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  • While preparing for my talk

  • I was reflecting on my life and trying to figure out

  • where exactly was that moment when my journey began.

  • A long time passed by, and I simply couldn't figure out

  • the beginning or the middle or the end of my story.

  • I always used to think that my beginning

  • was one afternoon in my community when my mother had told me

  • that I had escaped three arranged marriages by the time I was two.

  • Or one evening when electricity had failed for eight hours in our community,

  • and my dad sat, surrounded by all of us,

  • telling us stories of when he was a little kid struggling to go to school

  • while his father, who was a farmer, wanted him to work in the fields with him.

  • Or that dark night when I was 16

  • when three little kids had come to me and they whispered in my ear

  • that my friend was murdered in something called the honor killings.

  • But then I realized that,

  • as much as I know that these moments have contributed on my journey,

  • they have influenced my journey

  • but they have not been the beginning of it,

  • but the true beginning of my journey was in front of a mud house

  • in upper Sindh of Pakistan,

  • where my father held the hand of my 14-year-old mother

  • and they decided to walk out of the village

  • to go to a town where they could send their kids to school.

  • In a way, I feel like my life

  • is kind of a result of some wise choices and decisions they've made.

  • And just like that, another of their decisions

  • was to keep me and my siblings connected to our roots.

  • While we were living in a community I fondly remember as called Ribabad,

  • which means community of the poor,

  • my dad made sure that we also had a house in our rural homeland.

  • I come from an indigenous tribe in the mountains of Balochistan

  • called Brahui.

  • Brahui, or Brohi, means mountain dweller, and it is also my language.

  • Thanks to my father's very strict rules about connecting to our customs,

  • I had to live a beautiful life of songs, cultures, traditions, stories, mountains,

  • and a lot of sheep.

  • But then, living in two extremes

  • between the traditions of my culture, of my village,

  • and then modern education in my school wasn't easy.

  • I was aware that I was the only girl who got to have such freedom,

  • and I was guilty of it.

  • While going to school in Karachi and Hyderabad,

  • a lot of my cousins and childhood friends were getting married off,

  • some to older men, some in exchange,

  • some even as second wives.

  • I got to see the beautiful tradition and its magic fade in front of me

  • when I saw that the birth of a girl child was celebrated with sadness,

  • when women were told to have patience as their main virtue.

  • Up until I was 16,

  • I healed my sadness by crying,

  • mostly at nights when everyone would sleep

  • and I would sob in my pillow,

  • until that one night when I found out my friend was killed

  • in the name of honor.

  • Honor killings is a custom

  • where men and women are suspected of having relationships

  • before or outside of the marriage,

  • and they're killed by their family for it.

  • Usually the killer is the brother or father or the uncle in the family.

  • The U.N. reports there are about 1,000 honor murders every year in Pakistan,

  • and these are only the reported cases.

  • A custom that kills did not make any sense to me,

  • and I knew I had to do something about it this time.

  • I was not going to cry myself to sleep.

  • I was going to do something, anything, to stop it.

  • I was 16 -- I started writing poetry

  • and going door to door telling everybody about honor killings

  • and why it happens, why it should be stopped,

  • and raising awareness about it

  • until I actually found a much, much better way to handle this issue.

  • In those days, we were living in a very small, one-roomed house in Karachi.

  • Every year, during the monsoon seasons, our house would flood up with water --

  • rainwater and sewage --

  • and my mom and dad would be taking the water out.

  • In those days, my dad brought home a huge machine, a computer.

  • It was so big it looked as if it was going to take up half of the only room we had,

  • and had so many pieces and wires that needed to be connected.

  • But it was still the most exciting thing

  • that has ever happened to me and my sisters.

  • My oldest brother Ali got to be in charge of taking care of the computer,

  • and all of us were given 10 to 15 minutes every day to use it.

  • Being the oldest of eight kids,

  • I got to use it the last,

  • and that was after I had washed the dishes,

  • cleaned the house, made dinner with my mom,

  • and put blankets on the floor for everyone to sleep,

  • and after that, I would run to the computer,

  • connect it to the Internet,

  • and have pure joy and wonder for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • In those days, I had discovered a website called Joogle.

  • [Google] (Laughter)

  • In my frantic wish to do something about this custom,

  • I made use of Google and discovered Facebook,

  • a website where people can connect to anyone around the world,

  • and so, from my very tiny, cement-roofed room in Karachi,

  • I connected with people in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada,

  • and created a campaign called

  • WAKE UP Campaign against Honor Killings.

  • It became enormous in just a few months.

  • I got a lot of support from all around the world.

  • Media was connecting to us.

  • A lot of people were reaching out trying to raise awareness with us.

  • It became so big that it went from online to the streets of my hometown,

  • where we would do rallies and strikes

  • trying to change the policies in Pakistan for women's support.

  • And while I thought everything was perfect,

  • my team -- which was basically my friends and neighbors at that time --

  • thought everything was going so well,

  • we had no idea a big opposition was coming to us.

  • My community stood up against us,

  • saying we were spreading un-Islamic behavior.

  • We were challenging centuries-old customs in those communities.

  • I remember my father receiving anonymous letters

  • saying, "Your daughter is spreading Western culture

  • in the honorable societies."

