While going through the newspapers today, i happened to glance upon the picture of a woman being given the International Woman of Courage Award by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama of the United States of America. The lady being awarded was wearing a light blue embroidered shalwar kameez with a red dupatta over her head. She looked Pakistani. A quick check and yes! She is a Pakistani and her name is Ghulam Sughra.
How is it that i had never heard of Ghulam Sughra? This woman is getting an award conferring on her the title, a Woman of Courage. She is one of the ten people around the globe who have been chosen for this award. Clearly, she must have done a lot of courageous and exemplary things to be bestowed this honour. How is it that another country is honouring this woman and most of us in Pakistan have no clue about her identity? I blame no one but myself for such ignorance.
Do you want to know what Ghulam Sughra did to earn this award? Well, where do i start?
Ghulam Sughra is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of a Non Governmental Organization (‘NGO’) known as the Marvi Rural Development Organization. This organization is focused on creating community savings funds and raising awareness of education, health, human rights, and social development issues. Theis NGO has its roots in her home village in Sindh, but has now expanded to several rural areas of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan Provinces.
Unfortunately the catalyst for her activism was a sad story. Sughra was forced into marriage in the tender age of 12 years. After six years of a bad marriage, Sughra became the first woman in her village to divorce her husband. The result was as expected. She was suddenly a social outcast in her own village.
She tried to pick up the pieces of her life and started to attend school. However, whenever she ventured to do so, she was severely beaten by her brothers. Not a woman to give up hope, she continued to pursue her studies at home and went on to become her village’s first female high school graduate in a newly formed Girls Government School. Well, did you expect her to sit at home? No, she then became the first teacher at the first school for girls in her village.
She faced another challenge in this role as well unfortunately. Even though the girls school had been constructed but there were no girls that were being given the permission to come to school. Parents in the village were not motivated to send their daughters to school, owing to the poverty and the social norms in the village.
Sughra has been able to bring a slow and steady change in the perspective of local rural villagers of this country through her NGO. After several years of her work, and especially since she has faced hardship, taboos and seen financial difficulties herself, she is convinced that the quality of life of women in this country will not improve unless issues such as building of good infrastructure such as roads and amenities such as water supply, electricity and compulsory education in the shape of well maintained schools are not provided.
She knows that education is essential to break taboos and for progress. She has been religiously encouraging young girls to go to school and become educated. She feels that it is only education that will empower girls to battle and remove the economic and social barriers to their education.
Sughra has also implemented income generating projects and secured sources of credit so that women living in the rural areas of Pakistan can achieve the role of a “bread earner” as well, and therefore have have a say in the decision to send their daughters to school, and also prove that their role is complimentary to the domestic duties they perform at home.
Sughra is a woman we should look up to. She is an asset to our society. We should be ashamed to not have brought her into the limelight and give her the support and acknowledgement she so deserves.
Ghulam Sughra, i am proud of you and Thank You for proving a Pakistani woman’s worth.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (5th L) pose for photographs with the International Women of Courage Awards winners (L-R) Bebela publisher and journalist Henriette Ekwe Ebongo of Cameroon, Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center Director Guo Jianmei of China, Hungary Member of Parliament Agnes Osztolykan, Mizan Law Group for Human Rights Executive Director Eva Abu Halaweh of Jordan, Kyrgyz Republic President Roza Otunbayeva, Deputy Attorney General for Special Investigations against Organized Crime Marisela Morales Ibañez of Mexico, Marvi Rural Development Organization Founder and CEO Ghulam Sughra of Pakistan and Herat Province Prosecutor General Maria Bashir of Afghanistan at the Department of State March 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. The award were given on the 100th anniversary of International Womens’ Day to women recognized for their “courage and leadership as they fight for social justice, human rights and the advancement of women.”