Sana Z Khan
Sana Khan had the opportunity to live in several cities across Pakistan, UK, Nigeria and Malaysia while growing up. Having a natural interest in how various socio-economic factors affect development, she got the chance to observe various cultures very closely. Today, with a Masters in Development Studies, she works for an NGO called Aahang. They work on issues related to sexual and reproductive health which for a society like Pakistan are essential to discuss and work towards since these topics are still widely considered taboo. Child sexual abuse, domestic violence, gender relations, puberty, and hygiene are just some of the areas that Aahang focuses on.
For Sana, the nature of the work itself brings up the biggest challenges. “Things like child abuse are such that no one wants to talk about it. So, it becomes quite difficult when you are trying to work on the prevention of that very thing,” says Sana. The other challenge comes from drawing the proverbial line on where her work stops. “We only work on content that helps to prevent such acts. We don’t work on the psychology side of it, but very often we come across actual cases that are so distressing that it takes a mental and emotional toll on you.” Sana explains how it becomes even more difficult because many of those cases are out of one’s hands given that the state has no institutions or welfare of any kind. She does have hope for the future considering that despite all the challenges that exist, there is a definite movement towards betterment. Along with Aahang, there are several other organizations lobbying with the government and trying to advocate institutional change. “We had the Kasur scandal, and now dramas are being shown on the topic of child abuse. I think the government is ready to accept talking about these issues. We have done a lot of advocacy with the provincial government to integrate relevant content into school curriculum.”
Another major challenge for Sana and Aahang are the social norms in our culture. She believes that for many parents and families, social mannerisms take precedence over the safety of our children. “It is of utmost importance to respect the decisions of children and give them empowerment over their own bodies. For example, if guests come over it should not be mandatory for the child to give everyone a hug. They should be able to make decisions about these things. Teaching children about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ are uncomfortable topics indeed, but very essential.”
She recalls her miracle moment when she got the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama. “It was a moment where I really felt in awe of someone. We talked about the importance of reflection, and of balance within all components that enable a human to be. I was really struggling with my research at that time and that meeting proved to be highly inspirational.”
Sana feels strongly about the state of gender inequality in Pakistan. While gender roles are ascribed to children across the world, Pakistan stands at 145 in the global gender equality index which is extremely low. “The opportunities, systems, and infrastructure that enable gender equality don’t really exist in Pakistan. These issues are important because it is this very imbalance of power that eventually results in domestic abuse of women.”
Sana ends by speaking about her mother and how her mother has been a source of strength and inspiration for her. With the passion Sana shows about her work, and the dedication with which she is pioneering the struggle for women empowerment in Pakistan, it is of no surprise that she is one of the Ponds Miracle Women. While working on the social issues plaguing the Pakistani society, she is steering the country in the right direction and we have hope in her.