Helping Women in Pakistan Find Their Voice

No Voice

Kanwel sits quietly while her husband speaks for her – a common practice in Pakistan.

“They have no voice to speak their minds.”

Unlike many men in Pakistan, Kanwel’s husband speaks for her because he wants her voice to be heard. He is translating her message of hope into English so more people can hear it. Kanwel’s passion for helping Pakistani women overcome centuries of gender bias, oppression, and poverty is contagious.

Far past regular working hours, the couple sits around their office table, cooling off in the breeze of several whirring fans. Kanwel’s brother-in-law joins them, along with two young women dressed in traditional salwar kameez garments. It is extremely unusual for women to be out of their homes this late at night in Pakistani culture, but their message is too important to be concerned about the inconvenient time or social traditions.

Through a late-night video call, Kanwel and her husband, Mushtaq, share with Trades of Hope the suffering of women in Pakistan and how our partnership with their artisan community is helping these women overcome oppression and poverty.

He Speaks for Her

With obvious admiration and affection, Kanwel’s husband smiles, “She is unusual…”

Mushtaq is referring to her courage and determination to stand against the deeply gender-biased culture of Pakistan by helping women find their voice. Kanwel is dedicated to her mission of teaching women in her community how to think for themselves, how to become independent… and even how to dream.

Mushtaq and Kanwel

This is no easy mission in a culture where women are not allowed to speak to any man who is not her husband. A male relative must speak for them. Females are also not permitted to leave their homes without a male relative escorting them. Outside of the larger and more modern cities, women rarely ever leave their homes for leisure or social purposes. Kanwel’s husband explains,

“A female is less than a man. She is considered… like… half a man. A woman is considered a second class citizen.”

Kanwel’s husband knows that helping women in Pakistan find their voice begins with men speaking up for women’s rights. It begins with husbands, fathers, and brothers speaking out against gender bias and oppression. In a culture where women’s voices traditionally fall on deaf ears, men’s voices – advocating for women – must be heard until the voices of their wives, sisters, and daughters can be heard.

In a culture where women’s voices traditionally fall on deaf ears, men’s voices – advocating for women – must be heard until the voices of their wives, sisters, and daughters can be heard.

She Speaks for Her

Kanwel, a seminary graduate, believes that each woman’s journey to independence begins with inspiration. But she also believes that sustaining a life of independence in Pakistan requires education, a privilege she estimates is enjoyed by less than 10% of women in their country. Without education, women are often exploited and neglected by the few employers who are willing to hire females. Women who cannot find employment are left to fend for themselves in poverty.

Silent Cries

Moved by common stories of abuse and oppression, Kanwel wanted to offer Pakistani women opportunities to become independent. Many of the women in her community who worked as household servants or cleaners shared tragic stories of enduring abuse and even attacks by male employers. Christian women faced even greater discrimination and persecution by male employers of opposing religions.

With no other way to help provide for their families, many of the victims suffered in silence, unable to speak with their husbands or male relatives to ask for help. Even with the help of their husbands or male relatives, women in Pakistan do not have the same legal rights as women in most other countries to pursue justice against such attacks. For these women, speaking up can also create the possibility of facing punishment for their “participation” in the attacks.

As Kanwel’s husband translates the stories of these victims of abuse, tears begin to stream down the face of one of the young women at the table. She is one of over 700 women Kanwel has mentored over the years and encouraged to pursue independence through education.

Daughters of Shalom Institute

In response to the “silent cries” of so many women in her community, Kanwel founded the Daughters of Shalom Institute. At the institute, Kanwel offers these women “New Beginnings” where they can be free to enjoy the privilege of an education. They can be free to dream. They can explore and expand their personal gifts and talents through “Life Skills” classes. Adult Literacy classes help these women in all areas of their lives, including pursuing independent business careers. Mathematics and computer classes, not only help them with employment and business but also in the marketplace as the women buy and sell for their families.

Women Learn Computer Skills at Daughters of Shalom Institute

Many of the women learn to master the art of sewing at the institute. These women help provide for their families by sewing traditional salwar kameez garments for their relatives and neighbors. Others enjoy the creativity of cosmetology classes. All of the students are encouraged to become leaders in their communities and help other women rise above oppression and poverty as well.

She Speaks for Herself

Kanwel trains the women in her community to become fair trade artisans with skills including sewing and making jewelry. The income each artisan earns provides her with the ability to invest in her own education and dreams. Financial independence and education not only provide women in Pakistan with more career opportunities, but they also offer some women a chance to have a voice – to speak their minds – for the first time in their lives.

Artisan in Pakistan Handcrafting Trades of Hope Change Earrings

3 Ways You Can Be a Voice For Her

1. Party with a Purpose

In 2019, Trades of Hope is offering women like you and me the opportunity to be a voice for women in Pakistan. As part of our “New Beginnings” partnership with The Daughters of Shalom Institute, Trades of Hope is providing “Life Skills” training to women escaping hardship.

Host a Qualifying Gathering Between January 1 and March 31, 2019


2. Purchase with a Purpose

Invest in the handcrafted products made by these women all year long to help provide them with sustainable income.


3. Pursue Your Purpose

Become a Compassionate Entrepreneur and help women around the world escape oppression and poverty by sharing their stories and offering opportunities to purchase their handcrafted fair trade products.


Trades of Hope is partnering to give women in Pakistan a Voice.

You can partner to give women in Pakistan a voice.

Kathy Thomas
About Kathy Thomas
Kathy Thomas is an inspirational writer with a passion for helping women discover and celebrate their unique gifts and abilities. Kathy is part of the Communication Team at Trades of Hope focusing on Artisan Development.

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