Bearing an iron will befitting the title given to her by the nation, Pakistan's Iron Lady Muniba Mazari's life-changing experience led her to become an activist, artist and a motivational speaker. Mazari was appointed as Pakistan's first National Ambassador for UN Women in December 2015, marking the end of a 16-day campaign against gender-based violence.
Belonging to a conservative Baloch family, Mazari was married at the age of 18. In her inspiring 2014 TED-talk which propelled her into the limelight, Mazari recalled that her marriage was not a happy affair. In 2008, while Mazari and her husband were travelling to Rahim Yar Khan from Quetta, they met with an accident after her spouse fell asleep at the wheel. While her former husband managed to escape from the toppled car, Mazari lay trapped under the wrecked car and as a result sustained a lot of injuries. The radius ulna of her right arm was fractured, her entire ribcage was fractured and due to the ribcage injury, her lungs and liver were "badly injured."
I couldn't breathe, but the injury that changed my life completely, as a person and my perception towards life- was the spine injury. Three vertebra of my backbone were completely cruhed and I became paralyzed for the rest of my life.
Passersby saved her by laying her at the back of an empty jeep and driving her to the nearest hospital which was approximately three hours drive away from the site of the accident. At the hospital, she discovered that half of her body was fractured and the other half paralysed.
Doctors have put a lot of titanium in my back to fix my back. That's why people call me 'The Iron Lady of Pakistan.'
Mazari's true aspiration was to become an artist and as she lay on the hospital bed the doctor dashed her dream by informing her that she would not be able to hold a paintbrush again due the multiple injuries she had sustained. Being the harbinger of bad news, the doctor told Mazari that she would not be able to walk nor could she have a child.
What devastated Mizari was the fact that she could not experience motherhood. She explained how the importance of motherhood is inculcated in every Pakistani girl from young age, the notion that if a woman cannot have a child then "she is incomplete."
What helped her immensely during her darkest moments were her mother's words, "this too shall pass. God has a greater plan for you."
I had to force myself to smile. I t was so hard to hide the pain but I knew that if I gave up, my mother and my brothers would also give up and I cannot bear to see them crying for me.
With that epiphany, Mazari decided to "add some colour in my life." She asked her brothers for a paint supplies and a canvas and just let herself paint.
People would come and say, 'what a lovely painting, so much colour!' Nobody could see the grief in it. Only I could.
Upon being discharged from hospital after two and a half months, Mazari was instructed to remian in bed, she was bedridden for two and a half years.During that period, she resolved to show people how blessed they truly are. How she began to accept herself as a differently abled person, was when she sat in the wheelchair for the first time after two years.
That day I decided that I am going to live life for myself. I am not going to be that perfect person for someone, I am just going to take this moment and I will make it perfect for myself.
She spoke about her fears during that time and her biggest fears were divorce and not expereicning motherhood. The fears that had been ingrained by societal pressures. Mazari resolved to overcome those fears one by one.
I was trying to cling onto this person who did not want me anymore. But the day I decided that this is nothing but my fear, I liberated myself by setting him free. And I made myself emotionally strong that the day I heard he is getting remarried, I sent him a text wishing him all the best.
She overcame her second fear by choosing to adopt a child. Mazari recalled the moment she went to pick up the child from the orphanage. The security guard inspected her closely and she was afraid that he would not deem her a suitable mother since she was differently abled. The gaurd relieved her off her fears by assuring her that she was the best mother for this child.
Fighting against the perception that people had of her both conciously and subconciously Mazari was adamant not to let other feel sympathetic towards her.
I couldn't stand that sympathy that they had for me. They used to treat me like a patient. I used to hide myself from people because I did not want to see that sympthy in their eyes. And today here I am speaking to all these amazing people. I have overcome that fear.
In a bid to change the outlook of people towards those who are differently abled, Mazari started to speak more in public, to appear in advertisements for various companies, to paint more; thus becoming Pakistan's first wheelchair bound artist.
Refusing to portray herself as "an emblem of sympathy", Mazari rejected campaigns that would paint her as a victim of undesirable consequences. She appeared as an anchor on Pakistan natinal television and did numerous shows.
When you accept yourself for who you are, the world recognizes you. It all starts from within. I became the national ambassador for UN Women Pakistan and now I speak for the rights of women and children. We talk about inclusion, diversity and gender equality- which is a must.
Mazari was also featured in BBC's 'Hundred Women for 2015' and Forbes '30 under 30.' Muniba Mazari continues to be a powerful voice for inclusion and diversity in Pakistan. She is critical about the way people view those who are differently abled. One of the most powerful moments for her was when she met an Army Public School survivor. In 2014, terrorists stormed into Army Public School Peshawar where they shot and martyred many children and teachers. One of the survivors, and Mazari's 'real life hero', is a boy named Waleed Khan. Khan protected students and as a result was shot and sustained injuries that left him wheelchair bound. Mazari spoke of the dillemma she was faced with, where she was asked to console this child and tell assure him that everything will be okay. Khan surprised her by requesting for a selfie. It was then when Mazari was self critical, that she too thought about his deformities.
That was when I realised that I was thinking too much about his deformities. He is happy with himself, he does not care what others think. Do you know what he says when someone asks him about the injuries on his face? He says, these scars are my medals and I wear them with pride.
Mazari considers her personal pain to be beautiful as it allows her to connect with other people who are in pain. Her resiliance, determination and strong voice continue to inspire many in Pakistan and internationally.
Always attributing her strength to her mother, she shared that the first time she realised that heroes have no gender was when her mother believed in her and assured her that "this too shall pass."
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