Story by Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer
Humaira Almad Khan, who studied at Murray State last semester, describes her home is Pakistan as being religiously-conservative.
She said the culture in Pakistan can restrict the freedoms of women. In some parts of the country, women and girls are not even allowed to leave the home. Because of this, Khan started a campaign in 2009 called “You Need to Rise.“
The campaign is being used to help Pakistani women understand that they have rights to stand against men.
“These girls are the mentors of the next generation and they should not let men dominate the society,” Khan said.
Khan was an exchange student who spent the fall of 2015 attending Murray State as a student ambassador through the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.
Now, back home in Pakistan, she is continuing her fight against those in her country who are oppressing women.
CHANGING THE WORLD
Khan hails from the city of Dera Ismail Khan. Here, she said, girls are allowed to be educated, but if they interact with men too much they are labeled as “corrupt girls,” bringing shame to their families.
This has been a barrier for women and girls, keeping them away from fulfilling their dreams and living independent lives, Khan said.
Many girls and women stay quiet after being harassed by male teachers and students, Khan said. If they spoke against them, the women would be blamed. She said Pakistani society would ask why the woman was even interacting with a man in the first place.
“As I started to understand things, I found out that the first factor that declines a women’s dreams is the lack of social support and lack of self-confidence,” Khan said.
Khan said that’s when she knew she had to begin working to empower women. That required educating herself, which is why she jumped at the chance to study in the United States.
Just as the women in Pakistan are up against oppressors because they are women, Khan sometimes faced negativity while in the United States because of her religion.
Khan told a story about going out with her friends to Cookout where she was harassed by a man she said was drunk. She said as she and her friends waited to order, the man repeatedly tried to pull off her hijab, the traditional Muslim headdress.
“I asked my friends not to worry because if we showed that we are worried, he will have succeeded in his act of harassing me,” Khan said.
Lydia Kiesewetter, junior from Louisville, Kentucky, and Khan’s residential adviser, said Khan always stayed positive even during difficult situations.
Even after returning to Pakistan, Khan keeps up with American politics.
She said she saw American Muslims protesting on social media because of comments made by Donald Trump, a Republican candidate for president.
“Someone who is hoping to become the president of the United States, who is a literate man, should not behave with such ignorance,” Khan said.
Khan said true Muslims know that ruthless violence goes against the very tenets of the religion. Those who do violent acts are not truly of the faith, she said.
During her time in the United States, Khan had many experiences she described as memorable, including her stay in White Residential College.
“It was an honor to have Humaira as a resident,” Kiesewetter said. “She was completely selfless and externally uplifting.”
Kiesewetter said Khan was ready to involve anyone with what she was doing. She said Khan gave a family feeling to White’s fifth floor.
“She made me my favorite lamb kabsa her second weekend here,” Kiesewetter said. “She brought it to my room. She knew I liked it, so she invited me to eat with her and her friends and then let me keep the leftovers.”
Kiesewetter said she believes Khan made a difference in Murray while she was here.
Khan was involved in the Muslim Student Organization (MSO). She said her MSO brothers helped her stay strong in her beliefs.
Moving to Murray, though, was a culture shock, Khan said. Her MSO brothers, she said, helped her with every problem she encountered.
Khan studied veterinary technology and pre-veterinary medicine while attending Murray State.
“Humaira was a very pleasant, polite and highly intelligent young lady,” said Terry Canerdy, head of the veterinary technology/pre-veterinary medicine program. “I feel the experience for me to meet such an outstanding and kind-hearted young lady from Pakistan was more rewarding than what I could have ever done for this exchange student as her professor.”
Her classes were enjoyable, and Khan said she learned so much more than her field at Murray State.
“I learned to live and to recognize my rights which are not given to me in my country,” Khan said.
Now that Khan has completed her semester in the States she is using her experiences and the knowledge gained in Murray to make changes in Pakistan.
“While we tread the path towards empowerment, let us use the lessons of the past as a spring board from which we may leap into future phenomenal success,” Khan said.