PHOTO ESSAY: The Dreams in Their Eyes

As a young photojournalist in Pakistan, Mahrukh Pasha's ambition isn't curbed by the limitations of her society. Inspired by the women and girls around her, she focuses her lens on images of strength.

The first time I held a professional camera in my hands was three years ago, at age 19. Since then, my passion for photography has grown each day. I am proud to be the daughter of a brave nation, but in my country of Pakistan, the term 'photographer' is associated with men.

All around me I see Eastern women either portrayed as miserable and oppressed, or as sex symbols. But Pakistan is a country of courageous people—especially women. As a photojournalist, I carry my camera like a weapon. I photograph women who are their own heroes. Showing the strong side of women encourages others to stand up and face challenges in their lives. And through my positive work, I am proving wrong the stereotypes people in Pakistan have about women who work in media.

The more photographs I take, the more peaceful I feel. I am living my dream. Maybe that is why I am drawn to photographing women who also believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Whether her goal is to be a teacher, or a model, or to survive childhood in a refugee camp, each one of the women and girls in these photographs has a story to tell that is no less heroic than the tales of the soldiers in the battlefields. Their strength can be seen in the illumination of their eyes. They have dreams in their eyes. They show that even though there are many restrictions on women’s freedom in Pakistan, we have free souls, free minds, and free bodies. This is my way of celebrating feminism.

This girl was the only female participant in a debate competition at a local university. Although she lacked confidence at the beginning of her speech, I saw something spark in her as she went on and I took this photo. She ended up winning the competition.
I took this photo in a slum community in Islamabad, where most of the residents work from morning until night at a brick factory to make only around one to two dollars a day, and their children usually do not go to school. While most of the girls were afraid of being photographed, this girl looked straight into my camera and smiled.
This girl lives in the same slum community. If she lived in the interior of Pakistan, a girl this age of 6 or 7 would likely be busy with domestic work and might be married at age 9 or 10. Watching this girl enjoying her freedom and giving all her power to fill the air in that balloon gives me hope.
In Pakistan, women are not encouraged to use technology, such as the mobile phone this girl in Rawalpindi is holding. Today I would probably be a computer engineer if I had the opportunity. Just as I used to sneak onto my brother’s computer as a girl and save my pocket change for the Internet café, the girl in this photo is not afraid to face the male-dominated society she lives in.
Sara was already challenging stereotypes by studying media at university, but she was also interested in modeling, which was forbidden by her family. When a friend studying fashion design was looking for someone to model her clothes for a school project, Sara volunteered, saying she wanted to try modeling at least once in her life before she got married. As she posed for my camera, I admired her passion and her courage to choose her own profession.
Natasha is a courageous human rights activist born and raised in the Swat Valley, the land where where girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai was attacked, and which is often considered the most dangerous place for girls. Like Malala, Natasha is a fearless leader standing up for girls' rights to education.
A refugee girl selling shoes in a downtown market of Islamabad. Her contribution towards her family’s economy can help her little brother and sisters to sleep with full stomach at night. She has so much strength and sense of responsibility at such a young age.
I took this photograph in a refugee camp in the Khyber pass, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a refugee, this girl has probably mostly seen war and terrorism in her young life. Her face shows the hardships she must have faced and there is a question in her eyes that challenges, what is my future?

About Mahrukh Pasha

Mahrukh Pasha is a World Pulse Voices of Our Future Correspondent from Jacobabad, a rural village in Pakistan. She was always told that only ‘loose women’ used the Internet. As a young girl, she bravely defied that cultural mandate and frequented a local Internet café. In her community, child marriage is common due to poverty and lack of access to education, but Mahrukh desires to change her homeland’s perception of women. She believes that women’s wisdom is needed to change the tides in her society, and she plans to begin by healing and rebuilding women and girls’ perceptions of their worth. Connect with Mahrukh.

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Beautiful photographs Mahrukh! There are clearly many women with stories to tell, and your photos give us a glimpse into their world. Thank you for sharing!

Scott Beck

Thanks Mahrukh, for sharing this pictures, though I have been to Pakistan with my late elder brother for a kidney transplant at Lahore, I could not really go out exploring because I had to take care of him. Through your pictures, I have just visited Pakistan again. Thanks

Okocha Nkem

Founder & C.E.O,Mamamoni

Thank You, everyone for appreciating my work We need to show more positive side of women in media

My photography is just a step towards change Together we all can make a whole staircase to success

Regards Mahrukh Pasha Daughter of East

Dear Mahrukh, Looking at your pictures over and over, I can't stop thinking of their lives stories. Like you mentioned, hardship, courage, choosing to follow their dreams, I have always said that their eyes is their window soul and it's very touching. I really enjoyed and made me feel closer to this worldwide family. Blessings, MariaAle

Maria Alejandra Alcaraz

Thank you, Mahrukh for having the determination to insist on the right to be a woman with a camera. I too, keep returning to your beautiful photographs of these strong women, and to your words, telling their stories. You have strengthened this International Women's Day.

Dear wonderful you ...

To read the journal of how courageous women are becoming in your country is awe inspiring to say the least. I have recently been corresponding with a wonderful Poet from Pakistan and he too is for more empowerment for women in his country.

Some of the women in the photos are so young and yet their eyes speak of old Souls on a mission.

A wonderful journal to read and a pleasure to see this.

Warm regards


Dear Mahruhk,

This has to be the best photo essay I have seen. And that caption, "The Dreams in their Eyes" really suits the photos.

I admire your passion for photojournalism. I can not wait to see more from where this is coming from.

Your pictures speak!


My pen speaks

oh Mahrukh I love this totally. well done im so inspired

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest. regards pela

These are beautiful photographs, they really make you think and wonder about the stories behind them. They show that there is a lot of hope for the future.

Those are great photos, and I like that you have also told us a little about the women and girls in the pictures.

Good look with your photo journalism career!


So beautiful and inspiring. Your courage and enthusiasm is world changing in itself. I am currently reading Malala's book because I saw her father on youtube. It goes to show how the internet can tell our stories and connect us in strength and encouragement. You go girl!

So beautiful and inspiring. Your courage and enthusiasm is world changing in itself. I am currently reading Malala's book because I saw her father on youtube. It goes to show how the internet can tell our stories and connect us in strength and encouragement. You go girl!

Beautiful photographs Mahrukh! They say that a picture speaks a thousand words...In your case, each photo tells a story and your words enhance the picture and the story! You are a gifted messenger with your photos and your words with important stories to tell! Thanks so much for sharing with the World Pulse Community.



Thank You for sharing such a beautiful photographs. I can see rays of hope and strength in all those strong girls - A HOPE that change is possible and the STRENGTH which says - I dare to achieve it.

Many Congratulations!


What incredible photographs with such thoughtful captions! Your photos capture the varied experiences of life for women in Pakistan in a moving way! You are a gifted photographer and your passion for you work is so clear! Thank-you for sharing and I hope to see more of your amazing work!