Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
Great things happen when women are empowered. No one has proved this more readily and consistently than Ruqaia Bano, a WELDD women leader from Mehmoodkot, District Muzaffargarh, in Punjab. She was one of the first few women who took the first step towards changing their fate by coming into our Women Friendly Space (WFS) in the area. Her journey of empowerment in a highly patriarchal society was sped up by her will to learn. Although she had a supportive husband, they both faced poverty and violation of their right to inherit when her father-in-law wrongfully withheld his son’s inheritance, hence depriving him and Ruqaia of the critical financial support they needed. However, after learning about laws of inheritance in Pakistan, Ruqaia was determined to do what her husband could not: stand against her father-in-law knowing the law of the land would support her.
When she contacted the WFS staff about her plight, she was put in touch with a referral partner with the Local Support Committee (LSC). Mr. Muhammed Aslam Khandoya advised Ruqaia and her husband about their rights and provided them legal advice about land and property inheritance. Making sure her family wasn’t cheated out of what was rightfully theirs, Ruqaia encouraged her husband to file a legal case against his father for his inheritance which, in the presence of sufficient evidence and witnesses, they won.
Personal victory is enough for some but Ruqaia isn’t one for taking the back seat when it comes to being a driving spirit in her community. In 2012, Shirkat Gah initiated the WELDD Leaders project, selecting women change makers from within the WFS communities and giving them the collective title of “Purple Women”, where their purple scarves signified empowerment and change. Ruqaia was selected as a WELDD Leader because of her active role in her community. After receiving several trainings from Shirkat Gah and WFS staff members, she is now a capable activist in terms of early age marriage, culturally justified violence against women, domestic abuse, economic and inheritance rights and laws, conflict resolution, community building and a feminist approach towards education and awareness.
In 2013, Ruqaia was elected to be the leader of a group of local women activists by the WFS members. She went on to choose and empower 25 other women who are now known in their community as “Sub-Leaders”. They work under the guidance of Ruqaia in a sub-office. Chief mission of Ruqaia has always been passing what she learns from the WFS to other women in her community through trainings and sessions that she supports herself, without any monetary help from Shirkat Gah or the WFS. And while many local activists stick to traditional methods of knowledge dissemination, Ruqaia has chosen the innovative and refreshing method of theatre to spread knowledge.
Ruqaia was a part of a Communication and Negotiation training session conducted by Seham Sadat and Sadia Irshad of Shirkat Gah’s Lahore office. During the role play session, both Seham and Sadia noted that Ruqaia and many of her sub-leaders were performing exceptionally well. The trainers highlighted this fact in their feedback to the trainees and encouraged them to continue using role play in their activities. Ruqaia and her sub-leaders took the advice to their hearts and have now managed to make theater for social change a part of their activism work in their area. They write short skits on the themes of early age marriage, violence against women, women’s rights, dispelling cultural myths about women, peace building, and conflict resolution and fighting for their rights. WFS Mahmood Kot Coordinator, Ms. Umm-e-Farwa is also a talented writer and has donated a few short scripts to Ruqaia’s group for performances.
Since many activities of Shirkat Gah center around the WFS, Ruqaia also got a chance to attend Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) trainings under the organization’s Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) project. Hence, in 2014, Ruqaia also became a "SAAF Champion”, enlarging her knowledge base and pairing sexual and reproductive health advocacy with activism against culturally justified violence against women and early age marriage. Through resilience, resourcefulness and creativity, Ruqaia pulled herself out of a depressing pit of dispossession and has used her training and her status as a WELDD Leader to truly bring about a change within her community. Now people of the community, especially women, do not silently bear the indignities of a patriarchal society but question them, with logic and reason, and with pride.