TEDx – What it is

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a renowned annual conference which was launched and founded in 1984 in the US, stands as one of the most celebrated conferences in the world today. While TED’s policy prohibits the replication of their conference, along with the usage of their name, it does however allow anyone, based anywhere in the world, to host a TEDx event once a license is formally obtained from TED.

Over the years, Pakistan has seen a number of successful TEDx events being put up by young Pakistanis in a bid to showcase incredible talent and awe-inspiring personal stories from across the country. From TEDxKarachi, TEDxLahore, TEDxIslamabad, TEDxPeshawar, and many others hosted by some of Pakistan’s well-known educational institutions, it seems as if the youth has begun to find a release in local TEDx conferences where they can not only network with likeminded citizens, but also gain a sense of motivation, belonging and identity via these very conferences.

And thankfully so. In the years since the global ‘war on terror,’ Pakistan has consistently been affected by the repercussions of a war that has largely only been profitable for the powers that be, hence, its prolongation. Concerts and gigs stopped being held in public places primarily due to security threats, leaving very few outlets for creative expression open to the general public.

But through the loss of the local music scene and other large-scale events, local literary festivals and localized TEDx conferences have breathed new life into Pakistani society and culture.

Just last month, on the 29th of October, a small team of young TED enthusiasts got together to host Pakistan’s first-ever TEDx event for women in the city of Lahore. Under the banner of TEDxLahoreWomen, the event included eight inspirational individuals from the fields of education, architecture, social activism, science, music and entertainment.

Tracing their personal journeys of hardship and tribulations to big ideas which eventually shaped the course of their lives, the speakers at TEDxLahoreWomen were exceptionally diverse. And their talks? Utterly stimulating.



Held at TNS Beaconhouse’s Phase 5 branch in Lahore, to a packed hall of over 300 registered attendees, TEDxLahoreWomen brought Mahira Khan, Faiza Saleem, Sarah Zaman, Hala Bashir Malik, Sophia Kasuri, Dr. Shagufta Feroz, Salman Sufi and Zainab Chughtai on one platform to speak on topics such as fat-shaming, bullying, the role of teachers in raising confident children, the emancipation of women in public spaces in Pakistan, and more.

“Having organized TEDx events in Pakistan for the past few years, I noticed there was very little participation of women, particularly in terms of the speakers and the audience at large,” stated Irteza Ubaid, the curator of both TEDxLahore and TEDxLahoreWomen. “Therefore to make our event more inclusive of both genders, I knew it was important to hold an event exclusively for women. The theme of the global event, TEDWomen, this year was ‘It’s About Time’, this was something we were greatly inspired by. The theme resonated with us because it really is about time that we start recognizing and celebrating the immense role of women in Pakistani society.”


Graced by educationists, journalists, students, entrepreneurs, socialites and even social activist Muhammad Jibran Nasir (who was in the audience to support his dear friend, Faiza Saleem), the event kicked off with a beautiful instrumental rendition of the national anthem by two musicians, Arfa Chaudhary and Jannat Sohail (who performed on the fourth season of Nescafe Basement, this year). With just a sitar and a ukulele, the musicians left the audience moved and misty-eyed by the end of their soulful performance.


Speaking about her painful experiences of being bullied in school, Zainab Chughtai, the founder of the local anti-bullying campaign, BullyProof and the viral anti-body-shaming movement (which was covered by the likes of the BBC, Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed and other international media outlets), talked about the importance of women reclaiming their bodies and the repercussions of bullying. Truly poignant, the theme of Chughtai’s speech was also, interestingly, touched upon by the Karachi-based stand-up comedian Faiza Saleem and actress Mahira Khan.

Faiza Saleem was an absolute riot on stage; her performance was replete with self-deprecating jokes and personal experiences; yet, like Chughtai’s talk, it highlighted the pain of being body-shamed, especially in terms of the whole rishta/love department in Pakistan and the societal pressure Pakistani women undergo vis-à-vis getting hitched. And even while the audience laughed along with Saleem, her performance really hit a nerve.

Mahira Khan, too, eloquently spoke at length about being bullied and harassed by trolls online and the impact it had on her. During her talk, the audience was spellbound. Why? Here was a beautiful, successful and incredibly famous star who was openly talking about how she too was, and is, a victim of aggressive online attacks and vitriol.

A recent experience, Khan said, left her grappling with a severe “panic attack.” Emotive, eye-opening and powerful, Khan gave the audience food for thought: there’s more than meets the eye regarding success, celebrity-hood and fame.

With a detailed talk on healthy eating and the importance of nutrition in leading a disease-free lifestyle, the well-known correct eating activist Dr. Shagufta Feroz laid down her rules for eating well to combat illnesses of both the body and the mind.

On the other hand, Early Childhood Education expert and the CE of Gymboree Play & Music Sophia Kasuri spoke about the imperative role of a teacher in the life of a child. Drawing from an experience years ago in school where a teacher made a callous remark, Kasuri’s talk emphasized how educationists and teachers can both shape and change the destiny of a child. “Confidence comes from comfort,” she stressed. “We need to make children feel comfortable to embed confidence in them.”

The distinguished classical musician Sarah Zaman fused her talk on music with a gorgeous performance (accompanied by musicians Sajjad Hussain and Zohaib Hassan) on a poem by Baba Bulleh Shah. Watching Zaman sing was such a treat – she truly embodied the lyrics she delivered, transporting the audience to a serene, almost spiritual state of mind. Quite captivating. In the audience, it was also rather touching to spot Zaman’s husband and sons rooting for her during her talk and performance.

Hala Bashir Malik, an architect who has worked with the Aga Khan Cultural Service Programme on Lahore’s Walled City Project, and who currently teaches design and history at Beaconhouse National University (BNU), spoke passionately about the need for the citizens of Lahore to maintain its beauty and heritage.

“Know your city, know it well, know it for its weaknesses, know it for its strengths, know it for its worth in creating your identity, know it for the ways in which you can use your particular skill-set or knowledge framework to create a better place, know it for it is such a beautiful thing, this idea of a city, but know that it can also be a very unjust entity if left to its own devices, and that it is the citizens of the city that should be the writers of its narrative since they are the main characters within it too,” Bashir said towards the end of her talk. Little wonder, the standing ovation she was met with as she left the stage.

Interestingly, a senior member of the Punjab Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit, Salman Sufi, was the only male part of TEDxLahoreWomen, primarily due to his laudable work for Pakistani women. Sufi helped launched Pakistan’s first ever Women-on- Wheels (WoW) campaign which aims to increase the independence and mobility of women by providing them with free motorcycle lessons. The story started in 1989, Sufi told the audience, when a young boy travelled with his pregnant mother on a public bus. “The boy was in agony witnessing the mother’s ordeal in the bus, restricted to a small area with 7 to 8 other women crammed together, stared at by their male counterparts.” That boy was Salman Sufi himself and that ride on the bus proved to be the impetus behind WoW’s successful motorbike rally earlier this year in Lahore.

Sufi has also spearheaded the drafting and passage of the historic legislation, the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016, which is the most comprehensive legislation passed in the history of Pakistan to ensure that the incidences of violence against women are reduced. Sufi’s talk was positive and encouraging, leaving the audience with a real sense of hope for women in Pakistan.

As the evening came to an end, one could not help but feel the dire need for more events such as TEDxLahoreWomen to incite positive change in Pakistan. With a populace that comprises of over 60% of youth under the age of 30, it is especially important that the achievements of role models are highlighted.