International Women's Day 2019 Special - Frieha Altaf "I am a Liberal Pakistani Woman as I Live Alone – I am a Single Parent"
The inimitable Frieha Altaf has fought stereotypes and made new rules. She lets us in on her life and beliefs…
She is the archetypal woman about town. A lady with the proverbial nerves of steel. Frieha Altaf, CEO of Catwalk Event Management and Productions, has many accolades to her credit – from being a PR maven to event management whizz to the voice that brought the #Meinbhi movement to the Pakistani entertainment industry. While it’s not been a bed of roses, Frieha has never hesitated to walk the path she herself designs. Last month, she organised the Beyond Beautiful expo – a platform to promote beauty and glamour albeit with a different message. This year, she will be seen on the big screen with her daughter who is making her debut in Lollywood. With so much on her plate, it was the right time to ask…
What inspired Beyond Beautiful?
I am not treating Beyond Beautiful like an event, there is a website that will be constantly fed with blogs and interviews. It is not just an expo but there is also an award show where individuals who are beyond beautiful – those who are beautiful inside out – are honoured. Within the expo, we had people from the health to the music industry as well as a ‘beauty hunt’. For me, the experience was amazing. There are many new clients who want to be part of this next year.
There has been an intense debate in the media over body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards. Do you think the message has actually reached the masses?
I think body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards are something that is spread throughout the country. We are a country of 211 million, about 35 per cent of them are said to be educated yet they have their own mindsets and a colonial hangover. We have that innate complex – the gora complex! It will take time for us to get over it but what is important is to ensure that conversations happen in the media.
What are the biggest challenges that the liberal Pakistani women face today?
For me, it’s safe to say that I am a liberal Pakistani woman as I live alone – I am a single parent and I am independent. The biggest challenge is the stereotype. If you are a go-getter, career-oriented, single, liberated and dress in a different way, look and talk different, then you are not really fitting in. Not just men, even women think so! The challenge is to have to prove yourself. I have learnt that once you stop listening to what others say and start implementing things, respect comes automatically. People will stand and judge; you should do what you are doing!
Has social media been a boon or bane for the conversation regarding women’s issues?
For me, social media has been a boon. Earlier, women did not have a voice, when they wrote, they did not sign their name. Instead, they put a man’s name or wrote anonymous because the only way they could express themselves was through writing. Now, with social media, we can pen down our feelings, opinions and anxieties. In Pakistan, especially, social media helps women raise their voice regarding issues.
You have led the discussion on sexual harassment through your #meinbhi campaign in Pakistan. Has there been any concrete changes post that in the entertainment industry?
Absolutely. The campaign started off with child abuse and once people started talking about it, more people came out to receive closure. So it did resonate with many. It’s for both the genders. In Pakistan, it’s a huge problem because we are sexually repressed; it’s taboo to talk about sex. Women will be trolled when they speak, because half the time it is not considered wrong to sexually harass women! These are things that will take time for people to understand but a fear has set in. Tomorrow, it could be anyone facing a backlash and it’s unpleasant. They wouldn’t want to ruin their name and place in the industry. I am happy to say that #metoo first happened in Hollywood, then in Pakistan and only then did it go to Bollywood.
Coming to the movies, your daughter Parisheh and you will be seen together in Parey Hut Love. What was it like?
The movie is great – written by my good friend Imran Aslam with Asim Raza as director. It is nothing less than a Yash Raj production with costumes, locations and songs. There are so many people in this movie that are really quite special that I am looking forward to it. My daughter enjoyed it a lot and the experience was unbelievable. I’m also looking forward to another project that I have been approached for.
You have had a remarkable career, how difficult was it to balance home and work in the early part of your career?
Thank you for saying I have had a remarkable career! I feel I am entering a new era where I am doing the social work that every successful person needs to. I have never ignored my family and pay full attention to my children. I always had my mother’s support as well. You need to be a disciplinarian and be able to multitask like myself. I let my children choose their own goals. Stop complaining because life is good.
What are your next projects? Do you have any plans for an event in Dubai?
Beyond beautiful is obviously still happening. There is an annual charity event in LA that we do. I will be coming to Dubai for the destination wedding conference plus there are some other visits. So there is quite a lot lined up. I will be coming to Dubai soon and there will be a music related event that you will hear of shortly!