Zoha Siddiqui is a shining example of how you can be an advocate for social change at any age. Even as she navigates high school in Washington, D.C., she has her mind on her mission - changing the accessibility to education for girls, especially in Pakistan.
“I am so thankful that I have been able to grow up in a country that has allowed me my right to education and equality. Because of this education I have been able to have the courage to stand for what I believe in and clearly communicate my beliefs with others,” she says.
When she advocates for girls' rights at home in the United States, she feels nothing but support. But girls in Pakistan likely would not have the same experience.
“I have seen my own…family members be deprived of their secondary education because they had ‘lost out’ to their brothers. It is apparent in their short-fell mathematics, science, and language skills, and especially their lacking communication skills,” she says. “For them, I want to ensure that their children, grandchildren, and all generations after that do not endure the same fate.”
Realizing this, Zoha started giving speeches to raise awareness amongst her peers. She performed a series of interviews to help her better understand the root of the problem, concluding that it’s resources - like books and buildings - as well as attitudes - like a lack of family involvement - that hold girls back.
She’s since achieved one of her greatest accomplishments when, last March, she opened a library for an impoverished government girl’s school in the village of Hair, just outside Lahore.
Zoha worked tirelessly to collect funds and books, and to rally support for the girls that attend the school. In doing so, she managed to create something out of nothing - transforming an empty room that was in poor condition into a fully furnished library with 2,500 books as well as art supplies.
To keep the project sustainable, teachers are trained in upkeep and on how to assist students in using the resources. The training ensures the library will be kept organized and is effectively used, and that new teachers can learn from those that have already undergone training.
“The first library was just a stepping stone,” Zoha told us, hopefully with much more to come.
Her current goal is to build four more libraries in different areas of Pakistan, and perhaps even start her own nonprofit organization.
When we asked Zoha, “Why girls?,” her answer came with ease.
“I feel that it is my duty and my right to stand with all other girls around the world. No matter where we come from, we girls are all entitled to free will, primary and secondary education, and equal political representation. No one has the right to take those things away from us.”
How you make an impact, she notes, is personal yet also a chance to unite people around a common goal.
“[Make a difference] any way you can. Make a speech, go to a club meeting, or get a group of peers together and simply discuss issues. Look to other groups of people that share the same passion. There are plenty of people who are, if not already taking action, looking to take action just like you.”
Lucky for us, one of those people taking action for girls' education is Zoha.
“An educated woman is intelligent, mature, and most importantly, powerful,“ she says.
It’s that simple.
Are you inspired by Zoha’s determination? If so, follow her lead. We each have a role to play in ensuring all girls have access to quality education and that starts with learning about the issue.