Nabila Abbas, 23, spoke with SLP from her home in a remote area of Pakistan. Growing up in conservative tribal area, Nabila found it challenging, but essential, to break out of the limited role offered to girls in her community. With the support of her parents, Nabila has become a fierce advocate for girls, education, and rural development in Pakistan. Check out a few highlights from our interview below!
Tell us a little about your journey – what is the cause you care most about and how did you get involved?
I am from a very modest, rural area of Pakistan. I was born in a small village, and because I was born a girl, in some ways I was deemed unacceptable. Daughters are considered less beneficial to society than sons and so my birth was taken as a bad sign for my family and my society. Thankfully, my parents didn’t see it that way. They supported me, raised me up, and gave me access to education so that I could stand for my own beliefs and pursue my own dreams.
I started my primary education at my father’s school. In the area where I grew up, there was no school – for girls especially. It was my father who introduced me to education and started his own private schooling system for girls and boys. I was so lucky to get my primary education from my father. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue higher education.
Ultimately, I moved on to university and was able to pursue my dream of aviation. This was a glamorous field, and it meant I needed to move to a big city to pursue my dream. This was a challenge, but I earned my parents trust and I learned through my experience that we can bring great changes to our society if we engage all girls in education. As women, we are the future. We are the next generation.
Through my experience, I’ve become an advocate for rural development and girls education. There is still work to be done, because right now, only 1 in 5 girls are in school. In rural areas of Pakistan, girls are hardly ever seen at the primary education level. With hard work, we can change this.
What challenges have you faced on your path to gender equality?
One of the greatest challenges that girls face is our society’s fears. Many people’s mindsets are so backwards, because they aren’t educated. They think that girls are going to change our cultures or values, so they have fear in their hearts. That is why they started holding girls back.
I’ve learned that one of most effective techniques to combat this fear is just to talk about it. We need to make it clear that, as young women, we are not going to negatively impact the values of our culture. The changes we would like to see can benefit our whole society. The more that we can come together on these topics, the more we will see positive outcomes.
I know this from personal experience. I had to have ten to twenty conversations with my parents about choosing the path of aviation. I wanted to do this with their mutual consent. So I arranged these conversations. At first, they were not ready. But we kept talking and kept meeting, and I explained how I was going to tackle these challenges and how I could continue to respect their identity, values, and culture above all. I believe conversation is the most powerful weapon to bring mutual consent.
What is your earliest memory of activism?
When I was in grade six or seven, I decided that I was going to join sports. At that time in our school, the sports were supposed to be for boys only. But I said no. I’m good at running and high jumping, why shouldn’t I be able to join these sports? I told my teacher that I wanted to join the sport and play at a national level. At first, she resisted. She wanted me to be a “good girl.” But I decided that I was going to do it, no matter what. My parents supported me, and through persistence, I ultimately won a high jumping game on a national level! I was the first girl student in my community to pursue her dream of sports.
Throughout my whole childhood, these small acts of persistence made me an activist. I have always wanted girls to be involved and have the same opportunities as boys, and I will continue to strive for that.
If you could give SLP students and other young activists one piece of advice, what would it be?
Keep your confidence and your determination high. With confidence, you can achieve anything. You are allowed to dream big!
Thank you to the International Congress of Youth Voices for helping SLP to reach Jalen! And thank you Jalen for sharing your story.
The International Congress of Youth Voices unites students, ages 16 to 20, from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. Founded by author Dave Eggers (co-founder of 826 National) and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle, the inaugural event took place August 3, 4, and 5, 2018, in San Francisco. Youth delegates came to us from the United States, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Syria, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Burundi, Honduras, Cuba, Denmark, Venezuela, Zambia, and Nepal.
Politics of the world affect young people as much as anyone else, and they have little to no voice as major decisions are made. The Congress was founded as a means to amplify their ideas and energy and to unite young people for a weekend of collaboration. Student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers. The event is designed to provide a path to leadership for all delegates and represents a continuum from students who have exhibited potential in local writing and tutoring programs to writers and activists who have already made notable achievements at a very young age.