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Change: Not that slow after all!

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!

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suzanna of c's picture

Time is relative!

Although I am not sure what your role was in this setting, the story is inspirational and remarkable. It shows a patience and willingness to move forward to educate and share and not give up. I am inspired for I too believe that connections can be made between us and that we are curious and intelligent and will work with knowledge that supports human dignity. And to say that "we do not care how long the journey to peace and properity will be.." is a model for what it takes to move an idea to reality. Thanks for the picture!

Susan

Iffat Gill's picture

Thank you for reading!

Hello Susan,

I was one of those 'crazy people' who the community people (especially men) looked at like someone who is trying to imbalance their lives by bringing a change in their existing systems of governing, interacting and day to day dealing. They though social activists like us were there to teach their women to rebel against their norms and traditions and break the cycle of their poverty and violence in a way that would leave the men powerless in front of their women. During these challenging times, we also came across extremists elements who did not allow us to even speak to these women but now, looking back to it, it does feel it was a good decision not to leave those women on their own. I am not saying that those people would not have woken up to the bitter realities of their lives, they would have still revolted one day and stood up for themslves, stood up for change, but it would have taken so much longer to get where we are now.

My heart goes out to every struggling women in Pakistan, who is facing dilemmas of being 'protected', yet still exploited in different ways at the same time.

Best,
Rose.

Iffat Gill

deltaqueen's picture

Keep Reaching

Yes! Change is not slow after all, not with people like yourself. It takes courages and determination these days to stand up for what is right and not hide in the shadows, despite ridicule. Continue to know that we all have trumpet to blow and voices to be heard as loud as we can make them. Continue on your positive journey. Stay strong, be encouraged and stay determined.
Continue to have peace.
Shawanna

Iffat Gill's picture

Thank you for the comment

Dear Shawanna,

Thank you for reading my post and for commenting on it. It does take a lot of courage to stand up for what is right, especially in societies where women are considered 'safe' and 'respectful' as long as they are inside the boundary walls. Somehow, she immediately loses worth or dignity once she shows rebellion or resistance. We will keep on raising voices for progressive change!
Best,
Rose.

Iffat Gill

Vega Tom's picture

So nice to see progress

Rose -
I really enjoyed your post. It is so validating to hear about the impact outreach has truly made and the difference it has made in the lives of women. I am always impressed to see women speaking out for themselves more openly despite obstacles. Change has its fits and bursts, and indeed the voice of one woman challenging the norm can be earth shattering and become so normal at the same time. I really appreciate your descriptions of your community, your recognition of progress in the face of so much work to do, and your positive vision.
Thank you!
Vega

Iffat Gill's picture

Magic of this platform

Thank you so much for your nice comment. What is even more amazing when talking about the work we do is to meet people like you who can relate to the work being done for the change. If we look at the percentage of people working for the betterment in their societies and compare it to the actual population, the results could be alarming! Imagine how much difference we can make if everyone thought of doing their little part in making a difference. through this platform, I am really glad to have found listeners and friends like you who understand the challenges and hard work of struggling women..we all struggle in our lives..but these are women who go beyond themselves in the fight!

Thank you once again!
Best.

Iffat Gill

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