PHOTO ESSAY: The Dreams in Their Eyes
As a young photojournalist in Pakistan, Mahrukh Pasha's ambition isn't curbed by the limitations of her society. Inspired by the women and girls around her, she focuses her lens on images of strength.
The first time I held a professional camera in my hands was three years ago, at age 19. Since then, my passion for photography has grown each day. I am proud to be the daughter of a brave nation, but in my country of Pakistan, the term 'photographer' is associated with men.
All around me I see Eastern women either portrayed as miserable and oppressed, or as sex symbols. But Pakistan is a country of courageous people—especially women. As a photojournalist, I carry my camera like a weapon. I photograph women who are their own heroes. Showing the strong side of women encourages others to stand up and face challenges in their lives. And through my positive work, I am proving wrong the stereotypes people in Pakistan have about women who work in media.
The more photographs I take, the more peaceful I feel. I am living my dream. Maybe that is why I am drawn to photographing women who also believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Whether her goal is to be a teacher, or a model, or to survive childhood in a refugee camp, each one of the women and girls in these photographs has a story to tell that is no less heroic than the tales of the soldiers in the battlefields. Their strength can be seen in the illumination of their eyes. They have dreams in their eyes. They show that even though there are many restrictions on women’s freedom in Pakistan, we have free souls, free minds, and free bodies. This is my way of celebrating feminism.
This girl was the only female participant in a debate competition at a local university. Although she lacked confidence at the beginning of her speech, I saw something spark in her as she went on and I took this photo. She ended up winning the competition.
I took this photo in a slum community in Islamabad, where most of the residents work from morning until night at a brick factory to make only around one to two dollars a day, and their children usually do not go to school. While most of the girls were afraid of being photographed, this girl looked straight into my camera and smiled.
This girl lives in the same slum community. If she lived in the interior of Pakistan, a girl this age of 6 or 7 would likely be busy with domestic work and might be married at age 9 or 10. Watching this girl enjoying her freedom and giving all her power to fill the air in that balloon gives me hope.
In Pakistan, women are not encouraged to use technology, such as the mobile phone this girl in Rawalpindi is holding. Today I would probably be a computer engineer if I had the opportunity. Just as I used to sneak onto my brother’s computer as a girl and save my pocket change for the Internet café, the girl in this photo is not afraid to face the male-dominated society she lives in.
Sara was already challenging stereotypes by studying media at university, but she was also interested in modeling, which was forbidden by her family. When a friend studying fashion design was looking for someone to model her clothes for a school project, Sara volunteered, saying she wanted to try modeling at least once in her life before she got married. As she posed for my camera, I admired her passion and her courage to choose her own profession.
Natasha is a courageous human rights activist born and raised in the Swat Valley, the land where where girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai was attacked, and which is often considered the most dangerous place for girls. Like Malala, Natasha is a fearless leader standing up for girls' rights to education.
A refugee girl selling shoes in a downtown market of Islamabad. Her contribution towards her family’s economy can help her little brother and sisters to sleep with full stomach at night. She has so much strength and sense of responsibility at such a young age.
I took this photograph in a refugee camp in the Khyber pass, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a refugee, this girl has probably mostly seen war and terrorism in her young life. Her face shows the hardships she must have faced and there is a question in her eyes that challenges, what is my future?