Sana Durrani is an entrepreneur, social activist, women rights defender, writer, educationist, trainer and member of the ruling political party of the province, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). She has served as the Chief Executive of Today’s Woman Organization (TWO) UN and currently serving as the Chairperson of Balochistan Women’s Business Association.
Q. What is it like being a female politician in Balochistan?
Sana: It is difficult, because maybe there is still a lack of acceptance for the women to pursue politics and perform as a politician. Yes, unless you have a strong back up and family support, it is challenging for women to follow politics.
Q. There was an overwhelming turnout of female voters in this election. You were among those encouraging them to exercise their right. Why do you think they felt confident enough to come out for this particular election and not previous ones?
Sana: It has been very encouraging that the turnout of women for voting was more this time than the previous elections. There are many reasons for it. People are now aware about politics through media and almost every household understands politics and the importance of their votes. As the trend of education increases, women are also contributing and they know that they can choose a better candidate and get benefit through their votes. Moreover, this time the conditions of security in Balochistan has improved which is why people feel more confident in getting out of their homes and casting their votes. However, I believe we still need to work more on this matter.
Q: What is Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) doing to support women in Balochistan to get equal participation in political process and help them in the social issues that they face in a tribal setting?
Sana: As far as the political participation of women is concerned, you may have seen that currently four women are elected MPAs via reserve seats in the Provincial Assembly and we are very fortunate that the only women elected via general seat, Zubaida Jalal, is also from our party. Secondly, in the party, we don’t have a separate wing for women. We are part of the mainstream party and we are treated equal to the males of the party. We are always taken on board in any meeting and discussions where we can openly express our views. It is still lacking because only 5% quota for general seats have been allocated to women and the 33% of quota in every assembly has remained limited to reserved seats. Women still don’t participate for the election in general seat and since we have a tribal setting, it is difficult for a woman to compete against a man for it. Whereas the social issues are concerned, the previous government was very proactive in making legislations for them. There were many legislations regarding women such as Domestic Violence Bill, Women Protection Bill, Women Harassment Act at workplace, and Provincial Commission on the status of women was established. However, there are many loopholes and they haven’t been implemented anywhere.
Q: How successful have you been in implementing the above?
Sana: There were many matters which were pending and our party is very active in executing them. For example, I myself am present at the BAP office and any issue relevant to women are reported directly to the Chief Minister’s house through applications. So this is the first platform where at least the issues are identified and the government can plan strategies for them and move forward. Recently, our government has also taken steps to appoint a provincial ombudsman for the Women Harassment Act which was pending since 2016 and the committee which was to be formed in 2017 for the Provincial Commission on the status of women is now finally being formed under the supervision of CS, which include some members of provincial assembly as well as secretaries from relevant sectors. So, our party’s approach is to work on social issues by implementing and strengthening the laws which are already present.
Q: Talking about Women’s Harassment Act 2016, you expressed how difficult it is to pass legislature in Balochistan and then to have it implemented. What stops these laws from being passed and implemented? What needs to change?
Sana: The implementation of the legislations and laws has always been an issue because whenever we pass a law, we do not form its rule of business along with it. If the rule of business and code of conduct is approved along with the legislation from the assembly, then its implementation would be more focused. The work of parliamentarians and the politicians are to formulate legislations and laws, and it is the responsibility of the relevant departments to further implement them. Therefore, it is very important that everyone fulfills their responsibilities on their own levels.
There are no hurdles in implementing the Women Harassment Act except that the provincial ombudsman had not been appointed and our party is currently focusing on that. But I should mention that incase an ombudsman is not appointed, then the ombudsman already present will be additionally responsible for the duties. So, if a case comes up, it will not be pended at least.
Q: You’ve been pursuing the formation of a Provincial Women’s Economic Policy; can you tell us a bit about that?
Sana: I have an experience of almost 14-15 years in the development sector when we talk about decision making of women in many cases I have realized that, until and unless a woman financially contributes in her home it is very difficult for her to make a space for herself or become a decision maker.
