By: Jan Khaskheli
Women can cross all hurdles and achieve anything, if they put in some effort and stand up for their rights. True there are many stories of suppression in Pakistan, especially in the rural areas. However, not all women choose to submit to the will of the society. There are many who strive to change the ways of this world and make a difference. One such woman is Rashida Sand, a daring lady who has been fighting for the rights of women for a long time.
She is a proponent of the campaigns for protecting rights of oppressed women in the desert areas of Thar. Being a lady health worker (LHW) she has gained access to meet these women and learn about their issues. Also she has strived to find out solutions to the problems that these women face on a regular basis. However, it has not been easy for Rashida to reach out to these women. Her journey has been a long and difficult one.
She was born to a farmer’s family in Mirpurkhas among eight sisters and four brothers. After her wedding she shifted to village Kharoro, which is three kilometres away from Umerkot city. Umerkot, the home town of King Akbar, is the business hub for the inhabitants of the small villages around the city. The historic places are attractive for the local and foreign tourists. The Kharoro village has a population of 8000, mostly belonging to farmers and artisan families. The area is surrounded by sand dunes, green pastures, long trees and attractive temples and old mosques, which attract the tourists as well. Due to the rapidly changing mode of production and market needs, the traditional skills of artisans are diminishing. However, at present, a small number of these women artisans still continue to work but do not get enough amount of money to make ends meet; many women usually just take it as a pastime. This is why most of the women have shifted to other means in order to earn a better living.
Since her school days, Rashida dreamt of leading the women and sensitising them to live with dignity at home, the workplace and in the society. Unlike others, she understood that fighting for the rights of women is a struggle which needs consistency and continuous campaigning.
Like other rural areas, in Umerkot too women are not allowed to step out or attend a meeting along with males. The majority of women belonging to peasant and artisan families do not have the right to even give their opinion on any issue of domestic affairs, because of dominant feudal culture and taboos. During the process some civil society activists’ recognised the courageous role of LHWs and asked if any woman was ready to work with them. And since then Rashida has been at the forefront of the battle field. This made her known to local parliamentarians, police officials, lawyers, local politicians and civil society. For this she accredits her husband Talib Sand, who greatly supports her in her mission.
Regarding her source of inspiration to become a campaigner Rashida said, “Girls education is still a dream in our area. And because I have studied till 8th class I wanted to do something for the rights of women in the neighbourhood. I had to start from somewhere so I decided to join the health department as a lady health worker (LHW) in1998. Now I frequently visit towns and suburbs in a group and sometimes alone to create awareness among women about health care.”
According to Rashida, “When I got the job as an LHW I was only being paid Rs 600 per month. But presently I am getting Rs 9000.”
Even though, she is a mother of three daughters and two sons, she made it a point to take out time to participate in meetings with civil society and rights’ activists. These meetings and trainings inspired her and she asked her fellow LHWs to come together and fight the cases of oppressed women.
Rashida has attained so much success in achieving her aim that she is known as the change maker in the area. “This was a challenging task for me,” she explained. “When I asked the women of the area to come together and participate in meetings, the males accused me of fallacy for motivating their women. They even banned my entrance into their homes and I wasn’t allowed to talk to their women without prior permission. But slowly and gradually I have convinced the men of the area”
According to Rashida, “The most challenging job for me was to motivate the women of scheduled caste (Dalits) to participate in mainstream activism. These women have an old tradition to hide their faces and are seen reluctant to share their feelings with strange people.”
Rashida plays a leading role to call fellow women groups to participate in each and every activity for the rights of these downtrodden women. Her aim is to develop courage and show them the path of success.