She participated in “Starting from girls: they are the source to trigger a change!” the meeting organized by Save the Children as part of Women’s Weeks to guarantee a better future for adolescent girls. The cycle of events called “The other half of the Planet - Women's Weeks" is being held from June 29 to July 9 at Expo Milan 2015: a conversation on the great challenges in food and female empowerment.
Could you explain to us what Sughar is and what is gives to the young girls?
Sughar is a non-profit social enterprise organization based in Pakistan. Sughar actually means “skilled and confident woman” in the local language. Women normally do not hear these words here, instead they get told they are lazy, not a good wife etc. However, when we tell them they have good skills, then their confidence soars. We just need to give them opportunities to become leaders one day in their country. We understand that women do not need empowerment, they need opportunities to empower themselves. We think that they have potential but they need to unleash this potential through training, with expertise that can be provided to make them great leaders in their communities.
What does Sughar do?
We go into a village and train 30 women in one big training center. There we carry out six months of business skills training that includes education on their rights, and practical information on how to use embroidery to create a fashion product and earn money from it. After six months we give them grants to launch a small business in the village, mostly in the area of fashion, as we have trained them how to make purses, shoes, and other things that can be sold on the international market. We give them the grant on the condition that they hire seven women to work in their business, thus creating more employment in the village.
How long have you been working with Sughar?
Since 2009, when the first idea occurred. It was for a small project which was successful. Then in 2011 we launched the main training center project.
Do you have any special memories from your time spent working with the girls so far?
Yes. I remember one facilitator in particular. We had selected three facilitators in the village and train them to then teach the other girls. They are trained for six months and then these girls come to Karachi to carry out the training and we give them some money. This one girl came and told us that she had to fight all her life to go to school but her family could not afford for her to continue her education past primary school age. However, once she came to be trained as a facilitator, she not only started teaching in the village but with the money she received was able to attend one of the best colleges. Everyone found out about her and now she’s called “the teacher”.
Do you believe the alliance among women can be important in the fight against malnutrition?
Yes, I think so. My mother was very ill when she was pregnant with me. She was 13 when she had my older brother, and 14 when she had me. She was a very skinny girl who always had health problems. Now she has eight children and suffers from a number of kidney problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure and I feel that if she had received better nutrition as a child, she wouldn’t have these health issues now. We have so many programs these days for women. We just also need to teach women what are the right foods for them and their children…it’s a simple task, and it can change things for entire generations.
What were the initial challenges that you faced?
Whenever we talk about women, we must not diminish the role of men. When we first started working with the women in the villages, the men were completely against us and wouldn’t let their wives come. We had to work on this, involving the men to change their mindset, while at the same time we were changing women’s, so that they both were aware of what was going on. Whenever we talk about a woman who is in parliament, likely there is a man behind her who has been helping her, like my father who was a big support for me.
Had your father seen your potential when you were young?
I’m one of eight children and I have an older brother. One of my favorite memories is from when I was little and my father put me on his shoulders and went out in the village to show everyone how much he loved me. Everyone was concerned that he was showing preference over his son, deemed as the most important and able to take care of him in his old age. But he told them all that they had no idea what his daughter was going to do, and he said that he knew from that moment what I would become and what I would do one day!