“These little victories can mean everything for a girl’s life and ultimately an entire family’s; knowing this is enough to keep us motivated to work toward social change in our community every single day”
Sumaira Atta, 16, quit her education after high school because according to her community, as a girl she was ‘too old’ to be commuting to school. Shortly after,Oxfam in Pakistan’s partner Bedari arranged a GALS training in Sumaira’s village, Panch Marla Scheme, near Lodhran city. There she learnt about the life long benefits of continuing education, pursuing one’s dreams and acquiring financial independence. Tasked with the assignment of creating a vision journey, Sumaira decided to take on the challenge of joining a vocational centre to learn embroidery, her childhood dream.
As she had expected, Sumaira faced significant backlash from relatives and community members regarding her decision. Even her own father was hesitant about the idea. “When girls leave their homes to study or work, community
members see their empowerment as a threat and try to malign their reputation to hold them back”, she said. After months of persuasion, Sumaira’s father finally agreed to let her join the centre on the condition that he would accompany her on the way. However, as time passed and his regular commute became inconvenient, Sumaira arranged for a van to travel to the Centre. “That’s when the rumors started. Many claimed they had seen me meet up with boys from our community instead of going to the centre, but I was lucky because I had myparents support and trust”, she says. With support from her family, Sumaira managed to complete her 6-month course. Almost immediately, she started her embroidery business at home and began offering classes to girls who couldn’tafford to join centers to learn the skill.
Through her journey, Sumaira says her GALS training stayed with her and she now also offers free education to less privileged students, teaching them basic literacy and numeracy skills. Moreover, understanding the sensitivity of the issue of early child marriage, Sumaira has learnt to build trust with vulnerable girls and counselthem when needed. “One of my students was too scared to share her concernswith her family so she confided in me about being forced into a marriage she wasnot ready for”, she says. Sumaira immediately took action and went to the girl’shome with her mother to threaten them with legal action for marrying off an underage girl without her consent. It took time but the family ultimately gave inand postponed the marriage. “These little victories can mean everything for agirl’s life and ultimately an entire family’s; knowing this is enough to keep us motivated to work toward social change in our community every single day”, she said.
Sumaira is determined to fully support the education and career aspirations of her two younger sisters and ensure that their dreams aren’t crushed into societal pressures and suppressive .