Secondly, if you talk about the development of Balochistan then right now the population of women are 52% which is higher than the male population and if we being women do not contribute in the economy of the province then we cannot bring the concept of a developed Balochistan on ground. I believe it is very important and I am discussing this matter within my party while keeping the chief minister in loop that we should at least formulate this policy. Furthermore, Balochistan would be the first province to form the women economic policy where we can allocate funds in different categories and improve their economy contribution.
Q: You’ve talked about the Child Marriage Bill on multiple occasions. What needs to be done to accelerate the process and eliminate disagreement between the government and religious scholars on the matter?
Sana: In Balochistan, the child marriage bill has been passed; the only problem is the age, we are disagreeing on the age factor because the age mentioned in the bill is 16 years whereas we demand that a girl should at least be 18 years old. I am talking about the female child only. There are a lot of matters and logics behind it. A women caucus has been established in our assembly which is being chaired by Ms. Shakeela Dewar from the opposition party. In this caucus, we not just only deal with women issues but also child, disability and welfare issues. So our upcoming strategy is to take all the members belonging from religious parties on board and arrange their meetings with Gynae specialists and general physicians to discuss this issue. Moreover, we will hold the dialogue using facts and figures with them and then again present the bill in the assembly. If we present the bill without taking them into confidence then, this bill will again be rejected.
Q: You said that you received a negative response from parliamentarians when consulting on Women’s acts. What do you feel hinders them? Is it religious or are there other factors at play as well?
Sana: There is a very famous saying that “Neem Hakeem Khatra e Jaan”. We are unfortunately one of those nations who take the name of their religion without knowing it completely. I feel that if our society gives the rights given to omen in Islam, then it is more than enough. We would not need any kind of legislation because we follow a religion which has given a lot of respect and rights to women.
All religions facilitate all the humans equally, whereas here people use the concepts as per their benefits. This is a fact that women are not treated equally. We have a women development department but it is not given ownership. There are many women parliamentarians who have openly discussed this on media that they are mocked for being elected on reserve seats. They are not given the right to legislation to talk in the assembly, have nothing to do with the funds, so there are many challenges. They are not treated as human beings or parliamentarians but just a woman.
Q: It is one thing for legislature for women’s rights to be passed and implemented (ideally), but a completely different battle to ensure that women are aware of said laws. How can this be overcome given low literacy rates in the province in addition to general reluctance to change?
Sana: Article 25A states free and compulsory education for all, so there is no point in taking it as a legislation. Political parties have two very important mandates. First, all the members of the party present in the assembly should form legislations. Secondly, they should manage the matters and overcome the drawbacks and gaps. When through legislation a law is formed, then it is the responsibility of the education department to spread awareness about it. Then we have to see if we have enough resources so we have to plan accordingly.
Moreover, I don’t think awareness is an issue but poverty definitely is. Children in many areas cannot go to schools because they are contributing to their households financially through child labor. There are many challenges and it will take a long time to finally overcome them.
Q: What advice do you have for the women who want to have a political career?
Sana: I think it is very important and women should pursue politics, especially educated ones. There are a few reasons for it. When an educated and knowledgeable woman leaves a place, then an uneducated or less knowledgeable person may get the chance to fill it. Furthermore, a woman might not be as corrupt or dishonest with her people as much as a man. I believe if a woman can manage here family and home well, then she can contribute in the growth of the society as well. Therefore, I always encourage women to participate in politics.
Q: It is believed that a politician must compromise to get results, while a good activist must be uncompromising and does not have to worry about opinions rather work for the cause only. How do you manage being both?
Sana: Many people told me that I left social work and I went for politics. But I wish that we develop this understanding that every politician should be a social worker. We cannot spate these two. As a politician in the government, you get better resources, platform and opportunities to facilitate your social work. Yes, there are times when these two contradict each other but Alhumdulillah even after becoming a politician, you can see that the numbers of press conference have increased. Being a politician as well as a social activist I have an edge that I now don’t have to take appointments from MPAs (Member of Provincial Assembly) for everything. I can now just talk to my party leader regarding legislations, laws or any social issues. So I don’t have to go to a third door to deliver my message. For me it is an opportunity where my work has become easier.
