By Naila Anwar Warraich
ISLAMABAD: Narrating her life and struggle, Ghulam Sughra, a recipient of International Women of Courage Award, on Tuesday told students that education was a must for women to bring in better changes in their own and others’ lives.
“Education makes all the difference for a woman. I was divorced because I was uneducated,” she told an interactive session at the Islamabad College for Girls F-6/2. She said she was married at the age of 12.
Dr Marilyn Wyatt, wife of US ambassador to Pakistan, and Mehnaz Aziz, director Children’s Global Network were also present.
The US government gives the award to recognise and honour women who show exceptional courage and leadership in promoting women rights. This year Ms Sughra was one of 10 women selected from all over the world for this award for her efforts for “girl child education” in interior Sindh.
After divorce she was left alone to care for her two children, “an uphill task for an illiterate young woman in interior Sindh.”
“An unskilled and uneducated woman is susceptible to social injustice. I was on the verge of committing suicide along with my son and daughter,” she said. But then pessimism gave way to determination to change her life for the sake of her children, as she did her matriculation at the age of 22.
After the bitter experience she went through, Sughra realised that education was the only ‘panacea’ for women to fight against harassment and inertia. “I never wanted women of my community to suffer like I did. I persuaded people to send their daughters to schools.” But she was told poverty, social pressures and norms of the community were stopping parents from sending daughters to school. But this only made Sughra more determined to help girls get education.
She started Marvi Rural Development Organisation (MRDO) in 2001for empowering women living in rural areas. Today the organisation has come a long way as it is working in 500 villages in interior Sindh.
“We provide micro loans to women to help start a business and earn money to send their girls to schools. Social mobilisation is our other aim,” a beaming Sughra said, adding that she now wants to take her agenda of girl education and women’s empowerment to other parts of the country.
In her comments, Dr Wyatt said educating girls was a key to success and a war forward for the developing countries.
She said everywhere in the world youth is considered a resource to the national development. “Colleges and schools of Pakistan are very pleasing places for me and I hope women like Ms Sughra would never let these places down with their consistent struggle and determination.”
Terming her a role model for Pakistani women, she said, “Women here can change their destinies by following footprints of Ms Sughra.”