Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
Naseem Rauf is a resident of Barahminwala, a small area in Union Council Mehmood Kot of Punjab, Pakistan. She is the second child of her parents among her siblings. Her mother died when she was at a very young age. Her father remarried and her stepmother always treated her unjustly and abused her. When she grew older, she was married off to the son of her paternal aunt. Even after getting married Naseem could not find any respite from physical and emotional abuse as her husband proved to be a violent and aggressive man who beat her at any chance he could get. Apart from the physical abuse, he also tortured her emotionally and psychologically, threatening to throw her out of their home again and again, despite the fact that they had two healthy children. Naseem fought valiantly for 13 years to save her marriage and keep her family together, but her husband remarried and evicted her and their children from their home.
Naseem vowed to take care of herself and her children. She started farming and did manual labour for seven years to help her family. In 2011 she started visiting Shirkat Gah’s Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) in Mehmood Kot, started under the WELDD project as a safe haven for women of the area to come together and share their plight, solutions to their problems and discuss their issues in a safe and non-judgmental place. Slowly but surely, Naseem started her journey of self-awareness at the WFS. By attending trainings and being a part of awareness session, Naseem learned about her legal rights and responsibilities under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as a woman and as a citizen of the country. Being a part of the WFS brought a positive change in Naseem. She started sharing her learnings from the WFS with other women of her community who either could not go to the WFS themselves or had doubts about the efficacy of the work being done there. She made sure the women in her community also shared in the good things she was learning. She also became a part of the “Purple Women”.
During the course of that year, Naseem kept requesting the elders in her family and influential people in her community to make her husband see the error of his ways but to no avail. No one came forward to help her, and her husband continued ignoring her and his emotional and financial obligations to his children as their father. Finally, she sought the help of WFS staff and told them her predicament. WFS staff immediately took action and contacted Advocate Qari Muhammed Aslam Khandwiya (KCS & Referral Partner). Advocate Khandwiya contacted Naseem’s husband and tried to make him understand the situation. He also informed him that if he does not fulfill his responsibility towards his wife and give his children their rightful inheritance, he could face strict legal action. At the face of it, Naseem’s husband showed understanding and agreed to do what was right. However, after getting to his home, he refused to accept any of the conditions presented to him. Instead, he started threatening not only Naseem, but also the WFS staff.
In 2012, Naseem became the leader of Sujhal Sawera, which an indigenous name of the Purple women working to create awareness about women’s rights and actively countering culturally justified violence against women (CVAW). She started litigation against her husband to recover the “Haq Mehr*” he owed her. The case dragged on for a year, during which her entire family turned against her for daring to challenge the norms of a patriarchal society in which no woman challenges the decision of her husband and does not drag him to the courts to claim her rights. Naseem remained unbowed and unbroken in the face of such vehement opposition. She still remains resolute to this day. Her case is still in the court but she hasn’t backed down from her claim. Outside the court, she is working as an effective grassroots leader and activist in her community, ensuring women are aware of their rights and that they band together to fight the injustices committed against them in the name of culture.
Naseem has come far in terms of personal development and self-awareness. From an abused child and a wronged wife, Naseem has emerged as a strong, confident woman who is aware of her rights and responsibilities and uses her knowledge and personal strength to help others. Learning from her own matrimonial issues, she continues to create awareness about the importance of legal registration of Nikah (Islamic matrimonial contract) and the consequences of a verbal Nikah. Additionally, she works to highlight the importance of birth registrations that would help the child with preparation of all legal citizenship documents in the future, something the majority of people ignore. She has further stabilized her income by making and selling an organic anti-pest spray and organic fertilizer that she learned to make during the trainings.
As far as Naseem’s activism is concerned, she is regarded as someone who does not shy away from difficult situations. She is one of the most active and energetic leaders of the Purple Women’s Movement and has resolved almost 15 cases of domestic violence in her area, using the various peace building and communication trainings she has received. She encourages women to become aware of their legal rights and empower themselves economically to avoid economic dependence on anyone else. Economic abuse is usually one of the biggest reasons why women end up staying in abusive households or abusive relationships. Lack of knowledge compounds this fact, and Naseem has been steadily fighting against ignorance by sharing her knowledge and learning. She received training about organic farming from Shirkat Gah staff, and went on to replicate the training in a sub-office she in her home. The sub-office in her home was created as a space for the women of her area to come together for trainings in a comfortable and cost effective manner, since many of the women could not travel to be at the WFS. The sub-office is in one room decorated with informational posters provided by Shirkat Gah and other training material. Through her generosity and determination, Naseem has made a name for herself as her community’s leader.
Women like Naseem are a beacon of hope and immense source of inspiration for thousands of women just like her who have yet to break free of oppressive and abusive social obligations. May we have more like her among us!