2021 was a historic year for Pakistan. The Pakistan army appointed its first female Lieutenant-General. Speaking on occasion, Pakistan Army’s Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the appointment of Lt. Gen Johar as the first female army official to have three stars on her uniform is “indeed, a matter of immense pride for Pakistan Army and the country.”
“Army Medical College (AMC) has always answered the call of duty during natural calamities, both inland and abroad. Our doctors and paramedical staff have been the frontline warriors against COVID-19, displaying exemplary commitment and resolve for the safety and well-being of the people of Pakistan,” he added.
Gen. Bajwa also laid a floral wreath at Yadgar-e-Shuhada at the AMC Centre on this occasion and offered prayers.
the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major Babar Iftikhar tweeted: “She is the 1st female officer to be promoted to Lieutenant General. The officer has been appointed as 1st female Surgeon General of Pakistan Army,”
Lieutenant General Nigar Johar’s story is not that extraordinary except that she is a woman. In 2015, she became the first woman to command in the history of the Pakistan Army. She was given command of a multidisciplinary third-rank care hospital. By 2017 she was only among two other women in Pakistan to reach the rank of major general. In 2020 Johar became the first and only woman in the history of the Pakistan Army to reach the level of Lieutenant-General.
While this is a huge cause for celebration for her and Pakistan, we still have a long way to go before we can actually call this a win. Even though women have been serving in the Pakistani military, since the establishment of Pakistan, in 1947. It was as recent as 2006 that the first women fighter pilot batch joined the combat aerial mission command of Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The Pakistan Navy prohibits women from serving in their combat branch.
Women can’t join the armed forces as ordinary soldiers, pilots, or sailors; these posts are only open to men.
Quratulain Fatima, a woman who has served in the Pakistan military says, “In 2001, I was one of the first women to join the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). But the road was not easy.”
“We can’t have any scandals around here,” our course commander told us. “These young men have never seen women in the academy, and they can be very flirtatious.” In our conservative society, he insisted, even “a hint of scandal” will suggest that the experiment failed, closing the door to other women who hoped to serve. “The responsibility of making this work lies on your shoulders.”
She remembers that she took that responsibility very seriously. so did the rest of her batchmate. They knew that they had something to prove and they had to compete with the men. They recall their male counterparts making comments such as, “you won’t last a week” we did she says.“But we lasted a year and a half and graduated with those male colleagues to become officers.”
According to Fatimah this kind of behavior from male cadets is and discriminations is brushed off is character building. Every time a complaint is filed, they are told if every little thing is going to bother you and you will get offended over it how will you be able to handle the real stress of war and other military challenges. At that time, she says most of us didn’t know how to answer that. These challenges do ensure a general segregation among the genders which unfortunately end up in women losing out on a lot of opportunity.
This is not to say that change is not happening, it’s just slower than what we would like. Even Saudi Arabia has gotten on board and is allowing women in the Saudi military as part of the Kingdom’s vision 2030. Saudi Arabia’s first female recruits graduated from the Armed Forces Women’s Cadre Training Centre this week, the first time in the kingdom’s history that women will begin service in frontline roles. These roles allow women to advance into senior positions, but do not entail active combat duties.
While the change is towards the positive, changing the outside is usually not enough. There are many challenges ahead for women in military no matter what country or religion they may belong to. Add to it a new thought process and a system that’s just been introduced the patriarchy is sure to blame it on the women.
None the less we are proud of women like Nigar Johar for carving a path for herself and showing how its done to young women around these parts.