23-year-old Nighat has been looking for a job for the past two years; yet, despite being exceptionally brilliant, she is still unemployed. She easily clears her written interview tests wherever she applies but when it comes to panel interviews, she gets rejected on the grounds for not being physically fit. Her only fault is that she has a hearing impairment which she was born with. Unfortunately, our society does not have empathy for persons with disabilities. There are so many girls like Saira who want to be productive citizens of our country, but instead of facilitating them, we tend to ignore them. This is largely due to lack of awareness, ignorance and prejudice in our society. It is also because some legislation fails to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
According to the WHO World Report on Disability 2011, 15 per cent of the world’s population, or more than 1 billion people, are living with disability. Considering the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate of 15 per cent prevalence of global disability, around 31 million people in Pakistan are expected to be living with some form of disability. But there are no reliable statistics on disability in Pakistan. The last national census to document disability was conducted in 1998. In the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance of 1981, the term disabled person was used for the target population under four categories: ‘blind, deaf, physically handicapped or mentally retarded’.
It is a matter of concern that in our society persons with disabilities have to face a lot of challenges: they lack access to employment opportunities and even if they are able to get employment, they face problems such as reasonable accommodation at work, accessible public transportation to get them to work and back and discrimination and ignorance about their potential at work. According to the findings of a British Council report “little action has been taken to align Pakistan’s policies and strategies with international ones; education for people with disabilities is limited, people with intellectual abilities are often completely ignored in the policy process, and there are limited employment opportunities for peoples with disabilities and that the legal framework to protect people with disabilities is weak. Pakistan needs to move away from a culture of sympathy.”
It’s so sad that persons with disabilities, mostly, have to depend on welfare or charitable organisations for their livelihood. This is because as a nation we are not prepared to give them their due rights; we pity them but we are not willing to accept them as useful citizens.
Hoverer, the situation is changing slowly and gradually. There are a number of organisations who are working diligently for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and who are trying their best to include such people in mainstream society by providing them opportunities to earn their livelihood. Network of Organizations working for people with disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) is a non-profit organisation which works for the social and economic empowerment of persons with disabilities. It was formed in 2008 to promote the creation of an inclusive society which values and upholds the rights of people with disabilities through sustainable endeavours and a holistic approach driven by clear social objectives. NOWPDP operates in the development sector with a focus on inclusion through empowerment of persons with disabilities. The organisation wants them to be an important stakeholder in the bigger picture, whether one considers education or employment, ergo the saying ‘A Part. Not Apart’. The core values behind NOWPDP’s framework are empathy, action and social justice.
Furthering their commitment to sustainability and inclusivity, Philip Morris (Pakistan) Limited has collaborated with NOWPDP in an effort to encourage employment of people with disabilities. They have initiated ‘Upcycle project’. This alliance aims to empower people with disabilities and to institutionalise inclusion at the workplace. Under this project, PMPKL and NOWPDP have agreed to target three objectives: Accessibility, Sensitisation and Employment. Here’s a look at three success stories of women who benefitted from this collaboration:
Anila Fayyaz got married when she was only 18. Like a dutiful wife, she was involved in her house chores 24/7 – looking after her children, husband and in-laws. While apparently leading a happy and successful family life, she was constantly nagged by an inner voice, one that asked her who she was, as Anila, and what was her purpose in life as a separate being. “Being a woman, I was told since the beginning that I had to be a good daughter and later, a good wife and a mother, in order to have a happy life. Acting on this, I spent all my life serving others and fulfilling my responsibilities towards my family, never once asking what made me happy, what did I want to do? While I felt happy looking after my family, I also felt a huge gap within me as a person,” says Anila while reflecting back on her life.
On top of dealing with societal barriers that come with being a woman, Anila’s challenges were doubled due to her hearing and speech impairment. “When I expressed the desire to do something on my own, people told me that I was lucky to be where I was, despite my disability, and that I should be thankful for it instead of asking for more and trying to do more than what was expected from me. While such comments used to break my heart, I never let it crush the motivation and passion in me to prove myself,” expresses Anila.
It was due to her unwavering resolve and determination that she was approached by NOWPDP, realising her dream of independence and bringing a purpose in her life that she yearned for.
Currently working as the designated tailor for the ‘Upcycle Project’, a joint initiative of NOWPDP and Philip Morris, Anila now stitches environment-friendly tote bags made from sustainable material which is collected from upcycling.
