As Shad Begum collected her Women of Courage Award from the hands of US First Lady Michelle Obama in 2012, many at the ceremony were stunned to note that a woman from ‘conservative and terror-plagued’ Lower Dir could be worthy of such prestige.
Running a training institute for the handicapped in the Malakand division since 1994, the activist cum entrepreneur imparts technical training to people with disabilities. Her services were recognised globally on International Women’s Day last year.
“People wondered how a woman from this area could win such a big award, as I belong to a place where women are kept confined to their homes,” says Shad. “Many were apprehensive about the kind of dressing I would do for the award ceremony – thankfully I chose to stick to my cultural values.”
Begum revealed that she was questioned about the award again and again. Many were extremely cynical of the achievement – given the social conditions of the area she belonged to. “I proudly told them that brave people don’t only hail from rich and developed countries. A poor village can also have such people,” she added.
The dedicated community worker is greatly concerned about Pakistan’s global image. “This country is only remembered for war,” she says. “People forget that Pakistan has some very brave women.”
On the eve of International Women’s Day, Begum, in her message said that Pakistan’s women should work to make themselves financially independent rather than seeking support from others. “They shouldn’t depend on jobs or incentives from the government, but should try to create their own mini businesses.”
Speaking of her organisation, Begum told The Express Tribune that the Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation is a nationally and internationally recognised, non-governmental organisation which is struggling to improve the lives of underdeveloped and vulnerable communities with special focus on women, youth and children in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“The society needs to come out of a conservative mindset and encourage education for women as no religion bans a woman from doing so,” says Shad, while discussing her effective, far-reaching efforts.
As an entrepreneur who also campaigns for women’s rights, she revealed that she had received threats for her activism.
However, treading the path the Begum trod is no mean feat: “I am undeterred and my conscience didn’t allow me to step back after this long struggle,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2013.