I am Generation Equality: Bushra Abdullah, Pakistani embroidery worker and advocate for people with disabilities
Billions of people across the world stand on the right side of history every day. They speak up, take a stand, mobilize, and take big and small actions to advance women’s rights. This is Generation Equality.
Author: Hassan Ali Abbasi
Three things you can do to stop labelling people:
- Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. Think of the person first, not their disability. Don't shy away from people with disabilities - relax and be yourself!
- Always use positive, people-first language that empowers rather than marginalizes people with disabilities.
- Avoid showing pity or being patronizing.
I am generation equality because…
I do not want to let people shame women with disabilities and belittle their worth. No matter the challenges, we are worthy of living dignified lives.
At the age of two, my leg became disabled due to polio. I didn’t realize how sheltered and protected I was from society’s gossip when my parents were alive. My parents encouraged me to pursue education – not to let polio limit life’s opportunities.
Unfortunately, by 2005 both my parents had passed away. Being one of the eldest siblings, I took upon myself to look after my six sisters and two brothers. To make ends meet, I took on numerous odd jobs and used to crawl my way to clean people’s homes or wash clothes. In 2007, I pursued a fashion design course to strengthen the hand embroidery lessons I had received from my Dadi (grandmother).
Having a disability is one thing. When your own family disregards your efforts and doesn’t treat you well, it hurts. It is painful not to receive any appreciation from my siblings for my efforts but I believe it made me stronger.
Life isn’t easy. I crawl, scratch and craft my livelihood every day.
During COVID, I and my 40 women artisans, the majority of whom also have disabilities, are struggling economically.
“At the age of two, my leg became disabled due to polio. My parents encouraged me to pursue education – not to let polio limit life’s opportunities.”
Be mindful of words and actions
It’s time we stand up to the stigma against people with disabilities. What this world needs is less judgement and more kindness, so people can confidently develop their social, economic and political skills. I want people to be more mindful of their words, attitudes and actions because they may not physically harm you but it is emotionally scarring. I want to tell my polio sisters never to lose faith. Don’t let other people devalue your worth.
There needs to be more support, care and understanding from family members. As well as more facilities for members of society with disabilities so that they can pursue education and jobs with less systemic hindrances. In Pakistan the majority of places including government departments are not wheelchair-accessible. Similarly, public transport is also not accessible to people with disabilities.
The more activists and institutions join the cause, the greater the change. We all have a lot of work ahead of us.
Bushra Abdullah, 40, does home-based stitching work in Ahmedabad, in Multan Division of Punjab Province, Pakistan. This year she participated in UN Women’s project Empowered Women-Resilient Communities, where she learned entrepreneurship, financial and other skills. The project is done in partnership with Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, a Pakistani non-governmental organization, and is funded by the Government of Norway.