By Tooba Asim – Freelance journalist
“Educate a woman, educate a nation” is a line often repeated, but educated women are a sight seldom seen. Stories of oppression and abuse, on the other hand, are in abundance. But there’s still light somewhere at the end of the tunnel, a hint of a silver lining in our otherwise dark cloud. The Pakistani woman is rising to face the challenges.
Academics, medicine, technology, politics, sports or arts – we have names to be proud of in all. The following are accounts of two such women, who faced the odds bravely and are now a source of pride.
Sughra Solangi – A Journey of Courage
After being divorced at a young age, Sughra Solangi, mother of two, geared up to face the challenges and started with pursuing her dream of being educated. After passing her matriculation exams, she applied for a teaching job which she got. From then on, her journey started. Yet, she realized that the villagers were not willing to send their daughters to school. Sughra started a door-to-door campaign in order to persuade them otherwise. She started collecting funds and giving interest-free loans to help those in need of financial assistance.
Within a year, she had around her a small but a very strong group of women and thus started realizing her dream of getting the girl-child educated. She named her group Marvi Rural Development Organization. Through this organization, she wanted to help the harassed women facing hardships in the patriarchal set-up of our society. Women were denied their right to education and girls were married off at very tender ages, with their lives unjustly dictated by their husbands. Women were also being wrongly murdered under the label of Karo Kari (a cultural practice). Such were the miserable conditions of women in Sughra’s village, from which she wanted to liberate them.
Sughra succeeded in getting the attention of donors towards the ailing conditions of these poor women. Soon, help began pouring in, and Sughra’s little group of women expanded into a bigger, stronger organization working for the betterment of the rural women of Sindh.
In 2011, Sughra Solangi got the prestigious U.S. Secretary of State’s “International Women of Courage” award, which was presented to her by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. However, this is not the end of her story. Sughra wishes for all women of Pakistan to start facing the challenges and to start speaking up for themselves.
Jamila Khatoon – The Courageous Ms. Oil
A Rickshaw driver, a motor mechanic and a hawker combined in one superwoman – this is Jamila Khatoon for you. Her journey, however, has been anything but easy.
Jamila was married off to a man double her age. Six months into their marriage, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She contacted the local labour house to help her with their household expenses. She started receiving Rs. 2000 a month to fulfill all her household needs and get treatment for her husband. This was when she put her foot down and ventured out into the man’s world. She decided to take matters in her own hands and began frequenting her husband’s oil supply shop. After her husband’s death, she completely took over his business.
Being a woman, she met a lot of resistance in the form of people refusing to work with her. Instead of giving up, this brave woman took all the matters in her hands, including the motor mechanic’s job. Fighting with people, circumstances and the society, Jamila Khatoon continued with a persistence rarely seen in a woman.
Soon she started venturing to the newspaper market along with her job as a motor mechanic. People started mocking her and calling her a ‘Ladka (lad) without a moustache’. Life went on for Jamila, and she became a newspaper hawker. But this was not enough for her. Later, defying the general norm, she started taking Rickshaw driving lessons. Jamila Khatoon is now a proud Rickshaw driver, a newspaper hawker and a motor mechanic.
Braving her way through the pitch black night, Jamila is confident of the beautiful bright morning waiting for her.
Sughra Solangi and Jamila Khatoon are just two examples of countless such women trying to face the odds in a man’s world.
A final word
In the absence of a truly Islamic and Shariah-compliant state, the lesser-privileged Pakistani women are left to their own devices, especially when male relatives, who could have assumed responsibility for them, do not step forward. Even if some men do take the initiative, they do not aid these women with dignity and honour. In such a case, women have only two options: they can either accept the injustices of the society silently until death comes to relieve them, or they can fight back to attain an honourable status (which is their right to begin with).
It hurts us deeply to see how Dr. Afia Siddiqui is being tortured at the hands of the foreigners, and today, we raise our voices in her support, for her freedom. What about the dark injustices happening on our own soil? Do we have the license to pass verdicts against anyone and assign them to inhuman treatment? Do we not fear Allah (swt)? Or, is it simply that whatever happens in our own backyard is just not worth giving any attention to?
The cries of the oppressed do reach Allah (swt) sooner than anything else. Ignorance is not bliss. Our Zakat and Sadaqat should be used to rehabilitate destitute Muslim families especially headed by women or comprising females only. They need to be empowered and educated with honour by providing long-range solutions instead of quick fixes. Tarbiyah and character-building should also be a part of this programme so they can raise contributing citizens in the society rather than those who resort to a depressed mindset.