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 created on: Saturday, November 8th, 2014

global, Pakistan


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English, Arabic

I am Momal Mushtaq, a women’s rights activist and an aspiring social entrepreneur from Pakistan, and this is my story. I know I can’t change the world, but at least am trying, because I know I wouldn’t be happy otherwise. 

Back in university, like many other girls in my class, a private van would pick up and drop me off. If I had ever wanted to go anywhere else, like the shops or the hospital, my father or brother would accompany me to and from the venue. I thought that was maybe how life is supposed to be. It is only when I had experienced an alternative way of living that I started questioning my previous lifestyle. During my time in Germany, nobody stared at me or passed nasty comments as I walked by alone. I could go wherever and whenever I wanted to! 

However, when I returned to Pakistan, it began to hurt me more than ever to realise that the country is sinking below the waterline with a barrage of social problems hitting her from all directions. From the scourge of poverty, the stink of corruption, the madness of extremism to what-not! Almost half of Pakistan’s population — her womenfolk — sits back at home, not because they want to, but because they don’t have a choice. There’s no law restricting free mobility of women in Pakistan, but the harassment that they face on streets or while taking public transportation have limited their movement. Those who can, drive private vehicles, which is rather expensive. Or, they travel with a male chaperone.

Since I could not take it any longer, I decided to launch the Freedom Traveller (TFT) an online platform to connect and empower female travellers, especially from countries where freedom of movement for women is highly restricted. On TFT, women of all nationalities and beliefs could actively network, share knowledge and resources, and map their experiences during their travels. That is the least I could do, considering the resources that I had. I felt that if women read about other women who are courageous enough to travel alone in their communities or across borders, other females would be encouraged to follow suit.

Freedom is an abstract quality that mature minds acknowledge exists. It is something you can talk, write, or think about, but if you have not actually experienced it, you cannot feel her essence. I developed a strong desire to help women experience what it really means to be free because I have been freed from the grinding restriction of mobility that my life had suffered. Enabling women to be independent would also have an positive impact on the country’s economy, too.

I also knew that I could not go about preaching the message of freedom if I did not practice it myself. That could be the reason why I had learned to drive — so I could move about more freely in Pakistan. Occasionally, I go for a jog and ride a bicycle around my neighborhood but, in my heart, I know that it is never as comfortable as it is abroad, because every time I venture out I sense creepy eyes boring into me. But, that is not an excuse to give up. To change, I have to be the change!

I have promised to challenge myself every summer for the next ten years. This year, for instance, I cycled all the way from Muenster to Aachen, Germany — some 200km, to be precise! I did it to prove to every female around the world that there is no one stopping them from achieving their dreams. The unashamedly ecstatic waves of pleasure I had felt riding a bicycle, accompanied with a great sense of accomplishment, cannot be simply put into words. That is why I am not even going to describe it, because you should try it.

Finally, I would like to admit that this journey of self-discovery has not been easy. The deviations from the regular life path of a 25-year-old girl of Pakistani heritage in the land of the pure have been remarkable by any standards of Pakistani society, but if I were to be given a letter informing me that I were to return to square one, I would burn the letter! Today, I may be burdened with a lifelong mission of promoting gender equality, but I am also blessed with a purpose. And as they say, a life without purpose is, well, pointless.


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