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Showing posts with label Dr Ayesha Mian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr Ayesha Mian. Show all posts

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pakistan advised to revise approach to gender equality

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Pakistan’s economic and social development indicators will continue to lag behind other counties until it rethinks its approach to gender equity and commits to gender mainstreaming, according to the experts speaking at a conference at Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi.

The speakers at ‘The Time is Now: Gender Equity and Women in Leadership’ noted that there was widespread misinformation about the scale of gender inequality in the workplace and society as a whole. 

They explained that while most people are willing to assert that men and women should be treated as equals, they rarely question why there continues to be a lack of women in upper management and leadership positions across the public and private sector. 

Pakistan has the second lowest rank in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, behind all other countries in South Asia. Estimates suggest that it will take over 70 years for the country’s men and women to have equal levels of economic participation and opportunity, parity in educational and health indicators, and similar levels of political empowerment. 

“There are strong cultural norms and structural inequities that continue to hold women back,” Dr Ayesha Mian, conference chair, who holds the positions of dean of students and chair of the department of psychiatry at AKU, remarked.
She stated that these norms mean that men are rarely expected to make compensations in their career for their family, or to play an equal role in parenting and caregiving. 

Similarly, women, to a much greater degree than men, face double standards in the workplace and are held to a higher benchmark than men. 

For example, women are often labelled as ‘bossy’ or ‘aggressive’ for actions deemed acceptable for men, and women’s requests for flexible work timings to deal with family commitments are more likely to be seen as showing a lack of commitment to the workplace. One of the most noticeable inequalities is in pay parity which worsens as women ascend the corporate ladder. 

Dr Ayesha shared how data from the United States shows that on average women earn 21 per cent less than men, while women who reach the top positions are paid a salary that is 61 per cent lower than their male counterparts.
“Gender equality involves society equally valuing the different needs, behaviours and aspirations of women and men, boys and girls. By being knowledgeable and responsive to gender considerations societies can ensure that everyone has the same rights, responsibilities and access to opportunity, regardless of whether they were born male or female,” Lindsay Mossman, senior gender equality adviser at the Aga Khan Foundation, Canada, observed. 

The worthy speakers at the conference called on organizations to make their planning and decision making processes more sensitive and responsive to the importance of gender. This approach, often referred to as gender mainstreaming, would enable the country to achieve gender equality. 

This would require workplaces to place a greater emphasis on collecting and reporting on the performance of programmes by gender. This includes details on how many men and women are promoted, those dropping out of the workforce or, how a company’s operations affect each gender. 

In the absence of gender-disaggregated information, management cannot monitor whether initiatives to narrow gaps are working nor can they be held accountable. 

Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director, Kashf Foundation, shared examples of how her organisation maintained gender-specific data on employee participation and attainment levels that enabled action to be taken if inequalities were noticed. 

She disclosed that when data showed that women were dropping out of the workforce after marriage, she was able to launch awareness programmes for their families to address the issue. 

She added that her organization would not open a branch in an area until they achieve parity between female and male staff. 

Gender-disaggregated information drives change in organisations and the current reliance on anecdotal data to assess progress tends to disguise inequalities and to promote tokenism. 

For example, many workplaces cite the presence of a few token women in senior positions, or the absence of complaints, as proof that their internal systems and practices are fair. This perpetuates a mistaken belief that low levels of female representation are a result of women’s capabilities and their own personal choices, which further impedes efforts to ensure equality. 

Gender mainstreaming also requires a commitment to parity in interview panels and committees. Organizations should always be asking themselves if there is a diverse group of decision-makers on the table that represent different strengths and perspectives, the speakers noted. 

Moreover, parity needs to be present at all levels in the organization: boardroom, executive level, senior management and general workforce. 

In the long-term, the presence of a critical mass of women in leadership positions has been found to have an aspirational effect on other females, the speakers added. 

The Unilever Pakistan Chairperson and CEO, Shazia Syed, spoke about the importance of being sensitive to the needs of different employees. 

She explained how her company had opened a women’s hostel in Karachi so that the parents of female employees feel comfortable with their daughter living on her own in a large city. 

“Daycare facilities are available for both men and women with children as this helps ensure that the wives of male employees are able to continue working,” she revealed. 

During a panel session, the Standard Chartered Pakistan CEO, Shazad Dada, noted that organizations that were diverse and sensitive to gender considerations were more productive and would benefit from staff more committed to the company. 

He added that gender equality initiatives made solid business sense and stated that the country as a whole would suffer if 50 per cent of its population continued to be left behind. 

The speakers concluded that the gender gap is concerning for Pakistan as the sustainable development goals contain a set of targets related to gender equality which Pakistan has committed to achieving by 2030. 

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that the global economy would grow by US $28 trillion, or 25 per cent, if women participated in the economy to the same extent as men. Pakistan’s low ranking in gender equality means that it has the potential to benefit to a much greater extent from initiatives to promote gender equality, they added. 

Dr Ayesha Mian, who is spearheading the Gender Equity and Women in Leadership initiative at AKU, informed that universities have an integral role in hosting discourses with multiple community stakeholders on issues that are pressing and critical to society. 

Over 400 academics, activists and representatives from the banking, healthcare, media, law, and fast-moving consumer goods industries took part in the one-day event which is the first of a series of conferences aimed at spurring efforts to address the problem of gender inequality.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Pakistan’s unusual suicide issues highlighted


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Married women and single men under the age of 30 in Pakistan are among the groups most likely to commit suicide, according to speakers at a panel session Wellness in the Workplace at Aga Khan University. 

