Young water professional aims high to solve Pakistan's water issues
In 2008, she came to Australia to study the International WaterCentre (IWC) Master of Integrated Water Management after receiving an AusAID scholarship. Shafaq said she chose this degree as it provided an integrated approach to water management acknowledging the environmental, ecological and human issues attached to water.
"I really like the course integrated water management because it’s cross-disciplinary. It does not just deal with water as an ecological issue but it deals with water as a social issue and for us (in Pakistan) it is equally important to see water as not just an environmental entity but how people interact with water, how they fulfill their uses, and water as part of the social system and how it should be maintained and managed,” Shafaq said.
Masters research project
Shafaq’s research project during her course at IWC, “Monitoring and Evaluation in Managing Wetlands in the Murray and the Lower Murray Darling Basin – Practice and Possibilities”, enabled her to get a focused yet critical understanding of integrated water management, helping her to pursue her passion.
After graduating from the program in 2009, Shafaq returned to her home country as a Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator of the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, a scheme which develops community-based measures to conserve biodiversity and to promote the sustainable use of wetlands resources. She then moved onto a bigger role with the United Nations Habitat’s Human settlement program to help Pakistani communities prepare and deal with a flood crisis.
“When dealing with a crisis or emergency situation, like a flood how do you provide clean water and emergency toilets especially in those areas people don’t care about these things? My role was monitoring, identifying opportunities and educating communities. For example informing people about: what are the necessities to sustain you and hygiene, why do you need it?, how does it avoid diseases and does it reduce child mortality? This involved collaborating with print media, distributing material in local languages, providing handbooks with pictures on how to do something and how to clean and filter water – it was not just face-to-face training.
“I also met with women groups, to individually talk to them about: what are your needs, priorities?, where would you like a water facility what are the problems that you are having etc.? We’re designing with them where they can easily access water. So asking them can you easily go back and forth from that place? Is it safe for you in the evenings?
“Accessing clean drinking water facilities can be a big problem for Pakistani women in the more conservative parts of the country. Women provide water for the household for drinking and cleaning purposes. 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 – they may prohibit or make it unsafe for women to access the water facility. As a consequence, whole families aren’t gaining access to safe drinking water.”
Postgraduate study away from home
Despite Pakistan’s gender inequality issues, Shafaq has had nothing but strong family support in her pursuit of postgraduate education in the western world. She says her commitment to postgraduate study was greatly influenced by her father’s strong encouragement. “My father use to say ‘I can’t give you a lot of money as a legacy but what I can give you is a good education.’ It was a simple understanding if we wanted to do anything for education we had our father’s support. We all (sister and two brothers) got out masters degree thanks to our parent’s support – boy or girl,” she said.
NGO career aspirations
However, Shafaq’s dream to create real change in her country by working with NGOs was initially met with family resistance. “When it comes to careers there’s a specific mindset in Pakistan. Engineering is considered a man’s job and (for a woman) to be a doctor that’s respectable or to teach at a university that’s respectable - other professions like an NGO was not something my parents were really open about. Even though I live and I’m from Pakistan, there are certain cultures in my country that not even I understand. My parents were worried about me becoming stuck in work where there are cultural taboos, where you have to cover yourself in certain places and the people will not see you as someone they will respect as a woman working with an NGO,” she said.
Shafaq’s persistence and unrelenting dream to work as an NGO eventually won through. “I wanted to work with a water based organisation that values monitoring and evaluation and the outcomes of that and be a part of the learning process,” Shafaq said. “It takes a lot of time to change things in government. But a NGO is liberal and flexible so you can really get in there and start developing initiatives and activities to create change – and often the Pakistan Government hires out NGOs to conduct programs designed to address a problem within the community,” she said. Shafaq is now undertaking her PhD research in monitoring and evaluation at the University of NSW. Read other graduate stories.
Master of Integrated Water Management
IWC Master of Integrated Water Management uses problem-based learning, case studies, field trips and industry placements to develop skills for integrated solutions in the real world. Students graduate with a co-badged qualification from the four member universities (The University of Queensland, Monash, Griffith and the University of Western Australia). On average, more than 50 per cent of IWC Master of Integrated Water Management students come from overseas. To find out more about the masters program, please visit the online program or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, learn more about applying for an Australia Awards Development Award.