My name is Imamzadi Wasan, and I live the Black Country in the West Midlands. I want to share parts of my life story of working for women's rights in rural Pakistan before I came here to England.
I belong to a Zamindar (landowner/landholder) family. I am from the largest province of Pakistan (Sindh), the population of this province is 46 million, there are very few people in the UK from Sindh. My village’s name is Sanghar and there has never been any work towards women’s welfare in the history of Sanghar, especially in rural areas. So I started the organisation called RWWO ( Rural Women Welfare Organisation) in 1990 for the farmer and salve community. Our organisation’s slogan is: 'women feed the world and If women stop, the world stops.'
In the first photo, well it's our engagement picture, I was 5 or 6 years old here. My fiancé was 6 years older than me he was my parent's cousin. At the time of our engagement we didn’t even know what engagement is, to be honest. I was running around the house and playing. I just didn’t know. So he was 10 and he was very happy that he is getting engage he was playing with his friends and jumping around.I do think now that engagement /marriages at such a young age are no good and it should stop. These days women do have greater awareness and they stand up for their daughters, but in some villages it is still happening. I believe that now the girl and boy should get to choose who they want to get married to.
The second black and white picture is my wedding photo, it's from our wedding day. I was 18 or 19 years old when I got married.
I was married and had 5 children but women were not allowed outside the house they were not allowed to do studies. I myself went to school until class 3 and then I use to get tuition at home. One teacher used to come to our home and teach me and I completed my matriculation in private.
I always wanted to help others but I wasn't allowed to go out or work with anyone. Then suddenly my father had a heart attack and he died. Because of his sudden death I went into a state of depression. I went to many different doctors but they all said I don’t have any illness I just needed to get out and meet with other people and once I will hear other people s problems I will forget mine. Then my husband decided that I need to get out and meet people to help me. Coincidently we heard there are some training programs going on in the city of Hyderabad - about 2 hours drive from our village. So I went along and attended that NGO ( non-government organization) program. The speaker really motivated me and I thought to myself 'yes I can do something good for the people'.
Obviously one person can’t do anything alone, you need to work in a team and you need planning. So I took some training and they told us to go to the people and do a survey first find out what they need, and what’s their problem and how can we help them. The training lasted one year.
When my family found out I was going to Hyderabad with my husband for some sort of training they got very upset and they called 'Jirga' which is a community council. They went to some of our respected people in the family and also called my husband to attend the meeting.
There they complained that Hassan Wasan’s wife (me) was going to villages and speaking to poor peoples and farmers, and she sits with them. They said that this is against our customs and rules and it’s no good. Then they called Hasaan (my husband) and asked him if what these people were saying was true. He told them we wanted to do good work for the community - there was no education and people’s living situation was very bad. He said that we wanted to help people and do something good for them. He questioned the people at the community council - if these people wanted to help others they should get involved. He asked many questions such as 'have they ever helped anyone?' 'Have they provided anyone with clean water or taken anyone’s sick wife or children to the hospital?' Or 'have they done any motivational work towards women or villager’s benefits?'
Eventually, the Jirga decided that we were not doing anything wrong and they allowed us to carry on with our work. And so that made it easy for us to go to training and work. My daughter Dureshiwar was with me too.
Once we completed it all I stared my RWWO ( Rural Women Welfare Organisation). First, we started with 3 villages and it was a slave community of farm labourers community farmers. We did a survey asked people for their problems, they told us their problems and we went to see it in person. We didn’t have a car - I used to go on a motorbike with my husband or sometimes on a Tanga (a small two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage; with two seats and a folding hood.)
There were no roads and they were living in a small one-roomed hut. That was their kitchen, bedroom and also they had their animals there too. They were cooking while animals were making droppings all around, there were flies everywhere - they were flying from the animal's droppings to their food and that made their children sick children. No one cared about cleaning - all they were doing was working.
First of all we started motivational programs We told them about cleaning, washing hands their before eating, brushing teeth, how to protect themselves from germs and going to doctors. They never used to let their children have polio drops, they used to say 'no we won’t let our kids have these drops they are bad for our children'. So we worked with them and told them how important they really are for children. There was no awareness about antibiotics - they used to make 5 days antibiotics mixture and use it and keep it for next month or two, We told them that it expires after 5 to 8 days.
We raised awareness about women rights - they didn’t know if they even have any rights. Whatever they use to purchase such as animals or houses it was always in their husband's name, the women were not allowed to have it in their name. There were restrictions on what they could wear there was no freedom for them. We made then aware that they had rights, that they could look after themselves take time for themselves look after your children properly and even buy something for themselves.
Then we started community schools for adult women and also girl’s schools. We also started to raise awareness through the vet. They used to use injection to milk their cows and buffalos we told them not to do this as these injections make the milk very harmful for human health.
After 5 to 8 years of hard work and awareness-raising sessions, we managed to make many women aware of their rights. We educated them and told them about their political rights and that they had the right to vote.
Before this their husbands used to tell them to stamp on which section on the voting card, and that’s what they used to do. So we told them to vote only for the people whom they know will work for the village because their vote is very important. These landlords would take their votes and do nothing for their village - there was no road, no water pump no school.
When the women found this out they said they will not give the vote now to these people who don't help the village. From another village we selected a lady for the council. That was the first time there were seats for women so we select her she was our team leader as well. Eventually, she was elected and she did so much for her people - a new road from the main road to her village and surroundings, bridges and also schools and water pumps. She did so much for her people and everyone was so happy.
My children came to England about 18 to 20 years ago for studies and I used to come and visit them. I have now been here for two and a half years. I came here to live when I fell ill and she needed the support of my children. Sadly I had to stop all the charity work because of this.
There is a lot of difference between the culture back in Pakistan and here. There because there the women have no freedom, the environment is not clean, the education is no good and generally, life is very hard. A person cannot live in peace and comfort in their house, there is always danger around them. All the systems are struggling - the water system, the gas supply system all of the systems are messed up from many years of neglect.
The difference here is all the systems work perfectly - water, electricity, gas. We can’t even imagine that they will shut down. And every individual has the freedom to be engaged in earning their own livelihood, to live a good life, to be well dressed and to be happy. I think people back in Pakistan are very irritated and fed-up. People here are very healthy and are living a good life. But one of the differences here is that relationships can break down easily unlike in Pakistan.
Most days I come to this community centre (Tipton Muslim Community Centre) in Tipton. It is entertaining for me as I get to see other ladies. I am having little difficulty because of the language barrier so I cannot interact with everyone. I felt back home people mix and interact more than here. Here people are more reserved and they have a limited circle of only the people they like to be around. Back in Pakistan people interact more. For example, if people are sitting in a waiting room or at the bus stop they will start talking to each other about their happiness and problems or whatever is the matter. In the UK people just sit and don’t really talk to each other and that’s what I find very strange.