Photo courtesy of Sister Zeph.
Photo courtesy of Sister Zeph.

PAKISTAN: My Father, My Hero

When Sister Zeph receives threats for teaching girls in Pakistan, she remembers the lessons her father taught her.

In a world where girls have no right to their own identity, my father has allowed me to live a life of my choosing.

I am the third born in a family of four daughters. I was 3 years old when my youngest sister, Ashi, was born. When she was just one day old, my father’s younger brother, my uncle, came into our home and started beating my mother.

He pulled her hair and threw something heavy at her head. The blood flowed from her head to her legs, to her feet, and then to the floor. No one stepped in to control my uncle, and he beat my mother badly. Still, she did not cry, as she already knew this would happen. She had given birth to a fourth daughter, and in a society that favors boys, only women who give birth to male children are given respect. The culture believes daughters cannot be strong.

Ashi was crying a lot, and my mother tried to reach her so that she could feed her. Then, my uncle turned his attention to me. He took me in his hands and ran towards the roof of our house. He wanted to throw me off the roof. We were four sisters, and he wanted us to die. In his mind, we were a burden on the family.

But when my father, who had been away, entered the house and saw what was happening, he shouted at my uncle and demanded he stop right there. I was safe. My father brought my mother to the doctor, and we stayed for a night in my father’s friend’s home. Then we all went to stay at my mother’s parents’ house for our safety.

After a few days, my father left his parents and brothers and stayed with us in another city. He told my mother that they would not try to have any more children in expectation of a son. Instead, they would bring up their four daughters as if they were sons.

And so, when I was about 5 years old, my father taught me to read the newspaper, to listen to the news on TV, to watch cricket matches, and to improve my English speaking by watching BBC and CNN.

He would say, “By watching films and dramas, you will waste so much time. But by watching these things, you will increase your knowledge, and it will shape your future.”

He was right.

Today, women who had been university students take lessons from me, although I have never been to school beyond 7th standard. I have knowledge of history and current events because of what my father taught me. He even showed me how to smell the future of our world.

My father was the first person on this earth who understood me. He supported me when, at 13 years old, I made a choice to leave my school because I was facing discrimination.

He taught me to keep love in my heart. He said, “If you will hate those who hate you, you will increase hate. But if you love those who hate you, you will multiply the love.”

That year, he allowed me to open my own school in the courtyard of our house, even though everybody else made fun of me. I was just 13, but I decided to build my own school where girls could learn without having to face religious discrimination, beatings, and disrespect. I created a place where all students can have equal opportunities to learn and to explore whatever they want.

Then, in 2006, nine years after the creation of my school, gunmen attacked my house. I was 22 years old. Policemen told us to leave our village for our own security. My father refused. He was the one who came back to the house with me and helped me start the school back up. He brought my mother and my sisters back home and convinced them to go door-to-door with me to recruit students.

To this day, my father, who was badly injured in an accident years ago and cannot do any work, arranges water for my students. From his own money he buys candies and fruits for them. He sits in the streets during school hours to look for suspicious persons who may wish to harm my students or me.

In Pakistan, many think girls are born to get married, to produce children, and to do household work. They believe it is useless and a waste of money to educate them, and that it is a great crime against culture to send women outside of the home to do a job. They fear that if a girl is educated, she will become clever and will go against the family’s honor.

In 2013, when people attacked my house, my father was the only man in the whole village who stood up to them and tackled them. Even after that, he told me, “You will not stop doing your work. Our government cannot solve all of our country’s problems alone; we common people have to take a stand with our government. Those who threaten or attack us cannot do anything bad to you. They are cowards, and they are afraid of you because you are educating girls.”

Today, only one of my mother’s sisters and one of my mother’s nephews like to spend time with my family. All of our other relatives have boycotted us. They think my father has given too much freedom to his daughters.

As an educator of girls in Pakistan, I regularly receive threats. People make up stories about me, they attack me; they think I am too bold. They think I threaten the Christian community because 99% of the girls I teach are Muslim.

My father tells me to keep going. He says, “Sister Zeph, you are the only hope. You are a candle who has to enlighten all lives in this country through education and empowerment. Never give up, I am with you.”

In a world where girls have no right to their own identity, my father has allowed me to live a life of my choosing.

My father is an example for our world. If all men supported their daughters in the ways my father supports me, more girls would be able to achieve their goals despite difficult circumstances. More girls would be courageous and empowered to take the bold steps needed to support women and girls in our communities.

If all fathers stood up for their daughters, more girls would be inspired to do as I have done.

