Gaining Perspective with SIDRA IQBAL

  • 29 Jan - 04 Feb, 2022
  • Rubab Fatima
  • Interview

Synonymous to strong-minded and strength, Sidra Iqbal is a notable personality who doesn’t need any introduction, her vast body of work speaks volumes of how inspirational a person can be. She emerged as a young television host who with her visionary introspections and articulation talent sure knew how to captivate her audience to becoming a high-profile campaigner on social and political issues. Also, she is an avid development activist and is extremely vocal in bringing attention to the problems faced by women and the youth in our society and has been advocating them on various international platforms. It's the honesty and dedication that has helped put Iqbal on the map as a force to be reckoned with. A successful media personality, journalist and a youth icon – Iqbal is a jack of all trades while having a persona that is immensely charming. She is also a firm believer of purposeful television programming in order to create an impact and to change the set narrative. Read on to dig deep into her meaningful conversation with MAG:

Introduce us to Sidra Iqbal? Who is she as a person behind the camera lens?

I think Sidra Iqbal as a person is more sensitive than she would let the world see. I am very cognizant of the people around me. I’m able to pick up on their emotions even before they start speaking. So, I’m also very intuitive and that might be because I’m the firstborn, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the world and I’ve been in circumstances where I’ve managed people. I take a lot of pride in my interpersonal skills and my ability to read people. So as a person, what people don’t know is that I’m very sensitive and I’m very observant.

What inspired you to step into the field of journalism?

I think… Life. Life inspired me. I take a lot of pride in the fact that the right opportunities landed my way. And one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten has been from my Nana. I remember the first time I was going to London for my competition, it was the same time when my O level exams were happening. Everybody said, “it's a competition, you may or may not win but you’ll probably lose an entire year if you miss your exams.” I was very confused and I spoke to my Nana. He told me, “if you don’t go, you’ll always look back at this opportunity with a ‘what if’. You would always wonder whether you could have won or not and that’s too big a price”. So, he taught me to make the most of any opportunity that comes before you. That’s exactly how I ended up in journalism. The first time I was offered the work, I just followed my intuition.

Walk us through that memorable moment when you were awarded the GR8 Women Award for Journalism by the Government of UAE.

I already knew about it. I found out about it two months before the actual ceremony. I was flown into Dubai and we were given a VIP treatment. It was a glittering event. Some of the biggest officials and ministers of UAE were there. I remember thinking back to myself that I was feeling very proud. This is by the television academy and the government of UAE. It honestly felt really fulfilling to be the first Pakistani to receive this award.

Being a youth rights activist, do you think we are reaching the next generation in terms of teaching them to give back?

What I have noticed is that Gen Z’s are much bigger social entrepreneurs than we were. They are far more impact-oriented than the previous generation. Our generation also got a variety of new tools, we unleashed the power of digital, how it all adds up and banking changed a lot as well. A lot of major changes came in our lifetime but the next generation, however, has been born into it. They are digital natives and thus, I feel that they are at an advantage when it comes to harnessing the power of digital. They are a way better generation than we were in terms of impact. They have inherited a lot of critical problems that we have contributed to. To add to that, they have also experienced the pandemic and this new complicated world. So, I feel that their sensitivity is there and I would like to hope that their ability to cope and to be mindful of their actions is much more responsible than our generation.

How does it feel to be representing the youth of Pakistan at different potentially driven international forums around the world?

It made me feel very purposeful at that time. It was not only about bringing the story of Pakistan and our perspective to that international forum because I feel an effective representation is when you can look beyond yourself. There were times when I would feel… (yes, I have earned it in merit to be here) but I would also think, “Do I really represent that larger youth of Pakistan?” Because here are a lot of problems that they face and I am just the messenger. I haven’t experienced them first hand. And if you’ve noticed, this is the same folly, this is the same dichotomy, this is the same pain that a lot of public representatives have. I think one of the best things that happened to me when I went there was to interact with young people from around the world. To be able to appreciate the diversity, to be able to notice the differences but then also to notice that we have so much more in common than we have different.

Being in the media for years now and having hosted a number of television programmes, what sparked your interest in raising your voice and giving it a platform that is popular among the masses here?

