"When it comes to careers, there’s a specific mindset in Pakistan," she said. "Engineering is a man’s job. A woman can be a doctor – that's respectable. Or teach at a university – that's respectable. But a profession in an NGO was not something my parents were open to.
"They were worried about me becoming stuck in work where there are cultural taboos, where people will not respect you as a woman if you are working with an NGO."
However, Shafaq was determined she wanted to do just that. "It takes a lot of time to change things in government, but an NGO is liberal and flexible, so you can really get in there and start developing initiatives and activities to create change," she said.
Eventually, her persistence paid off, and she began work as Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator of the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, a scheme which develops community-based measures to conserve biodiversity and promote the sustainable use of wetlands resources. She then moved on to a bigger role with the United Nations Habitat's Human Settlement program, helping Pakistani communities prepare and deal with flood crises.
Women and water
Community is often at the centre of water issues, Shafaq believes. She chose the IWC Masters program as it provided an integrated approach to water management, acknowledging the human as well as the environmental and ecological issues of water.
It is not always enough just to provide clean water. "In Pakistan, it is often women who collect water for the household. Usually there's a central point for a water facility that's close to somebody who is the head or representative of a powerful group. In some of the more conservative parts of the country, this person may prohibit or make it unsafe for women to access the water facility. As a consequence, whole families go without safe drinking water."
The power of a dream
Water management is a particularly complex field. It brings challenges in environmental, economic and human factors. However, step by step, Shafaq is making a difference.
With the support of her family, her education, her own hard work, and the driving power of a dream, Shafaq is making a real difference in her country – for the environment, for communities, and for herself as a woman.
Shafaq is now undertaking her PhD research in monitoring and evaluation through the University of New South Wales.