Pakistani women have experienced atrocities such as racism in the US and while we cannot compare anything in our lives to their police brutality and history of slavery. There is nonetheless a deep pain within our community, especially the colourism faced by darker skinned young girls, who are told from a young age that they are less worthy, less beautiful and less likely to get the things they want in life.
Dawood Global Foundation and Ladiesfund collaborated with Indus University, Lean in Pakistan and Catwalk Cares, to put together the Educate a Girl “You Are Not Defined By The Colour Of Your Skin” #EAGSkinColour global virtual conference. This aired and continues to remain viewable on Facebook live @educate1000girls and will soon be up on Educate a Girl's YouTube channel and website.
The conference had panel after panel, explore this hitherto taboo issue from every angle, ranging from the very personal to the corporate to the commercial to the cultural to the economic to the societal to the historical. Educate a Girl was determined to deep dive into every element, even the most vulnerable areas.
Mrs Samina Alvi, Begum President Pakistan opened the conference by stating, “Educating a girl means educating a generation. Education and developing individual talent creates individual confidence that they can overcome the skin colour discrimination.”
All the speakers spoke deeply from their heart with Aisha Farooqui, Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Islamabad, and the different obstacles we all face in our journeys, while actress/human rights activist Aamina Sheikh added, “Every Muslim female should know there is no place for skin colour discrimination in Islam. This is an empowerment and should be used in our development.”
Tara Uzra Dawood, the powerhouse behind Educate a Girl, shared the reason behind the conference: “Colourism is discrimination against people because they have a darker complexion. Someone with a lighter complexion is considered to be more beautiful or valuable than someone with dark skin. In Pakistan, it is our young girls who face the brunt of this discrimination, compounded with class structures. This must change and change today!”
Keynote Speaker Dr Bertrice Berry, African American educator and sociologist, spoke from Georgia USA, bringing us to tears with her insight, “We are literally using the standards of the people who oppress us against us.”
Over 50 dynamic and inspiring global and local speakers participated in this awareness building and action starting conference including, Aisha Mukhtar (Country Representative a.i., UN Women) and Zohra Yusuf (former Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), SalimaHashimi, Sheema Kermani, Nabeela Khatak (Chair, OPEN DC), Ameena Saiyid, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Shaniera Akram, Ayesha Omar, Fifi Haroon (BBC, speaking from London), African American CEO of Women of Colour in the Workplace Julene Allen (Chicago, USA), Baloch rapper Abid Brohi, Hema Gokal (APAC Lean in Global & Former Director UN Women, speaking from Singapore), Sanya Khurana, Founder, Lean in India (Ghaziabad, India), Shrruti, President, Lean in Gurgaon (Gurgaon, Haryana, India), Amin Gulgee, Monis Rehman, Frieha Altaf, Syeda Henna Babar Ali, Amna Ilyas, Habib Paracha, Carla Petievich (Professor of Women Studies, speaking from Texas, USA), et al. Special case studies on Turkey and Syria were presented by powerhouses Sevil Pacalioglu (Istanbul) and Raghad Alkhatib (Syria). The Pakistani National Anthem was sung by vocalist Nabila Bano, recitation by Talat Hashimi, comedian Akbar Chaudry spoke on ‘Lighten Your Mood Not Your Skin Colour’, mindfulness expert Saman Aly conducted a much needed Yoga Stretch, and rockstar Shallum Xavier of ‘Fuzon’ closed out the event with an exclusive performance pepped with his own personal stories.
In addition to these and many more A-listers speaking from around the world, one of the most important sessions put on spotlight three of the Educate a Girl scholars at Indus University - Mariam Faiz, Warda Khan and Summan Iftikhar - who spoke about the deep pain and difficulties faced by colour discrimination, not just for marriage and modelling, but even to get an entry job at a bank. Warda shared the challenges of getting a job, being made to feel less than worthy for superficial reasons and how that can affect one’s entire life. Her powerful words reminded us how real this colourism is on the ground and how wrong it is!