International Women’s Day and the Shehzori Dream

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By Beenish Ahmad, The India Observer, TIO: With three weeks into March, and two weeks into the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; a month mostly known for fasting but marked by charity as well; to be reminded of a fundraiser that happened twenty days ago is unremarkable, and as they say “old news”. However, there need not be a time limit or a “current” stamp to speak of an organization that, despite the lack of governmental as well as community support, tries on a daily basis, and not just annually for the sake of International Women’s Day, to support the less fortunate in their proximate community.

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The “less fortunate” in their community being the unknown whose plight is not necessarily overlooked, but in fact unknown. In many Muslim, and especially Pakistani American, communities the hungry are given the name “safaid posh”  or “adorned in white”, and the name could not be more apropos to the stigma and nuances that surround being with any strife whatsoever, much less a financial or domestic one. These families exist within the fabric of society, putting on a farce of “being comfortable” in their financial acquiescence, however the truth could not be further from the actual real struggle that they face.

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You see in Pakistani American society there is an understood stigma attached to financial or domestic hardship, and this taboo is so prevalent in the communities, that many families, whether they be in Pakistan or these United States, would rather go hungry, or worse consistently abused, then to ask for help from the larger community.  Here, many of these same families’ situations often goes so undetected, that no one in the community knows that an issue exists, until that is if someone dies (or is killed) or becomes ill and overtly (and physically) distraught due to the consistent abuse/financial strife.  Once, many of these individuals and families lacked support in all aspects; whether financial or emotional, until Women2Women.

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Women2Women, a 501c3 non-profit began as an women’s empowerment group in 2017 as mostly a way to unite Pakistani American women in the Tri-state area, by recognizing, strengthening, and advocating for Pakistani American women.  Founded by Nusrat Sohail, in the beginning it was mostly known for its community outreach programs that allowed for Pakistani American Women to meet and make friends and go on outings that encouraged empowerment amongst not only women, but also Pakistani American Youth.  However, as time went along different ventures relative to the purpose W2W started to branch out. Many began to ask the group that in their mission of empowerment and “enhancement” of Pakistani American Women, where did those oppressed  and “adorned in white” exist?

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Enter Nusrat Sohail’s passion project, “Shehzori House”.  Shehzori House, named after a character in a story, and subsequent drama serial, about an empowered Pakistani woman, written by Nusrat’s grandfather Mirza Azeem Baig Chugtai, first opened its doors in December 2022. Then, with the support of Assemblyman Sterley Stanley (D. District 18) of New Jersey’s help in getting in state funding Nusrat Sohail was able to indoctrinate ten different women (some with their children) into Shehzori House, and help with their transition back into society, independent of not only what they lacked in terms of skills and know-how, but also above the domestic abuse/struggle that had once perpetuated their reality.  However, as dreams go, this too began to lose steam.  State seed funding ran out and Shehzori House was not able to get funding in 2023. However, Ms. Sohail, didn’t let that get her down.

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In 2023, through assistance from the greater community as well as mosques and Islamic centers in the New Jersey area, she was able to sustain the center when it ran out of funds, albeit with hardships.

This year in 2024, the Annual W2W gala, an event that was in place since the incept of Women2Women in 2017 was then rightly converted into a fundraiser for Shehzori House, and thus the event on March 2nd, 2024 focused on not only relaying the accomplishments of five local Pakistani American women and one man to the larger community, but also the struggle of Women2Women in keeping the doors of Shehzori House open to serve the aforementioned “white cloaked” women and their children who sought out Women2Women, Ms. Nusrat, and specifically Shehzori House in their time of need.

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Honoring the likes of Atiya Aftab, Hamdan Azhar, Iram Bin Safia, Ayesha Gillani Taylor, Anny Khan and Sabreen Ghaffar-Siddiqui, the gala was as usual a success in inspiring the youth as well as the larger community in bringing a change and evolution into their own lives, but more so, bringing a change into the lives of those unfortunate who wore their dignity over their degradation.

The fundraiser only managed to raise about 16K in funds, money that will essentially only take them till June of this year in keeping the doors of the center open; however, they were also able to acquiesce something that is immeasurable; recognition, acceptance, and empathy for their safaid posh sisters who live right under their noses in the very same Amreeka, that they do.

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Just another day and another mission (seemingly impossible) in Ms. Nusrat Sohail and her organization. The organization, that includes Ghazal Rehman, Farhana Omarzai, Beenish Ambreen, Bushra Salman, Sabina Mahmood, Sidra Jamil, Shehla Rupani, Amara Mushtaq as well as Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director Daanish Ahmad, works alongside Ms. Sohail in their collective continued mission in not only uniting the community for the common purpose of defeating the nuances that pervade Pakistani society (American or not) till this day, but also coming together to empower not only the success stories within their community, but also those that lack the happily-ever-after that was guaranteed when they made the promised land of Amreeka their new home.

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We salute Ms. Sohail and her team for all their endeavors and hope that passion projects such as these continue to prevail in all communities, regardless of the month, religious observance or otherwise.

Edited By Adam Rizvi

Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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