Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 7, Issue 1
fall 2016
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Alum Spotlight: Sehar Tariq '05


I was going to be a doctor. Then I took Laura Wexler’s class History of Feminist Thought in my first semester at Yale and I could never go back to learning how molecules mixed with each other. During my high school years in Pakistan, I was focused on becoming a doctor (in Pakistan we narrow down subject choices early on in preparation for professional schools) and had never had the time or opportunity to engage with feminist theory or criticism. Professor Wexler’s class was the first time I came into contact with the radical ideas of Beauvoir, Freidan, Hooks and Spivak. It felt like someone had given words to the things I had always felt but never knew how to express or articulate.

Classes with Barney Bates in the Anthropology Department on gender and its performance in South Asia, made me realize the deep rooted implications of gender constructs for both men and women in places like Pakistan and even the United States. Professor Bates taught me how to look at the world through a gendered and feminist lens and opened up a new way of looking at problems, patterns of power and even my own potential – which I began to realize was constrained many times not by my abilities but social constructs of what I thought my abilities were meant to be or used for.

Amidst the theory I learnt at Yale, I was always concerned with how to turn the theory into practice to support those who were victims of a world that was unfairly organized. After a brief stint with consulting after graduation, I moved back home to Pakistan to put into practice what I had learnt at Yale. As I started work in the development sector in Pakistan, I learnt very quickly how insular the walls of our ivory towers were. Working in communities where the realities of life are different from what a Betty Freidan ever imagined, will sometimes leave you at a total loss for what to do. But it is then that all the reasoning, analytical and listening skills you learnt at Yale will hopefully kick in so that you can find ways to listen to others to understand and communicate with them what you want to achieve.

Since graduating from Yale, I have worked in the development sector in the areas of governance, education and peacebuilding. In every job, I have been committed to advancing the cause of women and girls. I currently manage the Pakistan Country Program for the U.S. Institute of Peace where I am working to help amplify women’s voices in the country’s security and peacebuilding policies from which they are absent. My work in diverse areas and sectors has made clear to me how far removed women remain from decision making positions in communities, in governments and even in the non-profit sector. I am constantly amazed by how often despite our education, our work experience and our expertise we are silenced by the men who will speak over us – even on issues that concern us and our bodies and lives. This happens to me in Pakistan and happens to my female friends in the United States. So I know that the battles I learnt of at Yale, are still battles that need to be fought at home and elsewhere. And I am forever thankful to my time at Yale for having equipped me with the tools to participate in the good fight.

Sehar is the Pakistan country representative for the United States Institute of Peace. Her work focuses on developing and supporting programs aimed at finding and mitigating drivers of conflict within Pakistan and in the region. Using research to inform conflict resolution and mitigation programs in Pakistan, Sehar is focused on finding innovative solutions to long-standing and emerging conflicts in the country and region. Previously, Sehar managed the Education Innovation Fund at Ilm Ideas – a DfID funded program dedicated to finding innovative solutions to Pakistan’s education challenges. Sehar also has over 5 years of experience teaching in secondary schools in Pakistan.
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