Krishna Kumari was the only girl in her school. In fact, she was the only girl that went to school in her entire village.
Her parents approved, and her brother escorted her, but that didn’t shield her from criticism.
People in the village talked about her.
They gossiped, because Ms Kumari was breaking the rules around what girls could and should do in her village.
You see, Ms Kumari was a member of the lower caste — a Dalit, a so-called “untouchable”.
She was also a Hindu, a religious minority in Pakistan.
To top it all off, she came from a family of peasants and bonded labourers.
What on Earth was a girl like that doing, going to school? But it paid off.
Ms Kumari has just become the first lower-caste Hindu female to be elected to Pakistan’s Senate.
More women from similar backgrounds are hoping to follow in her footsteps, despite the huge barriers to female political engagement in Pakistan.
Veeru Kohli is a Hindu woman from Sindh province in South Pakistan.
The 52-year-old was a bonded agricultural labourer for many years — one of an estimated 2 million in Pakistan — now she fights to eradicate this type of slavery.
Ms Kohli has run for election before without success, but women’s leadership programs run by Oxfam are equipping marginalised women like her with campaigning know-how.
So far, she has faced death threats from within her community and bribery attempts from rival politicians.
“Some people offered me money, more than $200,000 not to run for election, saying, ‘Just go and build a house for yourself and have a happy life’ but I refused,” she said.
“I have to fight for these people and I will never surrender.”
Success in the face of oppression
But Pakistan had a female prime minister long before Australia
Australia didn’t get a female prime minister until 2010.
In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto became prime minister in 1988 and again in 1993, becoming the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim-majority nation.
But there is a juxtaposition between what a Pakistani woman born to a politically powerful, elite family can do, and what is permissible for the vast majority of women.
There are two big hurdles for female enfranchisement and female empowerment in Pakistan — literacy and mobility.
The literacy rate for girls in Pakistan is around 45 per cent, while it’s closer to 70 per cent for boys.
In rural areas of Balochistan, the literacy rate for girls slips below 25 per cent.
Restrictions around how and where women can travel is also an impediment, according to Oxfam Pakistan director Mohammed Qazbilah.
“The right to mobility is a right that most women in this country do not have,” he says.
“They can’t go out and canvass, they can’t go out and even post their ballot at the time of election.”
He says society shapes girls in a way that makes it harder for them to speak out.
“As soon as the girl child is born and the way she is brought up in the household basically tarnishes her confidence,” he says.
“Those women who are involved in the electoral process, those women who are voted in to parliament are really exceptional women.”
Oxfam in Pakistan, with funding from the Australian Government, is trying to boost female political engagement ahead of general elections later this year.
Its program is supporting women — particularly those from the social, religious or economic margins — to run for political office.
The project also uses education campaigns to encourage women to enrol to vote ahead of polling day.
Tackling gender issues with humour
At a conservative university in Islamabad, Pakistan, humour is used to tell a sensitive story about female empowerment.
In front of a mixed group of students, a play unfolds.
Two landlords control the political process, telling people in the village who to vote for.
Women, especially, are often directed how to vote by the men in their lives.
But in this play, there are a few twists; a loving father is convinced to let his daughter enrol to vote.
Then a woman from the village decides to run for office because she wants to improve the lives of her neighbours.
By gently poking fun at Pakistani society, especially life in the provinces, the play elicits guffaws from the young, urban audience.
But the message is deeper, and the play sparks conversation in the crowd.
The men and women sit separately in the lecture hall, but they all chuckle together, whipping out their smartphones to film the theatrics on stage.
Many of the students here are ready for change and reform.
A young law student takes the microphone and asks how gender equality can be achieved.
But most of the questions from the audience come from men.
In fact, only one woman asks a question.
But these young women do have views. They just need a way to voice them.
“Gender equality is a major issue facing our country right now,” says Khadija Khanum, a 19-year-old law student.
“One thing I would say to our country is please don’t set standards, like, a girl should be like that and a boy should be like that,” she says.
“Just see them as another human and give them space so they can discuss their issues openly.”