Sewing to Freedom

August 5, 2023
Posted in blog
August 5, 2023 Zoya Hammad, Volunteer

The sound of glass shattering echoed across the room. Zahid’s nostrils flared and his eyebrows scrunched together. “Why is my bloody tea cold again, Nabeela?” he screamed. “I spend hours sweating in the heat, and this is how you repay me?” Broken shards of the teapot were scattered across the room and a puddle of tea lay on the floor. Nabeela stood in the corner of the room trying not to meet Zahid’s fiery eyes. She gestured to her daughter, Rabya who was getting tearful, to go into her room. Zahid’s anger outbursts were sadly not an isolated incident in the household. Such fights like this had been the norm since their marriage 10 years ago, and were only escalating over time. What deepened Zahid’s animosity was the fact that she hadn’t given birth to a boy. “Girls are nothing but a burden, you couldn’t even bless me with a boy”, he would often say.

Recently Rabya had been pleading with her father to let her attend school. However, Zahid’s response was unwavering as he believed that girls belonged at home and are not worth educating. Rabya would then turn to her mother. “Mama, why don’t you get a job to pay for my school?” she would ask innocently. Her mother dismissed her every single time, reminding her how much Zahid hates working women.

One day while Nabeela was at the market, her eye caught a sewing machine. Immediately she was flooded with memories of her grandmother who taught her the art of sewing when she was younger. “How much is the sewing machine?”, Nabeela asked the shopkeeper curiously. “Only 5,000, it’s an old model but works great”, he replied. Nabeela stood there for a few minutes, contemplating what to do before finally making up her mind. “I’ll be back with the money soon”, Nabeela assured the shopkeeper with a smile. With a rush of excitement, she hurried back home to search for whatever savings she had collected in the past few months. She had just enough money to buy the machine! She sprinted back to the store and brought home the sewing machine along with some spools of threads.

Later that night when Zahid returned home from work he was absolutely frustrated, “What is this nonsense? You’re gonna become a seamstress now”?, he exclaimed. Nabeela tried to make an effort to calm him down, “Don’t worry I got it for a very cheap price and I didn’t use your money for it”. Zahid kept dismissing her attempts of trying to reassure him and was hurling hurtful words at her. His frustration eventually waned, and he retired to bed. Meanwhile, Nabeela remained awake, eager to test out the new sewing machine. Each stitch she made became a poignant reminder of her grandmother.

Once Nabeela had carried out enough sewing practice to become proficient, she spread the word about her skills in the neighborhood. Her efforts paid off, as she received her first sewing job from her next-door neighbor. The sheer joy Nabeela experienced when receiving her first payment, was like nothing she had experienced before. Word of her impeccable stitches spread like wildfire across town, leading to a steady stream of orders. With her business blooming, she was now earning a substantial income. The first thing she did with her hard-earned money was enroll Rabya into the nearby school.

The family gathered around dinner on the floor. Excitement filled Rabya’s voice as she exclaimed, “Baba, mama’s enrolling me in school, I’m so excited”. Zahid ferociously spat out the food in his mouth, retorting, “School? Nabeela, I told you I’m not spending a rupee on this girl’s education”. “It’s the money I earned from sewing, none of your business”, Nabeela responded firmly. Zahid’s fury escalated, “How dare you start this business without my permission? Bring me all the money you have made now”, he ordered Nabeela. “No”, Nabeela responded, staring into Zahid’s eyes. Infuriated, Zahid slapped Nabeela, leaving a visible bruise on her face. Rabya was trembling with fear. “My daughter will go to school and I will be a seamstress”, Nabeela said determinedly. “Not under my roof”, screamed Zahid. “Okay then we’ll leave”, declared Nabeela as she got up from the floor and went to gather her and Rabya’s belongings, trying to ignore Zahid’s screams.

Rabya and Nabeela hastily gathered their important belongings, including the sewing machine and left the house heading towards her mother’s house nearby. At first, Nabeela’s mother was upset about her leaving her husband like that. However, her anger dissipated as soon as she saw the bruises on her face and her concern took over.

Over the next few days, Zahid spent hours screaming relentlessly outside her mother’s house. No one ever allowed him in and he eventually gave up. After that day, Nabeela had to never share a roof with Zahid. Her sewing business was thriving and she was earning enough to support herself and her daughter. Rabya was excelling at school, proving to be an exceptionally bright student, consistently ranking at the top of her class! Nabeela’s story is one among the many inspiring tales of women who courageously challenge misogyny in today’s society. Her story is a powerful reminder of the many capabilities and potentials of women. Nabeela later went on to teach younger girls how to sew, empowering them to become independent.