The event was part of a week of sessions and themed activities aimed at spreading awareness of the importance of suicide prevention: the theme for World Mental Health Day 2019. 

The speakers noted that research showed that Pakistan’s highest-risk groups for suicide were different to those in other parts of the world. 

In the West, single men between the age of 50 and 60 are most likely to take their own lives. But in Pakistan, youth of working age, under the age of 30, are most likely to commit suicide which suggested that employers had a role to play in tackling the public health threat of suicide, which claimed about 800,000 lives a year globally, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to global figures, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds with three out of four suicides occurring in low and middle income countries. 

The worthy speakers reckoned that companies needed to establish a culture where people could speak about their challenges and daily stresses without the fear of being judged. 

The forums where employees can openly share their concerns promote wellness in the workplace and reduce the threat of issues such as anxiety and burnout. 

Shagufta Hassan, interim CEO of Aga Khan University Hospital, added that companies should launch professional mentorship programmes so that vulnerable youth had someone they could seek advice from. 

She also highlighted the importance of offices having counselling services where employees facing challenges could access additional help or be referred to professionals. 

Speaking at the event, Atiya Naqvi, a clinical psychologist, noted the importance of friends and family in supporting those going through a difficult time, adding that the mere act of listening to a person’s problems helps reduce anxiety. She also spoke of the need to monitor one’s thought patterns and to communicate one’s concerns with those around them. 

Dr Ayesha Mian, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at AKU, noted that hopelessness and despair are feelings that often exist in people with suicidal ideation. 

She noted that being unable to cope with financial pressures, academic stresses, dysfunctional relationships and bullying were some of the determinants known to lead to passive or active thoughts of suicide. 

“There is a myth that only those patients with mental health disorders will commit suicide. While more often than not, patients who die of suicide have a diagnosed psychiatric illness, there may be those who do not have a mental health disorder. We know that for every one person who takes their life there are ten people actively planning suicide and a 100 with suicidal ideation, which is why prevention efforts are so vital,” Dr Ayesha remarked. 

She also spoke about how compassionate words and actions can help ease feelings of despondency that may lead to pervasive feelings of hopelessness and suicidality in those vulnerable. 

“Talking about suicide doesn’t promote suicide. We often underestimate the importance of listening and acting with compassion even though they help protect against a number of self-harming actions. It is important to listen with sincerity and without fear; if you don’t know what to do, ask the person how would you like me to help,” she advised. 

Over the course of the week, students and staff at the University participated in support group sessions and wellness camps designed to promote mental wellbeing. Students also held a Kindness Walk and organized a Wall of Compassion to showcase the importance of empathy and kindness in preventing harmful thoughts and actions.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Social bias contributing to mental illness: Dr Ayesha Mian


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

There is a perception that people with mental illness are violent, look different from others, can never get better or cannot be productive members of society. These inaccurate and misleading stereotypes impact adversely on people's struggle to cope with their condition.

These were the views of Dr Ayesha Mian, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Aga Khan University (AKU) while addressing journalists at a dialogue on mental health at the Karachi Press Club (KPC). 

The session was organized by AKU in coordination with the club’s Health Committee. 

“The studies show that people with mental illness are much more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator. Media should come forward and be strong partners against this social bias,” she stressed. 

“Family members, friends and the society in general have a vital role in helping people recover from mental illness. They need positive attitude and acceptance of their conditions,” she added. 

It is estimated that approximately 50 million people suffer from common mental disorders in Pakistan. The illness afflicts 15 to 35 million adults, which is approximately 10 to 20 per cent of the population. Additionally, approximately 20 million children, or over 10 per cent of the population, need attention from mental health practitioners. Unfortunately, there are only 400 trained psychiatrists in the country, meaning that there is roughly one psychiatrist available per half-million people. 

Dr Ayesha Mian explained that mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect mood, thinking and behaviour. People go through periods when they feel emotions such as stress and grief, but symptoms of mental illnesses last longer than normal and are often not a reaction to daily events. When symptoms become severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to perform day-to-day chores, they may be considered to have a significant mental illness. 

She described factors that may lead to depression, anxiety and addictive behaviors, and eating disorders, stressful life situations, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, imbalance of a chemical substance in the brain, and genetic disorder or having a blood relative with a mental illness. Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness. 

“While not all mental illnesses are preventable, some changes in lifestyle can significantly help. Be an organized person in your routine life, take wise and timely decisions, and take good care of yourself with healthy eating, regular physical activity and sufficient sleep, usually seven to eight hours for adults. Avoid conflicts in personal as well as professional life, try to participate in social activities, and get together with family or friends regularly. Avoid alcohol and drug use,” she advised. 

“Pay attention to warning signs, for example, inability to cope with daily problems or stress, and have an evaluation by a mental health or other healthcare professional. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and therapy or counseling,” she emphasized.

On the occasion, Dr Ayesha Mian also informed that AKU’s 19th National Health Sciences Research Symposium will focus on mind and brain. Starting from November 4, the annual conference will bring together hundreds of national and international healthcare professionals working in the field of neuroscience. 

Apart from the covering journalists, the session was also attended by Professor of Neurology at AKU, Dr Saad Shafqat, Secretary General of KPC, Alauddin Khanzada, Secretary of Karachi Union of Journalists, Shoaib Ahmed, and the club’s Health Committee members, including Waqar Bhatti and Hamid Rehman Awan.