  • Our car was stoned at one point.

  • One day I went to the office and found our metal signboard

  • wrinkled and broken as if a lot of people had been hitting it with something heavy.

  • Things got so bad that I had to hide myself in many ways.

  • I would put up the windows of the car,

  • veil my face, not speak while I was in public,

  • but eventually situations got worse when my life was threatened,

  • and I had to leave, back to Karachi, and our actions stopped.

  • Back in Karachi, as an 18-year-old,

  • I thought this was the biggest failure of my entire life.

  • I was devastated.

  • As a teenager, I was blaming myself for everything that happened.

  • And it turns out, when we started reflecting,

  • we did realize that it was actually me and my team's fault.

  • There were two big reasons why our campaign had failed big time.

  • One of those, the first reason,

  • is we were standing against core values of people.

  • We were saying no to something that was very important to them,

  • challenging their code of honor,

  • and hurting them deeply in the process.

  • And number two, which was very important for me to learn,

  • and amazing, and surprising for me to learn,

  • was that we were not including the true heroes

  • who should be fighting for themselves.

  • The women in the villages had no idea we were fighting for them in the streets.

  • Every time I would go back,

  • I would find my cousins and friends with scarves on their faces,

  • and I would ask, "What happened?"

  • And they'd be like, "Our husbands beat us."

  • But we are working in the streets for you!

  • We are changing the policies.

  • How is that not impacting their life?

  • So then we found out something which was very amazing for us.

  • The policies of a country

  • do not necessarily always affect the tribal and rural communities.

  • It was devastating -- like, oh, we can't actually do something about this?

  • And we found out there's a huge gap

  • when it comes to official policies and the real truth on the ground.

  • So this time, we were like, we are going to do something different.

  • We are going to use strategy,

  • and we are going to go back and apologize.

  • Yes, apologize.

  • We went back to the communities

  • and we said we are very ashamed of what we did.

  • We are here to apologize, and in fact, we are here to make it up to you.

  • How do we do that?

  • We are going to promote three of your main cultures.

  • We know that it's music, language, and embroidery.

  • Nobody believed us.

  • Nobody wanted to work with us.

  • It took a lot of convincing and discussions with these communities

  • until they agreed that we are going to promote their language

  • by making a booklet of their stories, fables and old tales in the tribe,

  • and we would promote their music

  • by making a CD of the songs from the tribe, and some drumbeating.

  • And the third, which was my favorite,

  • was we would promote their embroidery by making a center in the village

  • where women would come every day to make embroidery.

  • And so it began.

  • We worked with one village, and we started our first center.

  • It was a beautiful day.

  • We started the center.

  • Women were coming to make embroidery,

  • and going through a life-changing process of education,

  • learning about their rights, what Islam says about their rights,

  • and enterprise development, how they can create money,

  • and then how they can create money from money,

  • how they can fight the customs that have been destroying their lives

  • from so many centuries,

  • because in Islam, in reality,

  • women are supposed to be shoulder to shoulder with men.

  • Women have so much status that we have not been hearing,

  • that they have not been hearing,

  • and we needed to tell them that they need to know

  • where their rights are and how to take them by themselves,

  • because they can do it and we can't.

  • So this was the model which actually came out -- very amazing.

  • Through embroidery we were promoting their traditions.

  • We went into the village. We would mobilize the community.

  • We would make a center inside where 30 women will come

  • for six months to learn about value addition of traditional embroidery,

  • enterprise development, life skills and basic education,

  • and about their rights and how to say no to those customs

  • and how to stand as leaders for themselves and the society.

  • After six months, we would connect these women to loans and to markets

  • where they can become local entrepreneurs in their communities.

  • We soon called this project Sughar.

  • Sughar is a local word used in many, many languages in Pakistan.

  • It means skilled and confident women.

  • I truly believe, to create women leaders, there's only one thing you have to do:

  • Just let them know that they have what it takes to be a leader.

  • These women you see here,

  • they have strong skills and potential to be leaders.

  • All we had to do was remove the barriers that surrounded them,

  • and that's what we decided to do.

  • But then while we were thinking everything was going well,

  • once again everything was fantastic,

  • we found our next setback:

  • A lot of men started seeing the visible changes in their wife.

  • She's speaking more, she's making decisions --

  • oh my gosh, she's handling everything in the house.

  • They stopped them from coming to the centers,

  • and this time, we were like, okay, time for strategy two.

  • We went to the fashion industry in Pakistan

  • and decided to do research about what happens there.

  • Turns out the fashion industry in Pakistan is very strong and growing day by day,

  • but there is less contribution from the tribal areas

  • and to the tribal areas, especially women.

  • So we decided to launch our first ever tribal women's very own fashion brand,

  • which is now called Nomads.

  • And so women started earning more,

  • they started contributing more financially to the house,

  • and men had to think again before saying no to them

  • when they were coming to the centers.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you, thank you.

  • In 2013, we launched our first Sughar Hub instead of a center.

  • We partnered with TripAdvisor

  • and created a cement hall in the middle of a village

  • and invited so many other organizations to work over there.

  • We created this platform for the nonprofits

  • so they can touch and work on the other issues

  • that Sughar is not working on,

  • which would be an easy place for them to give trainings,