Ten years ago, when a network of social workers and human right activists started advocacy work in Multan District, (Pakistan) it seemed impossible to reach women living in absolute poverty, most of whom were not allowed to leave homes and had no role in decision making at any level. Being the most illiterate and ‘closed’ segments of the society, they were completely un-welcoming to outsiders especially the ‘shameless’ female social workers who stepped out of their house’s boundaries and came to preach emancipation to them. These… no, us… so-called ‘shameless-westernized-whorish and often baypardah’ (veil-less) women had a tough job ahead and were taught perseverance under the slogan; ‘change comes slowly.’
We were always asked: ‘What good is it, all these meetings, seminars and surveys? How do your families allow you to roam around like this?’ They regarded our sensitization meetings a complete waste of time and some accused us of taking money from western donors only to promote ‘western agenda’ and un-Islamic values. Back then, I knew we could not relate to each other’s vision, which despite being the same; empowerment, was still wrapped in un-certainity. Those simple but hard-working women were the most determined of humans beings I had ever met. Despite their economic and social challenges, they never let the flame of hope escape their inquisitive eyes. They pretended they did not like us, but still opened their doors for us, they had a list of endless questions on any topic they could think of and sometimes even shared possible solutions. To some, we became the only source of information subsequent to their elders (read men.) It was surprising to them that most of the prevailing ideas mistaken for fate were just lack of knowledge. They know now the importance of right to information, freedom of speech and that violence was something they do not deserve.
We all agreed to one thing; nothing will be solved unless we speak up! Previously, we did not question the rich ‘vaderas’ and landlords whom, for some obscure reason, we repeatedly voted for every time, and since we did not question, they never needed to have answers!
Now, after so many years, I am overwhelmed when I watch these simple and straightforward women talk openly to local news channels’ reporters about the men who wronged them, without fear of being threatened or intimidated. Yes, we do need a few more fire starters like Mukhtar Mai of Jatoi but today, I know for sure, that we will keep this fire burning! The change is here. We do not care how long the journey to peace and prosperity will be.
We do need more platforms like PulseWire for access to information, networking, community and capacity building where we meet like-minded women and learn from each others’ experiences and draw strength from strong women around the globe. To move forward, I believe we all need to be connected! I hope more members log on to this platform to share and celebrate solutions we came up with during the fight for a dignified life!
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.