How to Get Involved

You can follow Sister Zeph and her school for girls via her website and on Facebook and Twitter. You can also help fund Zephaniah Free Education to continue to support women in rural Pakistan.

 

Story Awards: Feminist Fathers 20Send Me Love

Comments

Dear Sister Zeph,

This is one very uplifting story. I commend you and your dad for braving the challenges you have described so that others can benefit from your sacrifice. often times people ignore the practical education that is directly relevant to our society and people at a given period in our lives. It is because of people like you that the world is a better place for many. I am so humbled by your commitment and endurance ...a special thanks you to your dad for being real human! May the good God continue to bless you and give you even more wisdom to expand your great ideas! Salaams from Uganda (Greetings in Kiswahili)

LVB

 Dear LillianVB  

I am very much thankful to you for such kind words and to read the story of my father; My dream is that one day all fathers will be like him that's why I am struggling to educate all women who will teach their sons to support women as my father supports me 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Hello Sister Zeph,

Thanks for sharing this story of share boldness. keep shining no matter what for you are light and the only hope for the girl child in your country. God will continue to protect and bless you to continue to be blessing.

Love

SAS

 Dear Adisatu

People like you who are working so hard in each corner of world are my inspiration and all of us together are making a change, I am sure one day we will see a world which will have equality and peace 

 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Dear iyamail 

thank you for admiration and support, thank you too for your great work to bring a positive change in Cameron 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Sis Zeph,

 your father is a true hero and so are you. This story is very encouraging and offers hope to many who amy be facing similar challenges. Weldon and looking forward to hearing greater feat from you.

Rit

Best the best possible version of yourself you can be...

Dear Ritz

I am grateful for your kind words, My father is sitting in front of me, stitching cloths for orphan children which we will gift them next week on Eid, and I am feeling so proud of him, I wish each woman has a father like my father thank you again for reading the story 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Hello Zeph,

Happy Fathers Day to your Dad. He is a real definition of a father. May he live to see you succeed in what you are doing. Keep it up girl!

Dear AMumbua 

Happy fathers day to you too and all the girls in Kenya , God bless fathers and daughters 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

thank you dear nazi khan, love and blessings for you from Pakistan 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Dear Gayathry Kumar

Thanks a lot, yes they will have to accept it because we are not going to give up on our goals, which are education for every girl and equality

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Dear berta 

I do not understand what you wrote but I really appreciate that you read my story and sent a comment on it 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Thank you Sister Zeph for sharing this story about your father. We need more men like him in out communities. He is truly a hero for the girl child in Pakistan and I ask God to continue to bless him with good health and life so he can continue to support you in all your endeavours.

Stay blessed my dear sister

Mrs. Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi Head of Legal and Advocacy Centre for Batwa Minorities a.kiddu@gmail.com cfmlegal@gmail.com Skype: mrs_muhanguzi

 Dear Anita Thank you very much for all the kind words and to read my story yes he is an inspiration I wish every girl has a father like him 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Dear Grace thank you so much for your kind words, my father is a real hero without his support it was not possible to achieve all the goals in my life 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Que le seigneur vous bénisse pour le travail que vous avez fait a Pakistan et qu'il vous accorde une bonne vie afin que vous puisse continuer a faire d'autres activités.

Dear Sister Zeph while I was reading this for the first time, I felt so much about the circumstances but also about the greatness of your Family you're my Heroine for a few years now, but you made all your Family known to me as Heroes, with the deepest Love possible, heartfelt your all the best. Sis Elisha 

My sister Elisha thank you very much to read the story and  I  would say to you only that you are my healer and my sister always 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

thank you dear Ayesha I am so proud of you thank you for all the great work that you do to inspire young women in Pakistan 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Dear Hilari 

Thanks to you for reading my story, Yes I am very lucky to have him as my father 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Dear Sister Theresa

I am very much thankful to you for reading my story.I have seen so much pain in my surroundings, which made me realize that I do not have to wait for the change but I have to be the change and after taking this decision I never looked back because it became a mission of my life to make girls educated and empowered, I wish I can see that time in my life when each girl will be educated in our world. 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

saw your talk @ Emerging Women today. So amazing your work and commitment to the girls and women in your life. THANK YOU for raising up women and leading us on a global scale.

Dear goteri I am honored to know that you saw my talk at Emerging Women, it is an amazing platform to share the pain of women who are suffering since centuries for their basic rights in the world so that together we can help our global sisters to change their lives. otherwise they will keep waiting for the life after death in Heaven to be happy and safe from all kinds of violence .

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014