The real women who will change Pakistan

Published: March 9, 2011

Three women from diverse backgrounds and facing multiple challenges all seem to have one priority – education.

I met Mussarat a few years ago. After losing her husband to a protracted illness, Mussarat brought up and educated her two daughters alone.She worked in a tube-light making factory, a sewing and stitching centre and also cleaned people’s homes- sometimes holding more than one job,simultaneously. She had been dependent on her father for her livelihood before marriage and her husband after her marriage. Uneducated and unskilled, she was left to fend for herself when her husband was no longer able to provide for the family. She wisely told me:

“I did not want my daughters to face the same situation. I decided that my girls will be educated. Today, they are educated and married. My struggle was not just to put food on the table, it was also to put my children though school while struggling to pay for my husband’s treatment, while he was alive.”


Shahnaz works as a part-time beautician while her husband is a welder and makes enough to support the family. Shehnaz does not work to support the family, she works to support her daughters’ education.

When I met her, the oldest of her 3 daughters was entering her undergraduate level. Shehnaz wants her to pursue a career in nursing but her daughter would rather work in an office. She is currently enrolled in a Masters program at a leading public sector university in Islamabad. Shehnaz knows she is investing in her daughter’s future.

“I have only received primary education, that is no good in the real world. My in-laws look down on my daughters because of this, I want them to be educated so they are independent and respected as boys are.”


Rehmat’s husband was a brick-layer when not in pursuit of or under the influence of charas. I remember she was always unhappy. She would not disclose her full pay to her husband and would always let part of her pay be with a friend for safe-keeping. Among other uses, this kitty was used to pay for her children’s education. I “disitinctly, recall two things she said to me:

“Though, he is abusive, he is a protection for me from so many other vultures that men can be once a woman like me, is alone.”


“Bibi, I just want to ensure my daughters are not like me, they will be educated. They will have a better life”


None of these women know Clara Zetkin, the woman behind the idea of an International Women’s Day. They have never heard the word ‘feminism’ or the term ‘women’s movement’. Yet, they are partners in the struggle for women’s empowerment. They are partners who through their everyday struggle ensure a better sense of self for the coming generations of women. All of us know such women of substance. Unfortunately, we do not talk enough about them in the many informative sessions on the eve of the IWD. Yet, these are the real heros, through whose struggle we see, today, young women fairing better and better, living out their mother’s dream and carving a niche within the society for a new generation of women.


Shirin Gul

Shirin Gul

A development professional teaching culture and research at a local university in Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ox


  • Humanity


    Hats off to these women for surviving in the conditions that they do. The hope for Pakistan lies with the women. Organize million women marches to take control of your destinies, before more generations are lost to poverty, illiteracy, hatred, and greed of the few. Recommend

  • parvez

    You nailed it with the three examples. Just brilliant.Recommend

  • Kiran

    These are the women who must be celebrated, who are bringing about the quiet revolution. The key for any societal change is EDUCATION, EDUCATION & EDUCATION!
    Bravo and thanks for sharing their inspiring stories with us. Where there are women like these, there is always HOPE.Recommend

  • Hanif awan

    education,education n education only but not of the madrassas of the day.Recommend

  • Let us not digress

    great piece! great argument and extra ordinary support for it. although the majority is disappointing in this respect, there are many ppl out there who realize the future pay off of education and work to achieve it. hats of to these women and thousands of others who shun patriarchy and make a living by the dint of their labor.Recommend

  • Asad Raza Usmani

    It is not only true for Pakistan but very much true here in India as well. I, for example, these days am playing this role of being a very healthy goat to be bought. Last weekend, I had to meet the boy’s family and the questions asked to me were something like- Am I healthy?( Oh no, I am not…I take weekend shifts to the red light district in the city and voila if your boy marries me, I might detect cancer as a bonus!), Can I read and write in English and Hindi?( FYI, I am a lawyer in US, graduate from Duke and a boarding school grad in India, I can speak and write in English,Hindi,Mewari and German!), did I tell you that the boy’s father asked me to write an essay in Hindi and English so that he could match the ‘boy’s’ personality with mine!?
    And yes it is women’s day I celebrate everyday. I remember when I were in India, every time I wore shorts I had admirers who were trying to ‘feel’ me or whistling at me. By this, I can say that I ‘feel’ women’s day! I am supposed to retain my fair skin tone..why… because if I don’t the boy will not approve of me! Why do I need anyone’s approval..I might not approve the boy if he lets say has long hair. And yes, my parents actually asked the boy’s family if they wanted dowry. To which thankfully, the boy’s parents denied, but I am sure if I marry this boy, I will have to pay a dowry in another way.
    P.S- I am glad that women are standing up together and raising their concerns, it’s not about Hindu or Muslim or India and Pakistan, it’s about us…Women, who are universally same. No boundary can part us with our ‘womanhood’.Recommend

  • Maha

    Thanks for this! Makes me value the opportunties and liberty for education and work for us as women today. It would not have been possible without the vision of those that came before us!Recommend

  • Mariam

    Our maid works hard and is determined to educate her children. I admire her more than any other woman. Recommend

  • Shamaila

    Well written and thought proviking. Recommend

  • paola

    Sometimes it’s from poverty that strenght and empowerment comes to birth, sometimes…..
    Different experience here in Italy, south Italy, poor slums outside of Naples. Women who in a way or another support all their family, but they don’t have any hope, any hope that something can change for tthem and for their children.
    It’s a long time that I think that the only way to go on is to work for the construction of hope, the building of believe.
    There will be no development without hope, without believe, and here, in the old Italy there is no belief anymore. that’s why I always say that live in a much less developed country than many other developing countries!
    I believe that women’s empowerment is fundamental and I hope that I will contribute a bit to the empowerment of some of them in this tiny part of the world!Recommend

  • Mehrish

    Shirin this is one of the best posts I have read in a long time, the web is full about the high society women doing so and so work but we hardly get to hear about the TRUE women.
    In a society where women are only viewed as a person responsible for house chores, these are the women who show the real strenght ! Hats Off to them !Recommend

  • Asad Miraazi

    Wow! What a self promotion forum!
    Please educate yourself about the Male Rights Movement.
    Coming soon, to your country, town, office and home.Recommend