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Girls & Women

This Pakistani woman fought to go to school. Now she is empowering younger girls to do the same

When she was in the ninth grade, Humaira Bachal’s father forbade her from leaving the house to sit her exams.

“He slapped me across my face and told me I was not allowed to leave,” she said. The violence did not stop there. When Humaira’s mother stepped in to defend their daughter, her husband broke her arm.

This hostility towards female education is pervasive in Pakistan, where only 26% of women are literate. In Humaira Dreamcatcher, a short film produced by Oscar-winning director  Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in partnership with CHIME FOR CHANGE, the camera captures the story of Humaira’s struggle - not only for her own education, but for the education of girls across her community.

With the support of her mother, who chopped wood to pay her daughter’s school fees, Humaira was able to continue her studies. Despite the threat of being ostracised from her community, she insisted on going to school and at 15, embarked on a journey that would change the lives of over a thousand children in her town.

“Girls belong in the classroom,” Humaira said. Determined to take on the patriarchal attitudes that denied girls their right to an education, she decided to set up a co-educational school in her town. Building a school was a key step, but she also needed to convince parents to send their daughters to school. Humaira and her team began visiting families door to door to persuade both men and women that their sons and daughter deserve equal opportunities. Faced with responses like, “It’s not a part of our culture, we have never sent our girls to school,” it took intense courage and persistence to win the community over. Eventually it paid off.

In 2013, Humaira joined Madonna on stage at the CHIME FOR CHANGE concert in London for the premiere of Humaira Dreamcatcher. Challenging the audience to help Humaira finish the school, Madonna pledged to match every $1 US donated.

Two years on, Humaira’s school is oversubscribed, with parents queuing up to register their sons and their daughters.  A second film by Obaid-Chinoy traces how the school transformed the people in Humaira’s town. With 1,200 pupils enrolled,  Humaira’s school has changed life for older generations as well as the young. Watch Humaira: The Game Changer here:

“I fought to go to school, and now I am standing before you as proof of how education can change a life.”


Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s film "A Girl in the River’" is nominated for an Academy Award at this year’s Oscars. Watch the trailer now.