Abia Akram: A woman committed to change the fate of women with disabilities in Pakistan
“Disability is a different lifestyle and it’s a power for me,” says Abia Akram a brilliant lady with physical disability born into a middle-class family in Pakistan.
She is the chairperson of the National Forum of Women with disabilities and Director Projects and founding member of Special Talent Exchange Programme (STEP)Islamabad Pakistan.
Accessibility matters for women with disabilities
Speaking about equality of all human beings and accessibility, Abia explains, “Allah has created everyone equal, Allah can’t make a mistake, it’s we that have made such buildings, and developed such attitudes which create barriers for persons with disabilities.”
Probing into the role of state and society she elaborated her point by saying “In a hadith, I have heard that to remove a stone from the path is a Sadaqa Jaria, so why we don’t take steps to remove all the communication, institutional, infrastructural and attitudinal barriers which come in the way of persons with disabilities to give them an opportunity to move freely in the society?”
Abia Akram is a ray of hope for women with disabilities in Pakistan. Firstly to be a woman and then living with a disability is to be twice marginalized in the social, political, cultural, and economic context of Pakistan.
How Abia Akram rises to global prominence
Giving an example of herself to make us understand she reveals, “I am based in Islamabad, living with the most caring parents, amazing siblings, colleagues, mentors and I have a very strong community but still I had to fight for my education, earlier in the Special education Centre and then in the mainstream schools.”
“I am blessed that I completed my education. I did my masters in Gender and international development study from the University of Warwick. Also, I am the first woman with a disability who got the Chevening scholarship from Pakistan to go and study in the UK.” Abia expressed with great pride.
Abia recalls the troubles she went through during her schooling. “I remember when I was in grade 8, my teacher used to tell me,’ you don’t need to do homework, you are like an angel and blessing for us’ and that was not acceptable to me. I am a human being and I wanted to do what I could.”
Abia Akram is held in high esteem all over the world due to her never-ending struggle for women with disabilities. She feels satisfied while working on disability.
“Disability work took me from the grassroots level to the national and from there to the global level. From 2006 till Pre-COVID-19, I have worked in more than thirty countries all over the world. There I have met, worked and talked to thousands of women with disabilities.”
The mindset of the people towards women with disabilities needs to be changed
It has not been an easy journey for Abia. Since 1997 she started to advocate for the rights of girls and women with disabilities, bringing them out of their homes for the first time and talking about their accepting disability as a lifestyle.
According to Abia, there are two extremes in the mindsets of the people towards persons with disabilities. On one hand, they think like persons with disabilities are very close to Allah. They need to be highly respected. On the other hand, they think that disability is a punishment for persons with disabilities so they hesitate to talk and include them in the society.
After interacting with the international community with disabilities, Abia realizes that discrimination with women with disabilities doesn’t only exist in Pakistan but it’s all over the world.
“The only difference I found is they talk about disability concerns; they bring disability agenda on the table on a very serious note, they refer to UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, the sustainable development goals, and all legal frameworks and legal ways which I don’t find in Pakistan,” Abia Akram regrets.
(Written by Ijaz Ali, a freelance journalist. He holds a Master Degree in European Studies from Germany and can be reached at [email protected])