Shazia (left) and Kainat (right) speaking during the recent Paint the World concert held in Kuching, Sarawak.

Unbeknownst to some, education in undeveloped and war-torn countries is a luxury, especially to its female population. Therefore, social activist Shazia Ramzan, 22 and Kainat Riaz, 23 made it a point to fight for education rights for the girls in Pakistan. 

A tragedy that changed everything

According to Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, the cultural understanding of Pakistan 10 years ago leaned more towards the patriarchal society. As some parts of the world are still practising it, they disclosed that a typical family would see the men hold primary power and predominate in roles of leadership, making the most decisions.

They also revealed that most families would only send their sons to school as they thought that only the males can help with the family in the future. 

Nonetheless, the two social activists believe that in today’s world, both genders matters equally. “There might be schools or girls who are still deprived of education in some parts of the rural area but Alhamdulilah (praise be to God), education is improving all over Pakistan,” said Kainat. 

The unexpected ride home

Their unexpected journey as social activists began on the day they were attacked while riding in a school van in October 2012. Back then, a rising young activist, Malala Yousafzai was advocating equality in education against the Taliban rule in Pakistan.

Kainat Riaz.

With Malala being the main target, the three were on the way home from school during the gun attack. While Malala was shot in the head, Shazia was shot in her left arm and left shoulder and Kainat was hit in her right shoulder. 

Kainat recalled her whole arm feeling numb during the ordeal. “I didn’t feel anything for the first 24 hours, but later on after the stitches, it was really painful.”

Shazia Razman.

Meanwhile, Shazia, who was shot twice on the same hand said she could not even lift her arm. “It was hard for me to lift my arm and put it down, they had to dress me while holding up my arm because I was not able to.”

Things then changed for Shazia and Kainat, who were only 13 and 14 when the shooting incident happened. According to Kainat, their activism today was inspired by Malala who risked her life for women’s right to education.

Focusing mainly on Pakistan, they believe that everyone deserves to have equal rights and there should not be any gender discrimination and inequality. 

Why the movement is important

Kainat said that women in the patriarchal society did not get the opportunity to go to school and learn. “As mothers spent more time with the children, when a mother is uneducated, then the whole family will be uneducated.” Moreover, with education, Kainat said the women will be able to do more and help the whole family.

To them, it is important as most homes in the rural areas of Pakistan sees woman as just a housewife. 

“Education brings all the knowledge from ancient times, skills and information that can make our lives today much better,” she continued. Through education, Shazia said that more voices can be heard from different parts of the world.

Shazia visiting a school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Echoing the same sentiments, Kainat added that regardless of the situation, she encourages people to stand up and fight for their right, and “Continue with your education as it brings light to a person’s future. It is the most important thing in the world, especially for a woman.”

On the challenges in changing the mindset of a patriarchal society, Kainat opined that it is hard and it can take a lot of time, “But we need more activists and more young people to get involved so we can band together to create awareness as education is our basic rights.”

“With a good education, you can have a good job, and you will have a good understanding of everything,” she continued.

Kainat is currently a Global Youth ambassador, co-founder of the Beydaar organisation (focussing on gender equality, Islamic education and women’s rights), and a programme coordinator for ‘Educate A Girl’.

Through her roles in the three different organisation, Kainat regularly visit schools and homes of families with daughters to convince the fathers or brothers to allow their daughter/sister to go to school. 

As for Shazia, she explained that, “We usually visit schools with mostly girls as students, and we will tell them how brave they are, and we want them to realise that regardless of how they are doing at school, they still matter because education is an equal right.”

A new shot at life

After the gun attack, things turned good for Shazia and Kainat as they were awarded with scholarships to study abroad alongside Malala. The silver lining came after a bomb attack behind Kainat’s home in Swat, Pakistan three months after the attack. 

As there were two casualties and the community were afraid of any future attacks, Kainat and her family were asked to leave. “It was a very hard time for my family. Nonetheless, we were offered a scholarship to study in the UK, so my father decided that I should go.”

Shazia added that it was difficult for them to go to school after the shooting incident as there were no transportation and the only school was far from home. “People who sent us to school before were scared to give us a lift. They were afraid if they take us, they would be killed for helping us.”

Kainat (fourth from left) with the teachers of a girl’s school in Pakistan.

The scholarship opened new possibilities for the girls as well as new experiences in a foreign land. With zero knowledge of the English language, both their beginnings were hard, but they improved as days go by. 

“It was a good experience to be able to study; we were given numerous choices and through proper education, I could see a bright future for us to help others in a way that we think can bring positive changes to the society,” said Kainat.  Eight years down the road, the two girls lead very different lives compared to before and is constantly inspiring the young girls of Pakistan with their stories. At present, Kainat is a clinical health student, while Shazia is studying nursing in the UK.