“My husband passed away due to a heart attack when my son was in grade two. At that moment, I thought, ‘I am worthless,’” says Bushra Kashif. “I was financially dependent on my husband. Even though my in-laws were highly qualified and financially stable, none of them offered to support my children financially.”
Bushra, like many widows around the world, found herself in a difficult situation: Her husband provided the household’s sole source of income, and her only work experience had been in the home raising her three children. She was more fortunate than many in her situation however, as her husband’s employer in Pakistan offered her a temporary option.
My husband was working as an IT Manager at a private company. Since he died during the workday, the company, as per their policy, offered me a job with minimum salary,” says Bushra.
“I still remember the first day of my job, I was standing in a corner, very scared, and regretting that I said yes as I didn’t know how to operate the computer. When I generated my first report on the computer everyone gave me standing ovation. That was the first time I felt a little empowered. I felt that I could do something productive, and I am not worthless.”
Bushra was born in Karachi, Pakistan and her parents passed away when she was young. She married at 17 and moved to the small city of Multan in Punjab. She did not know the language or the culture, and, being a young girl, she felt obligated to conform to its norms. Bushra’s husband was supportive and prioritized her education, but she was expected to have a family.
She was 18 when she gave birth to her first daughter.
Finding her voice
“After a few months at my husband’s company, I heard about a job vacancy at an NGO, and I applied for it. To my utmost surprise, I was selected out of 35 candidates,” Bushra shares.
“The job brought challenges. My in-laws and siblings told me that women who work for NGOs are perceived to be of low morals and no one has respect for those women. In addition, I was harassed and touched inappropriately on public transportation on my way to and from work. That time period was very tough for me, but I took a stand for my children, who I had to support.”
As her children grew, Bushra made a decision to move to Karachi because she knew that it was important that they receive a good education. She found a better paying job at an NGO that worked in sexual and reproductive health.
This move was not easy.
Bushra already faced obstacles working at an NGO, but to move into a sector that openly spoke about what is considered a very private subject, was unheard of. She remained undeterred however, equipped with the understanding of how much it would eventually benefit her children.
I am grateful for [this job] as it helped me get closer to my son,” she explains. “Being a mother, I could talk to my daughters about sex, but I was uncomfortable doing so with my son.”
At her new job, Bushra understood that providing accurate information about sexual and reproductive health allows people to make better choices surrounding their future—choices she did not have, and choices she wanted for her children.
“I came across a resource booklet for sexual and reproductive health for boys at work. I brought it home for my son and told him to read it whenever he gets the time,” she says. “After a week, my son came to me and asked, ‘Mamma have you read this book as well?’ and I said yes. He said, ‘There are so many things in there which he could not talk to anyone about.’ That resource booklet helped me start a conversation with my son.”
Sharing her voice with others
Bushra is now a strong advocate for sexual and reproductive health and seeks out opportunities to strengthen her skills.
She recently participated in educating trainers from Pathfinder’s Naya Qadam project on adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health and gender sensitization.
Together, this project builds the capacity of Lady Health Workers, Community Midwives, and Lady Health Visitors to offer high-quality services through the introduction of a counseling-centered, integrated approach to post-pregnancy service delivery, including for postpartum and post-abortion clients—addressing the widening gap between service availability and unmet need.
In collaboration with the Naya Qadam partners Shirkat Gah, Aahung and National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health, Pathfinder developed resource manuals for in-service health care providers on gender sensitization, adolescent health, and postpartum family planning. So far, the trainings have reached 34 clinical health care providers and 44 community health care providers, who went on to train 107 private providers across Sindh and Punjab provinces in 2018.
During the gender sensitization trainings, the participants are encouraged to speak about the challenges they face as women, how they overcame them, and why it is important to share that information with other women of all ages.
I was very happy to have an opportunity to share my experiences as an independent woman and hear from others,” explains Bushra.
“I want to give one message to my fellow sisters. They need to know how to take a stand for themselves, and they must speak up. Today my in-laws and my siblings respect me for who I am and what I do. In fact, they have referred others to me for job opportunities in NGOs. I feel proud of myself. I have not only sensitized them in their biases towards women working in the NGO sector, but I have successfully raised my children on my own.”
Pathfinder’s programs are designed to champion sexual and reproductive health and rights globally by mobilizing communities most in need to break through barriers and forge their own path to a healthier future. This goal can only be achieved through the work of brave and dedicated women like Bushra. Learn more about our work in Pakistan >