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25 July 2001


Hussn is a teacher, and was one of the first women from Shimshal to leave the community to receive further education. She is passionate about the importance of education – when asked if she has a message for the new generation she says “education, education and education” – and its importance both for the population as a whole, and specifically for girls, is the major focus of the testimony. She is an articulate narrator and also comments on gender, pointing out that although women have taken on more responsibilities as men increasingly work outside, gender divisions of labour according to their culture and Islam still apply.

Much of the discussion on the education of girls and the activities of women is based on her own experiences of being an educated woman in the village, and the important responsibility this entails in setting an example to others. She explains that initially many were uncertain about the advantages of girls’ education: “People had the concept that a girl is not able to do anything, and if girls got education, they would only know how to dress, how to walk and they would be proud,” and so “that is why we the educated females have decided that we should use our education in such a way that people should not take the wrong meaning of it.” This meant that as well as working in their jobs and getting involved in community institutions they have also had to continue to conform to traditional roles: “I have to live with the culture of my area and also with other sisters and mothers of our village. If they do livestock rearing, then I also do it, if they do their household chores, then I do too.”

She clearly sees education as the way to ensure that Shimshal develops, emphasising that it is important not only for getting jobs outside the community but also for learning how to better manage their livestock – which is currently “the main source of our livelihoods”. If all children were educated, she asks, “why wouldn’t our village progress? It is definite that if they would be highly qualified, then our village would be developed.”

She concludes by mentioning some poetry she wrote and presented at a special function. She explains: “In that poetry I tried to express that what is the importance of women in a society, and what is the importance of girls’ education. I want to make the parents realise these things through poetry… And I think it is the most important event of my life.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Interviewer introduces himself and the project. How the responsibilities of women in Shimshal have changed as men have started going outside to earn. Does her “household chores” as well as her job. Believes in more education for girls and that educated women, like herself, are now “spending our lives in a better way”.
Section 2  Responsibilities of women: “All the activities of a home, whether it runs in a good way or a bad way depends upon a woman… the status of a woman is like a president, who has the responsibility to run his state. Like the president, the woman is the owner of her home.” In Shimshal they lack facilities but “women are very happy with the beauty, with the weather…” Unlike in the lowlands “there are no other restrictions on us, and we move around our village as we wish… I think, nothing is greater than independence.”
Section 3  Discussion about the gender division of labour and responsibilities according to culture and Islam: “… in my point of view… Islam had given the message that women had their own status and self-respect. And secondly, if I look according to my own culture… they had differentiated, that if a man stays at home and cooks food and a woman goes to the jungle to bring fuel wood or to goes… to stand at the edge of the field with a spade it will not suit any of them…” Education has led to more women working outside the home as teachers, health workers etc
Section 4-5  Suggests the ratio of male to female education will increase as “nowadays every parent has the same thinking…they are now aware of the value of education… whether they have to sell their farm land, whether they have to remain without clothing or food, [every parent] would give education to their children.” Link with development: “I think if the literacy rate of our village increases, then our village would develop more and more.” The value for education in farming and livestock activities: “According to me education doesn’t mean to know a word then join the field of medical, engineering or become a lecturer somewhere… As you’re well aware we are earning our livelihood with our own hands… if people would be educated, then they would take proper care of the livestock… people might develop livestock in a better way.” Degree of self-sufficiency in Shimshal.
Section 5  Her parents were uneducated but their Imam (the Aga Khan) said “if you had two children, a boy and a girl then you should educate your daughter … we started taking our lessons at the Jamat khana (religious and community centre of Ismaili Muslims). Because at that time there were no special arrangements for us to study.” Lack of facilities caused them to leave school for three years but the teacher “started running his own small shop, where he kept a book called qaida (this book is used to teach the beginners)… When we went to buy a ball from his shop, he used to give us a qaida book free along with that ball. And this had raised our interest toward studies.”
Section 6  The difference between educated and non-educated women: “an educated women is confident enough to solve all of her problems, whether they would be social, economical or educational.” The importance of having educated mothers: “the initial development of a child is in the hands of the mother... So an educated woman always tries to make her child aware about good and bad things, and help him/her in his/her growth, or if her child is having some problem doing his homework then an educated woman can easily help her child…”
Section 7  The involvement of educated women in village institutions: “they have appointed female members in the Local Council, Tariqa (religious education) board…and other Imamat (office of the Imam: Aga Khan) institutions that are functioning in our village… women should work along with their male counterparts, females should share their education, ideas and views, because collective participation of both male and female is beneficial for the society.” She is on the Tariqa board, works for a women’s organisation, is an interviewer with the SNT/Panos Oral testimony project, and is a member of the women’s volunteer core.
Section 8  Is a teacher and yet still carries out the traditional women’s tasks. Education: believes “the developed countries have developed themselves because of education” and that “the future of my kids depends on the education and not on the livestock…” She doesn’t keep as much livestock as her father and mother-in-law: “During summer my relatives help me, and they make butter and cheese for me when they go to the pasture. And the reason for giving me a hand is that, I am the only woman at my home and it is our culture to help those who are alone, poor, and orphaned.”
Section 9  Changing attitudes. Educated women decided they had to set a good example: “So personally, I am doing my job and am practising all those things which are the tradition of our village… And people are getting a good impression of it that education doesn’t mean just to dress up, to walk, to do a job or to get money, but education means to know about everything or to know how to do things in a right way.” She uses her salary to educate her own children. The impact of educated women: “In the past, people were of the idea that only boys could bring changes for the society, but now they have learned that education is the only thing which brings girls and boys to the same level, and both of them can bring about changes.”
Section 10  Describes how she decided to go no further with her own education and become a teacher The successes of her students: “we are lucky enough that our students have gone downside for higher studies, because before Fatima and me nobody had gone outside the village for getting higher studies.” Influence of Pakistan’s founder Jinnah, who emphasised the importance of education.
Section 11-12  Firmly believes that education will bring progress. Used poetry to try to change attitudes: “I wrote my first poetry in the form of a small poem, which was a tribute to mothers’ dignity. I presented that in a function… And I got prizes from many of our brothers and fathers present during that function, and in return I got courage in myself to do more and more to make the people realise about the actual status and self-respect of women in a society.”