A Journey I Did Not Do Alone - Sughar Empowerment Society
My friend Laila was only 10 when I knew her, she was a year older then me at that time but fortunately still allowed to come play with us in the sun and outside of our home. We would go out everyday after we are done from reading our Siparas (Holy Quran) and we would meet outside near the old railway line on the dirtpath leading to small houses around our haveli.
Laila was a chubby little girl with beautiful thick hair and her smile was like a bright cure to heal eveyrhting seem fine. I loved seeing her everyday, but there were certain times I would see her, like in the afternoon when I take meal (just as a good deed for neighbors) for her family and in the evening before the sunset when we played near the railway line.
Those were the times I was learning my urdu language as well and I loved how a few sentences were used in playing games and other things that only kids did, one of those sentences I learnt was "Laila ki Bachi daal daal katchi", each time I would call her this she would smile like all of her teeth would fall down and my day would be as bright as that smile!
Then one day, in the heat of the afternoon sun my mother gave me a cup of gravy and roti and told me to take this for her family and I just as usual went to their house happily, I usually never knocked, this time too I got in and heard noises, wails and crying from one of the rooms, the roti and gravy cup in my hand I gazed inside to find Laila hugging her mother in tears and her mother almost faint with crying while her little brother only stood there and watched never knowing what has happend ...as for me, I froze. Right there on the door, never to know what to do. I never knew when had I started crying myself and when was I taken back to my home and when I found myself in deep pain over the fact that Laila's mother that time was being thrown out of the house by her husband along with Laila as she had gone visitng some neighbors without the permission from him..
I never saw Laila again, I never could shout the words Laila ki bachi daal daal kachi again, I never ever could see that bright smile and for days to come the pain still felt kept on as I would think about where and how they would be, but I never forgot that this was supposed to be normal in our community and I had come across things like this in the past and something even worse was yet to come after 5 years when I was to find out about the girl I knew who was killed in the name of honor, and which will finally lead the path for my fight for women protection and empowerment because I have seen women vulnerable and without any access to opportunities that can make them strong human beings.
Our journey did began, taking many shapes and going through learning and failures till what I and my team are doing today.
We launched Sughar three years back after 4 years of campaigning against honor killings, I call those 4 years the years of failure and am quite proud of that becasue I know that the biggest failure of receiving great opposition from tribal communities before launching Sughar led us to find the right startegy to fight negative traditions which is not by standing against the values and beliefs of someone, but getting to sit together with them and letting them understand the reasons why some traditions and beliefs are right and some are wrong, which is what we are doing today, directly working in the very same communities, in the very same strict traditions but luckily mostly supported by tribal leaders themselves and knowing how visible our support to women is!
How we did it begins with the core aim of Sughar itself, which is to provide socio-economic empowerment to tribal women of Pakistan by developing their skills, knowlege, awareness and providing them with income generating and learning opportunities to enable them a leadership role in not only their households but in the society eventually help lower the rate of violence against women and gender discrimination.
We do that by establishing Women Learning and Skill Development Centers in selected rural communities where each Center gives a 6 month course to tribal/rural women on value-adding the traditional embroidery, enterprise development and also provide basic education and literacy skills and raise awareness of rural women which builds their capacities towards decision making and contribution in their households and lives.
Sughar has also launched Pakistan's first ever Rural Fashion Brand for the tribal/rural women in Pakistan to ensure that the traditional embroidery made by these women gets the space it deserves in the fashion industry of Pakistan and that women receive increased profit for their embroidery products.
The finished embroidery products are marketed via various means by Sughar including Marketplaces of Sughar and various exhibitions and stalls around Pakistan. Each course offers a minimum loan to each woman after graduating to initiate Primary Production Units at their homes thus promoting women entrepreneurship and contributing towards a decrease in violence in the name of honor!
Sughar is a label for skilled and confident women in local language, we chose this word as it best suited Sughar Women Program's idea of change because at Sughar we believe that each single women is skilled and confident and blessed with amazing talents and leadership. There is just a need to give them the opportunity and to unleash that unique Sughar in them towards creating the Society where women are not killed for Honor but are Honored, Respected and Admired for their Abilities.
Today there are a lot of things I am thankful about, and one of them is the respect, support, care and understanding from each single one of you who have made sure we are able to achieve our goals at Sughar and who like old friends that I can count on have been there for me at the slightest call. I look at my journey and I see that I have never been alone, but there has been strength of thousands of people with me. Thank you so much for everything!