by Fareeda Amir, Honorary Secretary, TOS Pakistan
As the global war on terrorism continues and governments join hands spending billions of dollars to rid the world of this evil, another war is also taking place, albeit silently and very often unnoticed.
It is a war against another form of wickedness. It manifests through the ignorance, superstition and tradition that deny millions of women and girls in underdeveloped countries their inalienable rights.
For centuries a male dominated world has looked upon women as inferior to men. While her sisters in the west rose up and demanded equality, the eastern woman, with some remarkable exceptions, has largely been helpless in changing her circumstances. A mere glance tells us why she continues to be equated with worldly possessions and subjected to social and cultural injustice of all sorts: because of her ignorance. She is subjugated and has no control over her own life because she is uneducated. It must be the ultimate goal of those committed to brotherhood to aid her to gain the knowledge that will empower her.
Let us take the example of rural, poverty-stricken Pakistan where a woman’s life is a litany of woes. In urban areas the situation is not so bleak, but it is nevertheless a far cry from the privileges that women and girls take for granted in the west. From birth a female child is discriminated against. She is fed only after her brothers have eaten (and therefore is always malnourished); she takes care of her younger siblings and helps with heavy domestic chores while she is still a child. Helping her overburdened and perpetually pregnant mother is her lot. Play and recreation are alien to her world. She has no self-worth and believes that she is inferior to her brothers. She is made to believe that her role in life is to be servile and obedient to the men in her family. First to her father, brothers and other male family members (grandfathers, uncles, male cousins) and after marriage – which often takes place when she has barely stepped out of her childhood – to another set of males (husband, father-in-law, etc.).
This is exactly what the members of the Theosophical Order of Service in Pakistan want to change. We realize that centuries of darkness cannot be changed in a few years, but we have made a beginning. We have to continue working and work with relentless dedication.
The TOS in Pakistan decided long ago that the only way forward for the women of this country is to educate them, to make sure they know their rights and acquire a feeling of self-worth. It chose the urban areas as a starting point for its work, and has focused on the city of Karachi so far. TOS workers talked to parents and convinced them to educate their daughters. Its aim was to enable as many girls as possible to get an education. Since the 1950s it has run an extensive educational sponsorship programme for both girls and boys, with special attention paid to the girl child.
At present the educational sponsorship programme supports nearly 400 students and almost 60% of these are girls. Of this 60%, 90 are college students. They are studying engineering, medicine, dentistry, textile design, science, commerce, nursing and the arts. Two who finished their studies in 2004 are now qualified physiotherapists. Most of these girls are ‘A graders’, and are bright and confident young women. Roughly 150 of our female students are still in school and range in age from 5 to 16 years. We are already encouraging them to study further after finishing their secondary schooling. Many are from homes where both parents are illiterate. All are from economically deprived backgrounds and many live in conditions of abject poverty. Fortunately for these girls and young women, life will not be the same as it was for their mothers. They have hope. They are bright and talented and they know it. They play an important role in their homes in steering their siblings and parents. They are aware of what is going on in the world, of the pace of progress elsewhere and they want to be a part of that forward-moving world community.
In the TOS Pakistan, we know that what we are doing is a drop in the ocean but we also know that great things have small beginnings. With dedication and perseverance, we know that we can achieve our goal. We are inundated with applications from young girls and have to maintain long waiting lists while we look for sponsors.
The ideals of the TOS are lofty and its members are privileged to be connected with it. There is plenty to inspire us as we read the literature of the Theosophical Society and the words of the founder of the TOS, Dr. Annie Besant:
‘In those who are growing into the spiritual life, and in those who cannot be happy while others are miserable, and in those whose meals are rendered bitter by the starvation of the poor and in those whose luxury is a burden because of the want of the miserable and those who will sacrifice that others may be happy, in those you will find the Builders of a New Civilization.’
Let us join hands and lay the foundations of this new civilization.
To sponsor the education of a young girl in Karachi which costs US$120.00 a year, there are 2 options:
- Make a donation online using either credit card or PayPal, specifying as donation option "TOS Educational Sponsorship Program (Karachi, Pakistan)" Donate now.
- or, Send your donation by electronic bank transfer. The necessary information follows:
Account name: Theosophical Order of Service
Name of bank: Standard Chartered Bank Ltd.
Garden Road Branch, Karachi, Pakistan
US Dollar Account No: 01-05-7412231-90
Swift Code: SCBLU533
ABA Code: 026002561
For more information, please write to:
Mrs Fareeda Amir
Jamshed Memorial Hall
M.A. Jinnah Road
Karachi – 74200
E-mail: tospakistan at cyber dot net dot pk