We are all consequences of our circumstances. Whoever or whatever we end up becoming is an outcome of the decisions we make in life. As women, there is seldom an opportunity for us to make significant life decisions ourselves. These decisions are made by the elders, usually men, in our families because they “know better”.
Aziza Khan of Quetta was one such person whose decisions were made for her from the very beginning. At the age of 15, despite being a high achiever, her studies were cut short and she was married off to a cousin. In her own words, she knew she was getting married, but she didn’t really know what that meant.
Two years later, she gave birth to her first child. It was when she was unable to afford medication for her unwell child that she made the first and most significant decision of her life. She decided that she needed to further her education and work. She tutored the children in her neighbourhood to save money for admission fees. With help from her brother, she was able to resume her education and begin her FA.
When she started out, her mother-in-law and brother were her only allies. Her own husband did not support her going back to school, but Aziza held her ground. “I studied in the light of the heater when my husband turned off the light, and when he turned the heater off, I studied under the street light”, she says of her struggles of trying to study at home.
Not able to afford classes or lectures, she studied on her own. When it came time for her FA exams, her husband refused to even take her to the exam centre and she had to find a way to get there. Upon getting her results, despite not having scored well, Aziza was ecstatic because she had managed to complete her FA even through her difficult circumstances.
She started working from home to save up for her children and for further studies. Two years later she passed her BA exams and her brother helped her secure a teaching job. She walked an hour and a half each way every day, often with torn shoes and bleeding feet to earn some extra income for her children. At the same time, she started taking evening classes for her Master’s degree and would study late into the night. People who knew about her would ridicule her for studying and she was seen as an outcast in her community.
Her hard work and perseverance paid off when she stood third in the province with her Master’s scores. The people who had once ridiculed her for pursuing her education now wondered how this girl they had tried their hardest to subdue was able to do so well. She gained respect in her community. Even so, her mother-in-law, brother, and children were the only family members to congratulate her. She was then appointed as the Senior Research Officer at Balochistan Bureau of Curriculum
Now more than halfway through her PhD, Aziza says that beyond her children, her studies were always her sole focus. Through the sheer power of will, she has been able to get where she is today. “Where there’s a will, there is a way!”, she says.
She did not fall victim to her circumstances, she decided to make her own path and never gave up on her dream. Her struggles made her stronger and more independent. Inspired by her, other women in her family and community are now also pursuing their education. She aims to help others like her so that girls in Balochistan are never denied the right to education like she once was.
Women can always empower themselves, they need to have the will to make that decision. However, after having made that decision, they also need a support system to fall back on and to encourage them during the more difficult days. While they may as well have the ability to get there on their own, it helps to have people cheer them on. We need to champion women like Aziza so that they can help inspire and educate future generations.