For the 5th International Day of Rural Women 2012, the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition selected 100 women who have demonstrated commitment to advocating for women’s rights in rural societies in Asia. The ARWC nominated Sumaira Ishfaq, a delegate at the Women in Public Service (WPSP) Summer Institute at Wellesley College, as one of these “Women of Courage.” The ARCW is honoring Sumaira for her work in promoting human rights in rural areas of Pakistan, fighting for gender equity and economic justice, and empowering marginalized rural communities.

Originally from Islamabad, Sumaira now works as the Women’s Rights Program Coordinator with the Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA). Since 2003, PODA is a women’s rights NGO working for the promotion and protection of human rights in rural Pakistan. The Asian Rural Women’s Coalition spotlights the struggle for rights and interests of rural women in Asia through supporting initiatives of Asian women in their countries.

Sumaira, the first of her family to go to college, has worked with government officials, United Nations offices, and the media on projects to end violence against women through educating both the public and rural women about women’s rights. She has been involved in flood relief efforts since 2010. Sumaira works with women politicians and policy makers to organize PODA’s annual conference on rural women in Islamabad.  Sumaira is a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Pakistan-Section and an active peace-builder in Pakistan.

Sumaira has dedicated her life to acting against gender biases, especially having grown up as a girl in Pakistani society. As a delegate at the WPSP Institute at Wellesley College, Sumaira stood out among the delegates for her passion and dedication to women’s issues in her country. Sumaira said that the WPSP Institute was a “wonderful platform of interaction, experience sharing, and learning,” and that the Institute gave her the confidence she needed to excel in her future work.

The Women in Public Service Project Institutes

The Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) co-founded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Department of State, and five leading women’s colleges – Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley – and housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as of June 2012 will provide vital momentum to the next generation of women leaders through intensive training and mentoring opportunities. Wellesley College in Massachusetts hosted the first WPSP training institute in June 2012 for a period of two weeks from June 11-22. The Institute brought together 50 emerging women leaders from across the globe between the ages of 25-45 who were already serving in different fields of public service and/or political or elected office. The Institute provided a forum for shared learning and dialogue; exchange of experiences and expertise; peer-to-peer mentoring and networking; and built an important platform for cross-fertilization of knowledge and innovative leadership skills. Similar leadership training institutes will be held periodically at the WPSP partner institutions.