Hazara women breaking barriers

Women in Pakistan have started taking things in their hands to improve their and their loved ones' standard of living. One such lady is Hamida Ali Hazara who is out to break stereo types in Quetta the capital of Balochistan. Hamida comes from one of the most persecuted community of Balochistan – the Hazaras.

Three months ago Hamida started a restaurant in Quetta named Hazara Restaurant where she is giving women an opportunity to work.

Speaking to The Nation Hamida spoke about the Hazara restaurant she said, “I started this restaurant three months ago to empower women. This would help those women who have to run the house on their own. In our community there are many women who do not have a bread earner due to sectarian violence. It would help these women work in a friendly and safe environment and earn a respectable living.”

Pakistani society is still not very open to women running eateries or restaurants, so when Hamida wanted to start this line of business she was a little apprehensive regarding backlash from her community. “It is still considered an insult in our community that women are earning money to run the house. Despite of that I still wanted to take the first step for women to gain confidence and earn money. They should never have to look towards others for money, instead earn it in a respectable manner,” Hamida said.

Hamida has seven ladies and two men working at her restaurant, she said, “As the this is not a very acceptable concept here hence we have men to do the accounts and procurement etc., while the ladies do the work inside the restaurant.”

The restaurant serves over ten dishes, desserts and beverages. The menu items range from trotters to chicken soup, zinger burger to chicken karhai, kebabs to French fries. The restaurant starts at 10 AM and is open till 12 AM at night; on special occasions and holidays they stay open till 4 AM. According to Hamida, “In the beginning many girls came to dine in the restaurant, but soon families started coming in and men started to feel comfortable bringing their wives and daughters here as they were being attended to by women.”

As families play a very important role in empowering women, Hamida is blessed with a family that has stood by her. She fondly speaks of them and says that her brother was very supportive of her work.

“Even though relatives did say things behind my back but I was not ready to quit. I will not stop because of what people think, I will do things to change their outlook towards life. For me women empowerment is the most important thing.”

Considering that she is from Hazara community there were concerns that she could be threatened by extremists but Hamida says, “I have not been threatened so far. But once I was told to sit in a mosque like a saint instead of starting my own restaurant as it is against the norms of society. However I did not back off. We do have security arrangements at our restaurants in to counter any untoward happening.”

“I have opened this restaurant in Hazara town where it was needed most. The mentality of people in this area has to change, that is why I purposely opened it here.”

Hamida has undertaken this entrepreneurial work on her own, without any support from the Government.

Another project Hamida is working on is the Hurmat e Niswa (Chastity of Women) Foundation, through which she is further trying to empower women. She said, “I have spoken to a number of shop keepers to employ at least two ladies in their shops which will not only help in improving the economy but also help them raise their living conditions. We are also focusing on educating girls.”

Hamida plans to get take admission in a Law College to get a degree in Law in the near future so she can fight for rights for women through legal forums as and when needed, and there are few women lawyers who are willing to take a stand for women and help them fight cases needing legal assistance.

Umaima Ahmed is a member  of staff

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