Written by: Saadia Haq
Coming from a remote, small village in Balochistan, the most under developed province of Pakistan, Khalida Brohi likes to refer herself as a village girl at large. She has been educated in metropolitan city, Karachi yet Khalida’s heart lies in her roots, her land.
Pakistan, a country with widespread violence against women continues to affect lives on a daily basis; Khalida’s world came crashing at the mere age of 16, when a female friend was killed in the unfortunate aftermath of honor killing. This jolted Khalida badly, she had to stand up against tribal customs that affected women’s rights. Moreover, being an insider to that culture, she realized the importance of education and women empowerment in bringing societal change. During the next years, she continued her activism and work on a small scale, but she was met with set-backs.
Brohi is one young woman who has strong family support that sustains her work and during the struggling phase, she kept going keeping in mind her father’s motivating advice,
“My dear,” Brohi’s father told her when she was young, “don’t cry, strategize.”
In 2009, Brohi decided to change her strategy and launched “Sughar Empowerment Society (“Sughar” means “skilled and confident woman”) to provide opportunities to unleash the potential of rural women in Pakistan, such as resources to launch and sustain rural businesses.
With the successful take off of Sughar, it is now fully operational as a non profit social enterprise organization based in Pakistan. It operates in the most rural and tribal areas of Pakistan and provides a combination of socio-economic opportunities and empowerment to women by imparting skills trainings, resources and opportunities to grow as social leaders within their communities.
The most unique aspect of Sughar Empowerment Society is that its works on a multifaceted approach by engaging both men and women in its programs for improving lives of village communities as a whole. The organization has three main areas:
1. Sughar Women Program
It focuses on enhancing women’s learnings by providing them trainings at their villages through a Skills Center that is run by the organization. Each woman attends a six month comprehensive course cycle on self awareness, life skills, basic education, enterprise development and value-addition of traditional embroidery into fashion products. At the end of the course, each graduate is provided with small loans to start their own small businesses and Sughar connects them to local markets to help generate sustainable income.
This ownership and income generation is enabling women to actually change their perceptions of self worth and improve their lives.
2. Land Rights and Food Security
Pakistani women, especially tribal women lack ownership rights to anything at all. From property rights to even the smallest item in the house is declared to be of male property as he is the elder/leader of the house.
Sughar is working on changing this perception by providing an alternate means of empowerment and this is also breaking the usual norms of male domination within rural cultures. The organization is working with local communities, district level government and other departments to enable rural women’s purchase and possession of lands. The new women landowners are also provided additional training on innovative farming and income generation schemes.
3. Climate Change and DRR
There is no doubt that the growing impacts of climate change are affecting Pakistan as a whole, more ever its women who are the most affected. In-fact, Pakistan women are the most effected. Most tribal and rural communities have not much ability to cope with the new emerging extreme weathers that’s changing the livelihood patterns. Sughar steps in this area by working on a mass level awareness raising on climate change in Pakistan. It has a comprehensive project that is focused on mobilization of local communities, including men, women, and tribal elders for bringing innovative ideas to mitigate as well as adapt to certain things.
From providing alternative livelihood options to helping create coping mechanisms for the growing natural disasters, Sughar is providing a platform for rural communities especially women to stand strong and united in the face of Climate Change.
Khalida Brohi and her core team at Sughur believe strongly that every single women in Pakistan as they all have amazing skills and confidence and they are playing their role in providing them opportunities and recourses to unleash that potential within them.
The organization has also registered the “Rural Fashion” to ensure that that the rural women’s work gets the recognition it deserves and that the women receive increased profit for their products. Their products are marketed through various exhibitions and stalls around Pakistan. So far, the project has been scaled up to 23 villages, and it has the active involvement of 800 women in the current projects. But that’s not it; Brohi is aiming to reach a target of assisting one million Pakistani women in next 10 years.
As Sughur Empowerment Society, aims to create a society where women are not killed for honor but are honored and given equal status. These ideas challenge male power structures and are a direct threat to patriarchal traditions. Brohi faces many problems when men refused to allow their wives, daughters to attend her training classes. But slowly this changed as Brohi’s organization showed rural men that without their support; the organization would not been able to help their communities. There were times, when it took several months to gain trust within locals.
She knew that until and unless she wouldn’t do something very big in terms of deliverables, she risked to lose all her trainees and women’s participation. She decided to launch the first ever tribal fashion Rural Fashion and did a fashion show where TOP models launched her graduates work, clothing and accessories. It was a huge hit, as nobody had ever seen something like that before. The fashion brand took off and so did the prices and income for the women.
The rural men often stated, “She is actually bringing in a lot of money which I really need. I can’t stop her from going to the skills center.” And there has been no going back since then.
Khalida Brohi is currently serving as the Director of Sughur Empowerment Society in the mission of changing women’s lives in Pakistan. In the face of her unwavering determination and commitment, Khalida Brohi is a living testament of the power of women. She is amongst the three Pakistani women who have been featured in the Frobes 2014 list, 30 Under 30. Previously, Khalida had been named among NewsWeek’s 25 under 25 Women of Impact, awarded several Awards in recognition of her young leadership and determination.
Note from Vida: We love Saadia’s work and we encourage you to read her blog – The Human Lens. Our own initiative has been highlighted by Saadia in her recent write up – Women’s Empowerment, in conversation with Mudita Tiwari. All images in this post have been provided by Saadia and cannot be used without her permission. We encourage our readers to re-blog this article.