When it comes to having a support system, individuals with disabilities have close to none in Pakistan. They suffer not only their handicaps but also remain disadvantaged on various fronts be it education or social acceptance.
However, some like Abia Akram, 28, break the shackles. Akram has become the first ever Pakistani woman with disability to be nominated as the Coordinator for Commonwealth Young Disabled People’s Forum and Global Coordinator at Global Network of Emerging Women Leader, Disabled People’s International.
Born with physical disability into a middle-class family in Islamabad, she began her education at a centre for persons with disabilities and is currently pursuing her Masters in Gender Policy at University of Warwick on the British Chevening scholarship.
She is a harbinger of hope for people, especially women with disabilities in the country. “In a society where women with disabilities are mostly considered a liability, my achievements have proven that they (the women) can leave their mark in any field,” she said.
Akram also served as National Forum of Women with Disability chairperson, Asia Pacific Network of Independent Living Pioneer member and Capital Independent Living Centre project manager. She has been engaged in the activities of Disability Movement since 1997.
“A group of 15 young disabled persons, on our personal initiative, gathered in Islamabad with a mission to break barriers of social exclusion and develop role models for society,” she said. The group had suffered a range of harsh experiences in their lives from the start of education to earning livelihood, she added.
She further said that even though Pakistan has ratified UN Convention on disability rights, it could not implement them effectively. “Being one of them, I want to give a voice to women with disabilities and I guess I got on the right platform,” she said.
Her elder brother Mohammad Atif who himself is physically disabled said, “No doubt the government has framed various policies for persons with disabilities, but despite these efforts, most people with disabilities remain completely un-served and are facing difficulty in living with dignity in their respective communities.
This is also the reason why Atif is so proud of what his sister has achieved. It’s a big honour for the family and for the whole nation, a women facing a triple handicap– due to her disability, gender and belonging a developing country– is excelling in her field,” he said.