Saiqa is 30 years old and has been married for fifteen years. Her husband used to ask her every day and night to show her love for him. Each time he would ask her to imagine that he was having sex with her sisters and had her describe it for him in a story. When she did what she was told, she made him feel that she loved him the most and was willing to do whatever he wanted her to do. “Even though I have no home, no child, no education and no skills, at least he provides me with food and a rented home to live.” Saiqa says.
In the first six months of 2014, 3296 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab, Pakistan according to the Express Tribune. Honor killings, child marriage and rape. These are everyday story that you hear in Pakistan. In fact, just a few months before in Lahore a girl was raped and killed; she was only one and a half years old.
These are the statistics from just one province of Pakistan, a country where women rarely have the courage to go to the police, and if they do go, there is no guarantee that the police will help them because usually police defend men, which means there are more such cases which will never be registered because women will remain silent and will cry behind closed doors.
Even the elders say that women have no home; they have to leave their father’s home to go to their husband’s home and their husband has a right to throw them out any time if they will not obey them.
When women have no access to education and men are not being taught to respect women, it is very easy for those men to think that a real man is one who has full control over a woman’s body, heart, and mind. Indeed, in my culture, women are seen as goats: They should only know how to serve the family. By contrast, those women who are independent-minded and dare to speak out are considered useless and home wreakers.
With the media there is more awareness now, but we have to bring real awareness at a grassroots level, where women do not know about their rights. They think that good girls cannot go out alone no matter what the circumstances are and that a woman should feel lucky that they have a place to stay and have enough to eat and wear. They should work all day, but are not allowed to get an education. It is believed that a good girl is one who only does housework, not get an education, which is considered a waste of time.
There are many NGOs which are working to raise the status of women through education and empowerment. At Zephaniah Free Education we are doing the same: We are not only giving them formal education for free but we are also teaching them skills like stitching, computer classes, arts, aerobics, self defense techniques, library, English, and basic adult education for women.
By getting an education they will be aware of their rights and by learning skills they will become empowered so they will not be dependent on men for their needs.
An important thing about education is that it gives us dreams; dreams to have goals; dreams to achieve goals; dreams to have an individual identity, dreams to make a difference ; dreams to get our own rights; dreams to have freedom; dreams to be loved; dreams to be admired; dreams to be recognized and dreams to be respected.
However, in many countries men do not allow women to have their own dreams; here only men can do what they want, whereas women who have goals have to face so many problems in achieving them.
During my 17 years of services to my community I have realized one thing: That society and culture is dominated by men, that women are controlled by men, and that if women try to break away from this control, they will have to struggle a lot for many years. I also learned that every woman cannot be strong enough to fight this battle for her fundamental rights on her own even though every woman deserves freedom without having to struggle to get it.
In this case we will have to make a society which already has a sense of equality for all genders. We will have to convince men that good men respect women, that men and women are equal, and that none of them should dominate each other. We will also have to show them that if both of them do everything equally, there will be more progress and peace in their lives.
For 17 years we have been spreading this awareness through different ways such as drama: We have produced plays and tried to teach men to respect women.
My life and the lives of hundreds of students are proof that we are achieving our goals because even though there are a few men who are against my work, there are many who are with me. That’s because they trust what I say and send theirs girls to my center to transform their lives and to create a progressive society.
I have recently made a contract with an organization which will teach different skills to our men so that they can get jobs. In so doing, they will not only be busy, but their self-confidence will also increase. I will arrange seminars and meeting with more than 50 men at a time and will teach them that men and women working together can create a positive change
If only women fight for their rights, there will be a big conflict in the society and there will be more barriers for such women. So, it is very important for organizations like ours to encourage men’s participation in our projects.