I feel it’s less about the popularity. I think that the generation we are and the age that we are living in, fame comes to us very easily. It’s not as difficult to become famous now as it was perhaps a generation ago because there were fewer avenues. You could project yourself less. Being famous is not really a strength now. But yes, if you have achieved a point where people do look up to you than why not. For me, it just came naturally because I was a mentor to many people. Hence, I felt like an extension of myself to be focusing on things that would help people navigate their own issues. If my programme could help people have a little advice in solving their problems, that to me is very fulfilling and purposeful.

With an extensive body of work you have on your credit in broadcast journalism and political commentary in Pakistan, do you actually believe that your work has helped the causes that you support?

I would like to think so. When I have raised my voice, I have often been the lone voice, and it’s a receding island that I’m stumbling on because I feel that one of the biggest challenges modern times presents to us is to stay neutral, focused, and moderate. We live in highly polarised times. For every question or every subject that is presented before you, you need to pick a side. So, the challenge that I have given to myself is to make sure that I stay on neutral ground. I will not let my personal ideas be projected onto the speakers and the people who come to my show. Even if I disagree with them I will still give them that room to express themselves.

Stars often have charitable work or their own foundations. What was important to you about being different from that cliché?

I feel it’s a question of time. There are areas and issues that I feel very strongly about such as breast cancer, girls’ education, health issues and I have extended myself to such causes but I feel it’s a huge responsibility, and there’s a huge time dividend if you are to spearhead and to lead an organisation yourself. With too many responsibilities, I don’t think I could do justice to spearheading a cause like this but I’m always available for causes that are close to me. That's why I give whatever I can of my time and myself to TCF, KDSP, Indus Hospital, and any other causes that find worth in me being there.

You have been advocating for women’s rights in your television show every now and then. Has that element received any backlash from the viewers?

There isn’t really a backlash. However, sometimes when people have very rigid ideas or are unable to open their hearts and minds to the point where they can at least tolerate a difference of opinion then it’s a problem and you can see it. This world would be a much happier place if we could just find the courage to listen to other people. It’s a very deeply embedded patriarchal mindset, and when I say patriarchy I don’t just mean men, there are also a lot of women who subscribe to that school of thought, and sometimes they can be very closed-minded. It’s never ended in backlash but I can see when emotions are getting worked up and when their reaction can be volatile, I can sense that. But luckily, I have never faced that online.

While participating in many global programmes and initiatives that revolve around women’s rights. Do you think they are communicated well here in Pakistan?

I think when it comes to women's issues, no society can claim that all of the challenges are dealt with. There will always be segments and pockets of society that are more vulnerable. We are all sort of grappling. We are trying to make mechanisms, laws and institutions to ensure that the greater good can be achieved and that women's rights, i.e. human rights are respected. When something drastic or nasty happens, it does make headlines and provoke us. It makes us angry and we become very activated but that activism needs to be sustained, it also needs to be objective-driven.

Keeping in mind our country’s literacy rate, why do you think it is important to create spaces for STEM fields to thrive? What can be done to increase the awareness?

I feel the STEM fields are the future. Sooner or later we will realise that for employability, general wellbeing, and societal progress, it's important to embrace it. We will be doing our young people a disservice if we don’t train them, and if we don’t perpetrate it enough. That is why I think more scholarships and fellowships need to come in. Whenever there's a stem cell achievement, I try to promote it. I think it is a stereotype in Pakistan that people of this country are not good at STEM fields but that’s not exactly true. Yes, they might be far and few but propagating them, pushing them, and getting them the right publicity is at least, what I aim to do.

Tell us something about the online panel discussion led by Google which was moderated by you. Do you think it is the need of the hour to level up on technology for a more digitally aware Pakistan?

Absolutely! What I loved about that panel discussion was that it brought a variety of stakeholders together. From the government to actual innovators and to policymakers. And yes, allowing everyone to give their stance on it will allow us to create more of an enabling environment. I absolutely enjoyed myself because it was very thought-provoking. I really hope that there would be a round two, so I could take up some of the sub-themes on of my upcoming shows as well.

This new generation of celebrities is socially conscious. Will it be helpful in the development of our young generation?

I think celebrities definitely have the power to leave a lasting impression on their followers. If they uphold high values which draw people’s attention to challenges and present them in a mindful way they can actually bring about lasting change. Being socially conscious and presenting a holistic lifestyle can definitely be helpful in the development of our younger generation.

Finally, any advice you’d want to give to encourage our youth?

A growth mindset is the key. You always have to look at life as being full of possibilities and potential. If you don't feel like that’s the case, then find a way to challenge it. Always assume that the best is yet to come. Never give up on yourself and life and opportunities. •