Sabiha Shah of WDFP Pakistan – how to address gender issues in Pakistan

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Sabiha Shah of the Women’s Development Foundation Pakistan (WDFP) struggling against female illiteracy and poverty in Pakistan. Women need education for their empowerment, and for the empowerment of their communities. 
Men misuse their power against women. Women have to be strengthened to struggle all togetheer against oppression by domestic violence, rape, early marriage, and child marriage, among others.  The main reason for violence against women is this, as Sabiha suggests: “Actually the weak men of society fear the loss of their control on women therefore they don’t want the women to be empowered for their rights.”
Would like to thank Sabiha for her time and the photos she sent us.
How was the WDFP  founded?
The Women’s Development Foundation Pakistan (WDFP) is an extension of the Women Skill Development Project (WSDP) established in January 1994, but it is originated and registered under VSWA Act 1961 No. DSW (2112)-K on 16th May 2004. Mrs. Sabiha Shah is the founder of WDFP who started working from her School age and always actively took part in social development. Before WDFP she worked in the Women Committee of the Lyari Community Development Project, where she carried out multiple programs of women empowerment and realized the need to strengthen a completely separate organization to address and resolve issues related to women.
WDFP aim to support women in all fields of life and is striving to mobilize maximum resources for overall empowerment of the under privileged and neglected women folk. WDFP has been working in the slums of Karachi especially in Lyari, coastal area of Kemari, Maripur, Baldia, Korangi and Bin Qasim Town on multiple issues in development sector. WDFP has an active network of civil society organization that supports its developmental activities.
What are the main issues related to gender inequality in Pakistan?
The issues of gender inequality in Pakistan can be found in all levels of socio economic backgrounds. Women in Pakistan face exploitation of their rights in many ways. A few general issues are that women from urban slums and rural areas of Pakistan are not allowed from their male counterparts to go to NADRA office to get their National Identity Cards, Early marriage is forced and no right to choice for marriage is given to them, lack of education, lack of awareness and access to information, no freedom for free movement and no freedom to learn and earn for their financial stability. In mostly cases, they are unable to report the violence they face such as domestic violence, harassment from in-laws, mental torture, daily conflicts and disputes with life partner because the society has accepted this violence as a part of culture/norm. These problems reduce the productivity of women at home and they become unable to pay proper attention on training and nurturing their children as active member of society. 
What are the projects you implement to promote women empowerment?
Women Development Foundation Pakistan works on the holistic development of women, for which we carry out projects of educational programs for women; including formal, informal and non-formal programs, vocational programs for skill development through courses of stitching, beautician and computer learning, micro-entrepreneurship, youth development programs, human rights (women & children), human resource development, peace promoting activities, charity programs, mass marriage arrangements of destitute couples, marriage counseling, pre marriage blood test and community development programs.
What are the main challenges to women empowerment in Pakistan?
Pakistan represents a male dominant society. The household heads are men in Pakistan and taking the lead position in family they often miss-uses their power. The challenge of unequal behavior and facilities is the most common challenge. Though Pakistani women are struggling really hard for getting equal rights but it can be said that it will still take many years to bring gender equity in Pakistan. Another challenge is to fight with stigma and discrimination which the society associates with working women and the men who claim to protect their women by keeping them safe at homes, harass women mentally and physically who step outside their homes in order to attain their rights. Actually the weak men of society fear the loss of their control on women therefore they don’t want the women to be empowered for their rights.
How would you define your approach?
WDFP works through the inclusive and holistic approach. We believe that we can’t empower women until we taught men to give them equal rights. Our programs include trainings for both men and women, girls and boys so that they both treat them well and a balanced society can be developed.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
Yes, WDFP works in different areas and with different communities. Before starting any of our projects we involve the interest of local authorities and stakeholders so that we can achieve our goals easily.