Walking through the narrow alley that leads to Shamim’s well-lit, cosy five-marla house, one finds Chamkeeli, Shamim’s pet goat, her two parrots and some chicken hanging about to greet visitors.
The gate opens to reveal Shamim’s warm smile and bright eyes. “Come on in” she said. “Are you fasting? If not, I’ll make you some chai.”
Passionate about her pets, Shamim, 39, lives with her husband in Golra, located in the outskirts of Islamabad. Over two decades ago she married into her husband’s family who lived in a katchi basti where Fatima Jinnah Park is now located. Unable to bear children, Shamim had to face continuous humiliation, threats of divorce and verbal and physical abuse by her in-laws, which forced her to move out along with her husband Yaseen, a few years after their marriage.
Yaseen operates a laundry in the capital, but he has never been able to support his wife financially. After moving around in various neighbourhoods, unable to pay rent and living hand to mouth, Shamim realised she would have to become financially independent to make ends meet. Since then she has worked as a housemaid, an assistant at daycares and now as a masseuse for many years.
She works during the day and washes clothes that her husband brings home from his laundry at night. With savings she put together over years of hard work, in 2001, Shamim built herself a modest house, consisting of one room and a bathroom. She also sold all her jewellery and bought her husband a small car so that he could commute to work. In the following years, she was able to build three more rooms which she rents out to supplement her income.
“I was an only child and showered with attention from my family. Little did I know that things would take such an unfortunate turn and I’d have to struggle my entire life.”
Despite her hardships, Shamim has an exceptionally warm heart and helps the underprivileged in her neighbourhood in every way she can. She contributed to the building of a school and a mosque in Golra, and has given one of her rooms for free to a poor relative, an orphan whose needs she takes care of.
“Life doesn’t work out as planned; everyone has their share of struggles. I try to remain positive and convert my challenges into opportunities. Everyone should give back in whatever way possible and women should not depend on anyone. It is satisfying, self-assuring and makes one’s faith stronger.”
Shamim is forward-looking, and firmly believes in women’s empowerment. With her help, many women in her area now own sewing machines and are earning a livelihood by stitching clothes, bedspreads and other items. She has also inspired a number of girls in her family to acquire education and skills in the hope of living a better life.
According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2012-13, 46.76 per cent of people are employed in rural areas of which 12.73 per cent are women.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2014.
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