BY YUSRA JABEEN
LAHORE: She cooks, she cleans, she performs all tedious household chores laboriously, yet she feels chained. If a woman has a supportive family, she might not have the financial means to afford the education. When she has all the money in the world, her family may not back her in following her dreams.
But despite a complex mesh of multiple hurdles, she does not give up. Kausar and Jamila are two such women, who have met every challenge head on in their quest for a better future, for themselves and their dear ones.
Kausar Latif was married at the age of 16 in 1985 in a family that did not fancy education.
Though that was not how she had planned her life, Kausar, 47, a mighty woman with a larger than life persona, remains illiterate.
Never having seen the inside of a school, the only thing Kausar knows about formal education is that knowledge is necessary to help underprivileged people get ahead in life.
Married in a family that had no inclination toward acquiring education, Kausar found raising Sadaf, her first-born, as a self-sufficient woman challenging, to say the least. “It was considered dishonorable for girls in our family to get an education,” Kausar said. “Relatives used to gossip and drum up lies about my daughters all the time. The mental stress was more difficult to deal with,” she said, while gazing at the ceiling with wet eyes.
But the young mother had learned early in life that she could “rely on no one except God”, she said. “I faced all taunts my in-laws lashed out at me because I knew education was the only way my family could have a better future,” the undefeated Kausar added.
Sadaf worked round the clock, resting only a maximum of four and a half hours at night. She helped her mother care for her siblings and the rest of the family as well as perform house chores. Whatever spare time she managed to have, Sadaf would spend it studying. If the spare time happened to clash when power was out, she would study in candle light, airing herself softly with a hand-held fan.
The strain on her physical and mental health caused Sadaf to develop a unique condition at 14, which remains uncured to this day. In addition to wearing numbered glasses, Sadaf deals with a condition where she loses her vision sporadically for a certain amount of time before it returns.
An uneducated 16-year-old mother in the late 80s knew what the right thing to do was; she empowered her daughter without having any formal education herself. She faced criticism from family and nosy in-laws, ready to break her down at every turn in life. But Kausar remained steadfast despite the hurdles.
Today, Kausar beams with pride as she sees Sadaf living an enriched life. Sadaf, 26, is working as a principal at a TCF school in Nathoki. She is married to a wonderful feminist and has a five-month-old daughter Hiba, whom she brings to school, along with her nanny, every day.
Born in a family of wealthy land lords, Jamila Hadayat had everything provided for her. But this comfort came at a price she had never agreed to pay.
Jamila’s mobility was limited, quite literally, to the four walls of her house as a girl.
Women in her family are not allowed to go outside unless absolutely necessary; when required, a male member of the family must escort them on the way. They cannot go to the market and buy sanitary pads, even. As an alternative, men in the family buy uncut bundles of cloth and give them to the women, who then cut and sew the cloth into smaller pieces to use when they menstruate.
Even though most members in the family, men and women alike, abide by the gender roles, Arif Ali, Jamila’s father, pioneered in breaking away from the norm. Progressive in his approach, he started teaching Jamila how to read and write at home.
And when the opportunity popped up to send Jamila to school, Arif fought everyone who was opposed to women leaving the house and that too, to get an education.
Jamila was admitted to the sixth grade at The Citizens Foundation school in Minhala. A motivated student, she excelled in her studies despite the emotional abuse she faced.
“The most vocal of my opponents was, and still is, Anwar Uncle, my dad’s youngest brother. He would fight with me every morning before I left for school,” Jamila, who now has a master’s degree, said.
“Every day, I felt like quitting,” she added, “Every morning, I decided against it.”
After pursuing further studies privately, Jamila taught at a TCF school for a short while. She applied for a lot of jobs such as in the police department or the nearby health centre.
But this dreamer and achiever had to call it quits one day. “Anwar Uncle told me if I wanted my (eight) sisters to go to school and get an education, I needed to stay at home. He drove a hard bargain,” she said, adding he later went back on his words.
Homebound, Jamila hates her routine life. “We split our chores so there is not a lot to do at home,” Jamila, who likes to keep herself busy and be productive, said. “I have a lot of free time and it frustrates me. I don’t know what to do with myself.”
What future holds
Nausheen is helping her brother stand on his feet and support the family financially after graduation. Kausar continues to stand with the family and is their rock.
Jamila is waiting to get married as per her family’s wish, but her resolve to pursue her dreams remains unshaken.
Their march continues.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2016, released on Tuesday, Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index.
War-torn Syria is one place ahead at 142. – Samaa