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‘Baithak’ – Changing the Narrative for Underprivileged Women

Compiled by Pirah Aijaz 

There are a few names that come to mind when thinking about inspiring women’s contributions to society. Ayesha Amin is one of those names. She is a Fulbright Scholar who has done everything, including working on noble causes, on her own.

She is the founder of Baithak, a non-profit organization focused on educating women about issues such as family planning, reproductive health, gender-based violence, and menstrual hygiene.

We at Fempreneur sought to know about her struggles, challenges, everything she has accomplished, and how she has inspired so many others.

Let’s meet a young woman who inspires.

1- Ayesha tell us more, about your family background, your education, and how did you get into this line of work?

I was born and grew up in Kotri, (a small town) in Hyderabad. I studied BBA at Isra University, Hyderabad, and then I completed my Masters (MBA) from Mehran University. Later, I worked in the HR corporate sector. Meanwhile, I was associated with some non-profit organizations as a volunteer. Then I decided to switch my career and thought to do something that I was passionate about. I received a FulBright Scholarship to study in the United States for an MS in Social Policy. When I returned to Pakistan, I founded Baithak.

2- You are Sindhi speaking, born in Kotri (a small town of Hyderabad), Would you please tell us if your parents supported you through your schooling and career? Or were there challenges you faced?

My mother encouraged me, since the beginning. She is a doctor and my father is an engineer. I belong to a close-knit family as my parents are cousins. The person I got married to, is also my cousin. And the best part is that I found my parents and husband as a strong support system throughout my studies and career.

3- Baithak(a non-profit NGO, established in 2018). What was the thought process behind the establishment of Baithak?

Baithak was formed in 2018, but the spark started in 2013. In 2015, I started a Family Planning campaign aimed to educate women in Jamshoro, Hyderabad. Later, I was invited by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for attending an international conference on Family Planning. At that moment, I realized that there is a dire need to work on Reproductive Health in Pakistan. Then I took more interest after realizing its importance. Even after that, I worked as a volunteer with different NGOs.

After moving to the US for MS, I did research on Reproductive Health and designed a social policy of women’s access to wash public toilets which is water, sanitation, and hygiene. After moving to Pakistan, I was keenly interested to work in the area, but I didn’t get authenticated data. At the moment, I decided to conduct focused group discussions with women of rural areas, and the women used the term Baithak for the group discussions. Baithak (a sitting room or a safe space where you can discuss your problems) and that’s how I formed a Baithak as an organization.

4- As you have worked in so many areas, we’d like to know what you enjoy working on most.

I enjoyed everything as my work is like an energy booster for me. After Covid-19 happened, we were unable to visit frequently because of sops, I was feeling demotivated as we couldn’t conduct sessions with the women in the Community. So during that time, we distributed menstrual hygiene kits among the women and also started digital advocacy on violence, and reached out to other Women led Communities.

5- When you were studying abroad, what was the biggest lesson you learned? Tell us about your experience.

I was the kind of girl who was never allowed to take an auto or bus to commute, and when I used the bus for the first time, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Similarly, when I moved to the United States and did everything myself, I felt that if I could do it here, why couldn’t I do it in Pakistan. So for me, it was the biggest lesson I learned when I realized that an overprotective environment stops you from developing your potential and it harms your personality.

6- What challenges did you face at the beginning of your career?

The biggest challenge I faced despite my mother’s support was family pressure because my relatives questioned my career choice and pushed me to get married, which adversely affected my mental health.

7- Having worked on many areas, what are the problems you think need more attention?

After working on different areas, I found a major issue: insufficient data which shows a gap. Therefore, it is necessary to consider and mitigate the existing issues, like menstrual hygiene, family planning, reproductive health, etc by gathering reliable, authentic data through conducting research. This way, we can get to know the scale and scope of any particular problem.

8- How much support do you receive from higher government officials?

As the government has strict requirements, we have not been making constant attempts to partner with them. Secondly, we are at an early stage, going for the completion of government requirements would divert our attention from educating women about the issues they face. Moreover, there are no such organizations working on such issues, and despite holding meetings with some prestigious organizations, we failed to receive a favorable response.

9- During the time you were advocating, what response did you receive from women?

As we always reach out to people we are connected with, we receive good responses from women, as they participated actively in discussions. Moreover, we build relationships and close bonds with them before identifying their problems and in this way, they feel comfortable sharing their problems with us.

10- Is there anything you would like to say to our young Pakistani girls?

Believe in yourself and don’t let society determine what you should do. You can do this by working on your capacity building by acquiring experiences and exposure in life.

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