Q: Activist can and are believed to often act in ways they know will provoke law enforcement and the start as a whole. How do you think activists can work with the state instead of against it to create more change?
Sana: Let me tell you that the concept of activism or civil society emerged in the world so that it could facilitate the government wherever it became weak. These days this concept of civil society has ended, for every issue, we point our fingers to the government. Being an activist I also have some responsibilities towards my state. If the state has done a job, then it is my responsibility to maintain it. I think if we stand against it then it does not retain the role of activism or civil society. One of my upcoming initiatives is that I may open up street schools. This does not mean that I am going against the government, rather I know that our government and our people need support in this domain. So I am contributing to it. Activists should definitely raise their voices if something is wrong, but they should also contribute wherever they can.
Q. How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you?
Sana: I don’t have any genes relevant to business. I believe entrepreneurs are born because entrepreneurship is something God gifted and the person is very creative and capable. In 2006 I got my organization registered and I had to visit the families from door to door, I have travelled throughout Balochistan and collected different crafts made by women to encourage them. I had gathered so many embroideries that by the end I realized I had bought a big stock. I did not know what to do with it in its raw form so I decided to utilize them creatively. I took the embroidery used them in products and after value addition, I started my own business Alhumdullilah, and it proved very successful but it took time. I had never looked at it from business point of view so I did not have proper marketing strategy and I had not planned it well. However, I did learn a lot from the whole process and today I am in a position where I am launching my own brand for export. All my products will be of top quality for export, and I think this would be the first ever brand from Balochistan.
Q: What is the importance of female entrepreneurship in Balochistan?
Sana: I always say that we live in the land of gold but I think in our homes, schools, colleges and universities the lack of career counseling is a big drawback. In the places where we do have career counseling, we mold the mind of the youth to either pursue science or engineering or arts. We have never encouraged them towards entrepreneurship. Allah has blessed us with allot of natural resources. For example, in Turbat and Panjgur, we have 1000 quality dates. We send these dates to Iran in tin boxes. Iran washes them, polishes them, treat them with food chemicals to make them safe and then packages them beautifully, then they export our dates throughout the world, including Pakistan. Same is the case with China exporting our dry fruits. Our women can easily do these processes at home, so why not? We have a land full of minerals, they can contribute in jewelry making and stone carving but they don’t. Our fruits are of export quality but they are sold locally without any packaging.
Yes, the women do contribute in the filling of the crates or in the cutting of rice in the hot summers but only as free labor. I think there are many opportunities for women. In CPEC women can work in the hospitality sector but unfortunately we are still not ready to bring women towards economy.
Q: What kind of skills do you think are necessary for women to thrive?
Sana: Some of the areas are dairy farming, leather processing, hospitality sector, handicrafts which is already popular around the world other than this, there are a lot of opportunities. Finishing units can be established and family entrepreneurship can be focused. It is my dream to do something very different in Balochistan such as, establishing a women business complex where there would be production as well as finishing and displays, and that too with a cultural atmosphere so that women can work for their economy while maintaining their culture.
Q: For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for the ones who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?
Sana: Allah is the creator and he has created another creator in the world: females. I believe the creativity and perspective Allah has given women, he has not to men. In business, you always have to bring innovation and put forward your talent and skills. Women should definitely pursue entrepreneurship it requires a lot of patience but it has a lot of benefits. You don’t call anyone your boss rather people call you their boss. You take allot of people forward with you and their livelihood will depend on you. You also help the state in the form of ta and so you lead a very satisfied life. There are many opportunities you just have to be determined.
Interviewed by: Hamna Malik and Serwat Fatima
Questions by: Imaan Zia and Hamna Malik