Benazir Bhutto: The Possibility of Woman

Benazir Bhutto, the brave and beleaguered former Prime Minister of Pakistan, is a stunning example of a possible woman. An inspirational blend of courage and compassion, she was the preeminent keynote speaker for the 8th Annual Possible Woman conference at Atlanta's World Congress Center.

Bhutto is elegant and eloquent and she possesses a steely composure that no doubt served her well as the first woman head of state in the Muslim world and the youngest Chief Executive in the world.

The daughter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Zilfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir was raised in a political family and her composure served her well during two embattled tenures in 1988 and 1993. In fact, she was arrested nine times and was held in detention or prison for more than five and half years after her father was ousted from office. Bhutto, who was educated at Radcliffe College and Oxford University, was replaced in 1996. Even in exile, Bhutto continues to guide her beloved nation, lecture widely and rally for the restoration of democracy and human rights. Post 9-11, her words ring with even greater urgency and power. A universal symbol of wisdom and of democracy, she carries what she referred to as the “gauntlet of leadership that was thrown before me. I had no choice but to pick it up.”

In her speech, she referred to the times we are living in as “extraordinary and dangerous.” In discussing the new millennium she encouraged us to address new realities and to find new opportunities, while offering condolences for the loss of “3000 innocents who collapsed under the weight of hate.”

Unfortunately Bhutto knows about the weight of hate. Her husband has been under house arrest, separated from her and her three young children under age 13, since 1990. Still, it is with determination and hope that she reminds us of Vaclav Havel's words that “communism was not defeated by military force but by human spirit.” Similarly, she believes that three things choke off the oxygen of terrorism: information, social democracy and equality of the sexes. During her two reigns, terrorism was non-existent, and she championed women's initiatives that transformed Pakistani society and attacked ignorance, illiteracy and injustice. Pakistan was a model of moderate Islam.

“Leadership is difficult,” Bhutto reminded her audience. “If you lead, you can expect to pay a huge price. But leadership is born of passion, a commitment to an idea, a people, a land.” She looked momentarily wistful - a possible woman who has seen both victory and defeat and hopes to see victory again.

It was then that Bhutto's energy shifted. She discussed issues close to the hearts of all working women and men: balancing politics and work, and how the latter often dictates a working family's agenda. She shared the pain of relocating her family to Dubai, so her children would be safe.

So why does she continue on this difficult journey when she could easily retreat to private status? “Because my leadership changed much; because I must,” she said simply, resolutely. “I see my life as a mission. I was groomed in a political family, but I didn't actively seek political office, fate brought it to me. Destiny took over my life.”

She shared anecdotes about events that shaped her outlook, including Kate Millet's book on sexual politics and protesting the Vietnam War. Her enthusiasm was palatable as she revealed the consciousness that she tasted. “To promote freedom, to fight injustice, to secure the rights of dispossessed - I saw the awesome power of changing history.”

She changed history first in England. “I had been told I couldn't win the student presidency at Oxford,” Bhutto remembers. “I overcame my fear, I took a risk and I became the first female and the first Muslim to hold that office. I learned to take greater risks, to face greater obstacles.”

Bhutto believes that the traditional upbringing of women - not just Muslim women, but all women - is one of the greatest obstacles to achieving female possibility. And while she referred to the “threat is the bigotry of some men,” she focused instead on banishing internal demons. Heads throughout the room nodded in knowing unison.

“Yes, you can,” she said. “Don't accept the status quo; don't accept no. Ignore traditional constraints. I have smashed many ceilings, but there are more to break.”

When asked where she gets her strength, Bhutto hesitated. “You must have faith in one's self,” she said. “One must continue; quitting isn't an option, even if I am tired or sad or depressed. I don't consider the fairness of my life. I have a belief in God, that miracles do happen, that sustains me. Each of us must continue our own mission, as I force myself on my path.”

She closed by reminding us that apathy is perhaps the greatest deterrent to realizing our collective and individual possibility.

“We overcome apathy by coming together, at networking events like this, to learn about each other. Be strong, but do not be bitter,” she counseled. “The forces of history are on our side.”

Suzanne Wright owns Wright2Inc., a freelance copywriting and consulting firm. She can be reached at suzannewright@juno.com or 404.875.5618.

Rashid Ghaznavi

Rashid Ghaznavi
Vice President PPP - USA.
created this website, and has provided his adult life to the benefit of the party... (more)

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