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Book Review: Inspirational memoir of a leading woman activist

25th Apr 2014

Inspirational mem oir of a leading

Devotion and Defiance: My Journey in Love, Faith, and Politics
By Humaira Awais Shahid with Kelly Horan.
London. W W Norton & Co. 2014. Pp 314. HB. £17.99

Born into a professional middle class family living in Lahore, Humaira Awais Shahid is a young, fiery Literature student with an aversion to politics.

More interested in her work than getting married, she surprises herself by falling in love and marrying Ednan Awais Shahid, the outgoing son of a well-known newspaper editor.

In her new family home, Pakistan’s most influential decision makers are frequent dinner guests. The constant, back-and-forth conversation of newspaper business, the day’s headlines and Pakistani Government soon erodes away her discomfort of politics. Realising that her in-laws have provided her with a golden opportunity of putting her activist convictions to good use, Humaira drops her career as an English professor and takes a job transforming the women’s section of one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers into a platform for investigating the abuse and mistreatment of Pakistan’s vulnerable women.

What ensues is case after case of horrific abuse, involving acid attacks, forced marriages, the ‘battering’ of girls in rural villages as well as police complicity. Guided by the Islamic understanding of kind treatment to women and social justice, Humaira imparts on her readers the difference between religion and tribal customs.

In 2002, her commitment to helping vulnerable women led her to run for a reserved seat on the Punjab Provincial Assembly, where despite being jeered at and having her microphone switched off, she continued to battle for human rights.

The memoir is, in many ways, the story of her happy partnership with her husband as well as her progression in politics. At times it is deeply shocking and sad, but overall, it is an inspirational account of how faith in God, patience and the purity of intentions can carry you through the most difficult of challenges in life. If nothing else, this poignant and powerful memoir is a lesson about not giving up.

Anisa Ather

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