Hazara women breaking barriers

LAHORE -  Women in Pakistan have started taking things in their hands to improve their 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 said she started this restaurant to empower women. This would help those women who have to run the house on their own. “In our community especially, 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 started this kind 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 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. “As the society is not very acceptable, we have men to do the accounts and procurement etc., while the ladies do the work inside the restaurant,” she said.

The restaurant serves over 10 dishes, desserts and beverages. The menu items range from trotters to chicken soup, zinger burger to chicken karahi, kebabs to French fries. The restaurant starts at 10 am and is open till 12 midnight; on special occasions and holidays it remains opened till 4 am.

“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.”

Hamida 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,” she said.

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 restaurant 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. 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 admission in a law college to get a degree in law in the near future so she can fight for rights of women through legal fora as and when needed.


R Umaima Ahmed

Umaima Ahmed is a member  of staff

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