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.