One widow’s resolve to break tradition changed the lives of hundreds of women

March 17, 2017

SUKKUR: Born and brought up in an environment where women, even preteens, were not allowed to go out without wearing a white shuttlecock burqa, Zubaida Janwri, a widow and mother of five children, decided to disregard these old traditions and change the lives of hundreds of women.

Today, she is equally respected by men, women and children for the role she has played to make the women of her area self-sufficient, thus pulling them out of extreme poverty.

Janwri lives in Roshanabad village near Kandhra, some 15 kilometres away from Sukkur and is the president of the Local Support Organisation, which serves more than 14 villages of the area. Speaking about her past, she said like other girls of the area, she was married to a man 20 years older than her at the age of 12. “My husband was no different than other men of the village and thus I was not allowed to go out and was confined to the four walls of my house,” she said. Janwri was initially sent to the village’s primary school but was taken out after she completed class two, as girls were not allowed to seek education beyond this.

While sitting on patchwork quilts, the lively woman told The Express Tribune for her it was the end of the world when her husband died of a heart attack 10-years-ago. Seeing no way out and fearing a bleak future for her children, Janwri decided to fight the archaic customs. “One day I went to the office of the Sindh Rural Support Organisation (SRSO) in Sukkur and volunteered my services as a community worker,” she said. “The SRSO people welcomed me and trained me and from that day on, I have never looked back,” she explained.

“At first, people objected to my work, as they believed that if a woman succeeded it would end their rule, but I refused to succumb to their pressure and continued my journey,” said Janwri. At the time, our area had been turned into a no-go area due to a feud between the Janwris and Shaikhs and cases of karo-kari were rampant, but, defying all the odds, I continued with my mission, she said.

“After being trained as a community worker, I managed to convince around two dozen women of my village,” she said, adding that she also convinced the men to let their women go out as men and women together can bring about positive change. “Slowly and steadily I succeeded and today not only women, but men of more than 14 villages are standing with me,” she said proudly.

Janwri said that in 2015, the SRSO offered interest-free loans of Rs4.5 million to 250 women of different villages, all of which have been repaid. More than 100 normal deliveries and 25 caesarean sections have been performed free-of-charge, she said, adding that the women and their husbands are getting insurance cover of Rs15,000 each.

Community health worker (CHW) Farzana Shaikh said around 150 CHWs are looking after around 150,000 women and children of the area. Lauding the role played by Janwri, she said that due to the awareness campaign run by her cases of karo-kari have reduced by 90% and people have stopped marrying off minor girls. SRSO District Manager Nasreen Noonari said, “This year we have provided poultry to these women, which includes four hens and a rooster”. Due to the untiring efforts of Janwri and other women like her, people are now sending their girls to the village’s primary school, which earlier was forbidden to them, she added.

“No doubt the SRSO is providing training and financial assistance to the women, but the credit goes to the women who have put their energies into bringing prosperity not for their own families, but for others as well,” praised Noonari.