While much advancement has been made in women empowerment dilemma in KP society, there is still a lot more areas where women representation is undermined. It is observed that a chunk of working women in this society are as portrayed as if they lack multiplicity, reinforce gender norms and stereotypes – women are conceived as delicate, slender, undecisive, domestic and unthreatening. Despite the lack of diversity in many fields, KP society is moving in a positive and more representative path.
Reports of harassment and misconduct in the workplace and at different events grew awareness about the variances in how women and men are being treated in the workplace and started a conversation that was overdue for long about gender discrimination and gender roles. This led to the formation of “Sundus Shah Photography and Films”, the first women-only photography and production house in KP, that brought a different and new perspective in the staunchly patriarchal society whilst building a much fuller representation of women.
The production house is run by two sisters, Sundus Shah and Kiran Shah, where the key role is played by Sundus Shah and her sister manages the PR and social media. Being a finance student and working on a full-time job, Sundus did not leave her passion for photography. The concept of a woman-led and women-based production house came up when she visited Dubai. Talking to Voice of KP, she said, “When I visited Dubai, I saw that women are doing, photography, videography along with managing the event, even the DJ is also female there. When I came back to Pakistan, I implement this idea in Peshawar and started covering events on my own.”
Since the beginning, photography and videography have stubbornly been male-dominated, there is a conceptual lack of equality in this field. Historically, institutional power and patriarchal dominance structures in KP were reinforced in the form of cultural barriers. Women covering events or holding a camera was considered a taboo. Despite such adverse stereotyping, not all women were discouraged to pick up their first camera. “Family is always the biggest support, you can go out in the world if your family is behind your back – my mother, father and brother are my backbones,” Sundus said.
She further added, “No women can excel without the provision of family, even the girls who work with me feel secure as the society we live in has some kind of impact on our mindsets. The families of several girls in my staff, do not allow them to work with male photographers and even the girls do not feel comfortable working with the opposite gender at times.” Emphasizing on the same issue, she said, “In outdoor events, my brother or father assist me and the girls; while returning, I drop all of the girls first and I am the last one to home, which further increases the faith of their families in them and then me.”
Sundus combines her artistic and creative abilities a finely honed sense of photography and videography for strong business acumen. “By profession, I am an ACCA member and continued doing photographer as a hobby along with my job. Then I realized that there is a huge gap of demand and supply in KP; upon receiving queries on my work, it came to my mind that I need to upgrade my equipment, my scale and work.”
Without any doubt it is evident that women have been gravely ignored and underrepresented through history in art; from painting to literature, photography, music and beyond – the masculine roles is associated consistently with everything. From equipment designed by men and for men, female photographers are still rebelling against the tide. To break this cliched mentality, Sundus took her hands-on equipment, “I learned the glide, drone, videography, editing, from small tasks to handling advanced complicated equipment” she says. Moreover, she told, “The other benefit of learning every aspect is to take over the duty in case if any staff is absent. I have provided training to every single girl working with me so that the services that I provide are error-free and the girls get a chance to learn in a comfortable environment.”
Apart from the challenges Sundus faced as a female photographer in an otherwise conservative and underdeveloped society, she discussed the biggest perk of being a woman photographer. While talking to VoKp, she said, “Being a woman photographer and having a team of females is an advantage too, such as gaining access to and the trust of children or women during shoots or events. KP is progressing, now female models and makeup artists are easily available as compared to four years back.”
It is very unlikely for a progressive woman to excel in a conservative society. But women in KP are now breaking the shackles and moving forward to practice their profession. The message that Sundus wants to give to young female photographers and videographers is, “I want to show future female photographers: yes, you can do it. If you have the craving, you have the talent, you are driven, then you can definetly get there, without the barriers created by society.”