Q&A with: Urwa Hameed | Saturday Q&A
Famous for: Wrote a book in English and Urdu titled “Steering Towards Change”, available on Amazon. It contains first-person accounts of 45 women challenging patriarchy, class and power in Pakistan.
Hometown: Vernon. Raised in Multan, Pakistan. She moved to Connecticut when she was in eighth grade.
Education: Graduated at age 14 from Rockville High School. Graduated from Boston College in December with a major in Political Science and International Studies. Applied to Boston College Law School.
Achievements: The 18-year-old helped her mother’s colleagues who did not speak English with government documents. When his language skills weren’t sufficient, Hameed contacted the Internal Revenue Service and, with their support, started Free Tax Prep, a non-profit organization that connects immigrants with volunteer translators in over 40 languages. .
Interests: Love to travel, watch Netflix, hang out with friends. âWe do karaoke, we do whatever we find fun. “
Q: Who are you looking to advocate for and how will you prepare for it?
A: I do not yet have a precise answer for me. Two things of which I am sure: I would like to have a degree in international law. Ideally, I want to work somewhere at the United Nations level to defend women’s rights, human rights.
I want to continue working for the elevation of women’s political rights and their social and economic rights. Overall if I have the opportunity or the privilege, but especially the women I was exposed with in the process of writing the book and growing up in Pakistan. Also, to some extent, growing up in the United States as well.
Q: Have you been to Pakistan since you moved here?
A: Yes. When I wrote the book, I went back and interviewed 45 women politicians in the country.
Q: What prompted you to write a book?
A: I contacted women from each of the four Pakistani states that had been elected, in addition to women from the Senate (and) National Parliament, every woman from both chambers of each state, as well as the Assembly. By the time I got on the plane to Pakistan, I had 20 women who had agreed to give me an interview. I explained to them, I really want to know your point of view as a woman, how you got there, how you behave on a daily basis.
I wanted to present their stories as is because for young women and girls like me there it seems like an impossible task for women below the poverty line who have had a lower education and are now there. one of the most powerful women in the country.
Young women and girls cannot even perceive this possibility because they do not know how. This is how impossible it is for a woman, the girl who lives in such a society.
Once I listened to their stories, that’s when I designed a book. All of these stories need to be presented in our book.
In Pakistan, there are two ends of a spectrum. If you go to Balochistan (the westernmost region of Pakistan), you will find women there who are more religious and more conservative or more committed to the values ââof society.
Then you come to Islamabad, with progressive cities and societies. Women there can be afraid of being judged by conservative people, of being judged as non-religious.
Q: In your opinion, where is the common ground between such diverse political groups regarding women in Pakistan?
A: There are some things that I have found common to all women. First, that almost all women told me about the under-representation of women in politics.
It should not be the sole responsibility of women to advocate for women’s rights, to advocate for paid maternity leave, to advocate for the availability of hygiene products. For the way rape cases are handled in this country. For the way legislation for women in a workspace, for the way quotas are managed in educational spaces and employment spaces, in government spaces. But unfortunately it is.
You don’t see such legislation being made from men in a given political sphere. This is what many women have made me understand, that there is always an extreme under-representation of women in politics.
This is changing now. Women compete for much more popular seats. Women challenge and fight it, competing with women from powerful families who have political resources, money, whatever they need.
Most of these women have overcome adverse circumstances and know what it takes to make it happen. They know what they need to be able to provide for young women and girls now, so that they can make it happen. It’s one thing that unifies them all.
Q: What is the biggest threat to gender equality in Pakistan?
A: I did a survey with the interviews. They marked the patriarchal society or culture as the biggest obstacle to the advancement of women. This is one of the hardest things to improve.
You can bring religious reform, bring literary texts, and say that’s what the prophets believe, and reform it. You can reform education.
All of these things are easier to reform, relatively in terms of culture, society and patriarchy, which are embedded in culture and society. This is the most important thing.
Even the richest woman, she even faces this gender discrimination, because you are a woman in a political space. That’s what they all mentioned. It’s almost 100%.
Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.