Amazing Women of Hunza & Lal Shehzadi
by Sarah Adnan
Nestled between the mighty mountains of Gilgit Baltistan, the supremely beautiful Hunza Valley is known for its breath-taking landscapes, lush orchards and flowery meadows. However, I am personally drawn to Hunza for a completely different reason. In Hunza, they have managed to achieve what the rest of Pakistan and the rest of the developing world, for that matter, is still struggling with- Empowering women and gender equality.
The closely knit Hunzakut community has been so hugely successful in their endeavors to promote and support women that their literacy rate has jumped to a whopping 95% whereas the literacy rate in the rest of Gilgit Baltistan is 37.8% and that of Pakistan is 59.13% (Statistics by Macrotrends). So what is the relationship between literacy, community progress and women? To find out, I spoke to some locals there who told me that women education and empowerment is at the center of these developments. It is a tradition in Hunza that if a family cannot afford the education of all its children, it will choose to support the education of its daughter(s). A brother will do menial labour but will make sure that his sister gets educated. This was also explained to me, many years ago, by Shabina Mustafa, founder of The Garage School, in Karachi. She always said that if you educate a girl, you educate the whole generation. If she is learned, she makes sure to teach her brothers and sisters and her own children in the future! The progress made by the women in Hunza is obvious from the fact that they have taken on some very non-traditional professional roles. Many women have become or are training to become mountain guides. They have taken up carpentry. Several cafés are owned, managed and run entirely by women and girls. Samina Baig, Pakistan’s first high altitude mountaineer, who has climbed all the seven summits of the world is from Hunza.
Ameena Zameer, the first woman judge of Gilgit Baltistan is from Hunza.
Many women cricketers including Diana Baig, who were or are a part of the Pakistan Women Cricket Team are from Hunza. Over the last decade or so, Hunza has been at the centre of a remarkable eco-feminist movement, sky-rocketing to some of the highest levels in South Asia. One organization, worthy of mention here, who is playing a huge role in eco-empowering the women of Hunza, is CIQAM. Founded in 2009, CIQAM provides training and employment opportunities to girls and women in the more non-traditional professions and skills. They have set up carbon-neutral carpentry and crafts workshops, opened up many cafés, the first being Kha Basi Café which opened up in 2012 and is administered and managed entirely by women, who also took part in its construction. These cafés provide food made only from organic locally grown produce. They also opened up the Leif Larson Music Centre in 2016, to revive Hunza’s dying music traditions. This school produced two of the first female Rabab players, Sanya Taj and Suneila Baig, the latter of whom is also one of the first female Burushaski singers.
During my trip there, I met Lal Shizadi, a woman who runs the humble Hunza Food Pavilion near the Baltit Fort. This lady, with a degree in agriculture from Japan boasts of using only organic, home grown produce in all her cooking. She told me that Hunza is so safe for women that you can sleep on the roadside at night, without anyone even blinking an eye toward you. Such is the respect you get as a woman in Hunza! I felt so proud of what all the women of Hunza have managed to achieve but sad that it is taking far too long for the rest of Pakistan to follow their lead.
It was in Hunza that I learnt and experienced first-hand that no job is too small, there is no job a woman can’t do. To make progress we have to let go of the patriarchal mind set which is so prevalent, not only amongst men but also the women of our society. We must break free from self-limiting beliefs, which have confined us women to certain professions. If we are to make progress, we must make sure that our daughters, more than our sons are educated as we, the women, have the power to transform and change the world!