The Pulse

Pakistan’s Next Malalas Fight for Change

At the Women in the World Summit 2013, Pakistani women shared their stories of empowerment and change.

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This month, inspirational women, change-makers and leaders the world over came together as part of Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Women in the World Summit 2013 in New York.

The summit saw names such as Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep and a plethora of women activists, CEOs and leaders in attendance who spoke on and engaged in discussions about women’s rights, education, politics, violence and stories of hardship and triumph.

From Pakistan, Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, along with two inspiring young Pakistani women, Humaira Bachal and Khalida Brohi, were part of a panel on education and empowerment for Pakistani women called “The Next Malalas,” moderated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

The panel was inspired by and named after Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani teenage girl who was shot in October 2012 by the Taliban for her campaigning on behalf of girls’ education. The attack occurred while she was returning home on a school bus. Yousafzai, the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize, now lives in the UK where she is still recovering and continues to fight for girls’ education in Pakistan.

In the spirit of Yousafzai’s courage, panel member Obaid-Chinoy launched her documentary, Humaira: The Dream Catcher at the summit. The film traces fellow panel member Bachal’s remarkable journey.

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Gaining an education with the help of her mother – without the knowledge of her father, who opposed women’s education – Bachal went on to establish her own school, Dream Model Street School, in a village in Karachi. Currently, the young activist’s school employs 22 volunteer teachers and has educated 1,200 children for the nominal fee of one cent per day.

“Education is a basic need and a fundamental right for every human being,” Bachal told NPR. “I want to change the way my community looks at education, and I will continue to do this until my last breath.”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Humaira Bachal with Angelina Jolie and Khalida Brohi - Photo by Marcia. L. AllertBrohi, another activist like Bachal, runs her own initiative, the Sughar Women Program, which provides socioeconomic empowerment to Pakistani women in tribal areas by teaching and developing skills and providing basic education.

The result: beautiful, traditional fashion products with dazzling, colorful embroideries, stitched by the women of Sughar (a word that denotes a “skilled and confident woman” in the local language).

“Being passionate towards the issue and the mission is the first step in becoming a change-maker; it is when you really FEEL the burning need of what you want to do and what you have to achieve at a certain time,” Brohi told Ashoka India, an organization that supports social entrepreneurs. “To be passionate is when you are exactly feeling the pain that others feel and you are desperate to try your hardest for helping out in any way that you can.”

During the summit panel, Bachal said, “In Pakistan, every day a new Malala is born.” Indeed, it is true. The fight for women’s equality, from education to employment and beyond, will be an ongoing battle in Pakistan.

Thanks to the inspirational stories of women like Bachal and Brohi, a growing number of the nation’s women are standing up and contributing to the larger shift underway.

One such story comes from Maria Toorpakai Wazir,  a young girl from Waziristan (in Pakistan) who disguised herself as a boy to achieve her dream of becoming an ace squash player. Today Toorpaki is Pakistan’s top female squash player.

Then there is the recent story of Veero Kolhi, a Hindu woman in Pakistan’s Sindh province. After escaping a life of bonded labor against all odds, Kolhi is currently standing as an election candidate who hopes to bring justice and freedom to those still shackled.

The stories of Pakistani women who have taken a stand are numerous, moving, tragic, and yet encouraging. This movement of sorts has been tumultuously bubbling beneath the splintered surface of Pakistani society for a while.

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One hopes that now, it is only a matter of time.

Sonya Rehman is a journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan. She can be reached at: [email protected]