“While I knew I could stitch well, I never thought I could take it up as a profession and that anyone would want to hire me professionally, that too for such a good cause. Working here for NOWPDP and PMPKL’s upcycle initiative has not only helped me create an identity for myself, but it has also worked wonders for my self-esteem, showing me what I am capable of. Now that I have discovered my talent and my potential, I can proudly stand in front of all those people who tried to discourage me and thought I could not do anything in my life for myself,” smiles Anila.
Faiza Munir, a young bright girl with speech and hearing impairment, was among those few fortunate students who had the opportunity of getting inclusive education at a mainstream school. However, while it gave her a chance to have equal access to all educational experiences and resources like everyone else, she became a victim of constant bullying from her fellow students who would mock her for her disability. Heartbroken, Faiza left her studies and confined herself to her home, spending all of her time taking care of her family. “Seeing my friends complete their education and succeeding in their lives deepened my insecurity of not having achieved anything myself. As much as I dreamt of going out, working, supporting my family, and becoming financially independent, my self-doubting thoughts and a fear of getting bullied again by people would snap me back to reality,” elucidates Faiza.
“While I wanted to take care of my family, I also wanted to do something in life, something that would show everyone who bullied me for my disability that I was as able as them,” adds Faiza. Luckily Faiza was spotted by the community department of NOWPDP, which identified her stitching skills and recruited her for their and Philip Morris (Pakistan) Limited’s joint Upcycle project that is working for collecting waste and recycling them into useful products.
Currently employed as a seamstress, Faiza now stitches sustainable tote bags that are made from material collected from upcycling, fulfilling her dream of independence and providing for her family. Talking about how this project changed her life, Faiza shares, “I have always loved stitching, but I had no idea I was good at it and that I could use it to achieve my life-long dream of becoming financially independent. After being approached by NOWPDP and PMPKL, I got to truly discover myself and identify my potential which I never knew existed. Working here has helped me redesign my image in my own eyes.”
Today, as Faiza pedals away the machine, sewing the seams of the bags together, the smile on her face mirrors the satisfaction of her heart, hinting at her painful memories of being bullied and the resultant self-doubt being washed away by her journey to self-discovery.
The very cheerful, and happy-go-lucky Sara Khan, a tailor by profession, is a complete joy to have around – a person who knows how to lift up the vibe in her surroundings with her contagious positive energy. Along-with her expertise in designing and stitching, Sara also masters the art of overcoming life’s biggest challenges with her strong willpower and positive outlook on life.
Despite hearing impairment since birth, Sara has never seen herself as any different from others. She believes she is capable of doing almost everything that a person without a hearing impairment can do. “I cannot sit idle. I have to be doing something to make myself feel productive. I feel if I did not keep myself busy through productive activities it would be easier for me to succumb to negative thoughts, which would then interfere with my mental peace,” confides Sara.
Even after managing all domestic responsibilities and taking care of her family, Sara used to feel like something was missing from her life. Her love for sewing led her to begin stitching her own clothes. Once she gained the trust of her family members, she started getting orders from them for their clothes. “I wanted others like me to learn this skill, as well. I had some family members who also had hearing impairments and they used to consider themselves worthless due to this disability. I trained them and showed them how they could take charge of their own life,” she informs. In a bid to improve her skills and stitch professionally, Sara came across NOWPDP which gave her a platform that enabled her to convert a passion into a profession that also empowered her economically.
Currently, Sara is hired as the designated tailor for the Upcycle Project, where she is responsible for the designing and stitching of eco-friendly tote bags, made from sustainable materials collected through upcycling. Previously, Sara used to stitch dresses only, but now she is also getting to design and stitch bags which, she says, is “both challenging but also interesting” for her.
“Working for this project has evoked a sense of newfound independence in me. Where it keeps me busy and happy, it has also greatly helped me financially. Now that my husband and I both earn, we are able to lead a more comfortable life,” states Sara. “The fact that we use recycled material for these bags is even more rewarding as it is beneficial for our environment, and it makes me feel like a responsible citizen,” she points out.
Sara believes that everything is possible when you have the will to do it. “Sometimes a disability may make it difficult to find a suitable job, nothing is impossible in the face of strong determination and commitment to do something if you are truly passionate about it,” concludes Sara.
Erum Noor Muzaffar is the editor of You! magazine. She can be contacted at [email protected]