Sparks of Change

June 26, 2023
Posted in blog
June 26, 2023 Ayesha Ahmed, USA Intern

The following story is about a fictional family based on realities and difficulties faced by many women in rural Pakistan. In an advancing global society, young girls in Pakistan are still told to abide by patriarchal rules where women are shackled by the chains of cultural norms. The story of Sajda Abassi is one that can be related to by countless girls, teenagers, and mothers in Pakistan.

“Sajda!” her husband called, breaking her from her train of thought, “We have to go. The doctor must be waiting.”

After 3 long years of hearing her husband complain about his back, Sajda Abassi had finally convinced him to visit the doctor. Decades of working and stress had etched lines across his forehead while his back slumped from pain and worry. At the time of their wedding, he was a happy man with a look of joy in his eyes and youth in his stance. This year would mark 20 years since they had gotten married, as well as her last year of studies. They had gotten married less than a week after her final year of undergrad finished, only because of her constant pleading to her parents to let her at least finish her studies before she got married. Like many women, her parents had told her that her top priority should not be her studies but her marriage, but they eventually relented.

The visit to the doctor had told them the thing her husband dreaded hearing the most. It was by the grace of Allah that he hadn’t completely broken his back from the strenuous work he had been doing so far, and he must now only rest.

Shock had taken over the couple. Of course, they worried about the condition and treatment of Mr. Abassi’s back, but the overwhelming thought that screamed inside of their heads was, ‘How were they going to bring in money?’ and ‘How would they live?’

The obvious solution was for Sajda to work, but the voices of her family from years ago screamed in her head. They demanded to know how could she, a woman, want to work when she had no place to. Her only job is to look after the family. She always had a passion for studying, the power of knowledge was never one she took for granted. Yet that same passion and power had been taken from her.

Now, her husband tried to reason with her, saying, “My back is fine. I knew I shouldn’t have let you convince me to go see that foolish doctor. He wasted both our time and our money.”

“You know he was right. Your back has been hurting for years. What you need to do now is rest. I heard a few days ago that the elementary school is looking for a new teacher. I‘ll go tomorrow and ask about it,” she replied. It wasn’t hard to notice the intense discomfort her husband had with the idea, but what choice did either of them have? Internally, Sajda was elated with the idea of finally being able to work again, to not only learn herself, but to share knowledge with children as well.

When she arrived the next day at school, they had eagerly taken her in, asking her all sorts of questions. For many, she had no answer like when they asked her what work experience she has and what her qualifications are.

Despite this, she landed the job, starting immediately and working from 8 to 1. However, the next day her in-laws called, pestering her with opinions about her new job. How could she work? She needs to take care of the house, the kids, and what about her sick husband? Bringing in money was not a woman’s job. Sajda remained quiet over the phone. It seemed as though they were never going to stop shouting over the phone. They ended the call only after saying that no daughter-in-law of theirs could ever work, only a shameful and foolish girl would.

Each comment added fuel to a fire that had been extinguished long ago, but this had reignited the spark. Keeping quiet about her passion was no longer an option. No matter what her in-laws or her husband would say, Sajda had decided that she will be the provider and bread-winner, that she will empower the next generation, and that she will live the life she always wanted to. Sajda hung up the phone without indulging in their taunting words, not even saying goodbye.

Sajda went to work the next day, refusing to be silenced by her family’s patriarchal mindset and lack of understanding. She had overcome this obstacle in life by working, just like she would deal with her husband’s sickness head on. Sajda had moved past her circumstances without dwelling and instead looked forward to her future, hoping to inspire her kids and family to do the same.

— Ayesha Ahmed, USA Intern