September 13, 2011 |
Hina Rabbani Khar: Pakistan’s Political Superwoman
The first woman—and youngest person ever—to serve as Pakistan’s minister of foreign affairs, Khar is not only turning heads but helping to overturn stereotypes about women leaders.
In July, when Hina Rabbani Khar made her first official trip as Pakistan’s foreign minister, her outfit—which included Roberto Cavalli sunglasses and a Birkin bag by Hermès—drew more headlines than her negotiations. Regardless of the price of her accessories, it’s the sort of public belittling that most women in politics, particularly those who are young and beautiful, can identify with.
For the first woman—and, at 34 years old, the youngest person—to occupy Pakistan’s top diplomatic post, it would have been a difficult role to step into under any circumstances. Beyond handling negotiations with problematic, not to mention powerhouse, neighbors like India, China, and Afghanistan, Khar also has to maneuver the delicate terrain that comes with being a high-powered female politician within a largely patriarchal Muslim tradition. “You have to work twice as hard being a woman in our society,” she says.
A member of a political dynasty, she points to specific, tangible projects rather than political platitudes when she’s challenged about the status of women in her homeland. “What really makes a difference—and this is something I’m very proud of—is the school my mother is running for 200 girls in our village,” she says. That village is also home to a vocational-training center that Khar herself set up, which sells hand-embroidered work on behalf of women who profit, and ultimately attain economic empowerment, from the returns. She hopes to eventually take it nationwide. “For me,” she says, “that is real societal change.”
As for her meetings with India? Well, onlookers may have been distracted by her handbag, but the negotiations—with a foreign counterpart some 45 years her senior—were by all accounts more productive than they’ve been in years.