I have been slapped and called names by men on the street.
Saima Sarwar had dressed up as a clown and was going about streets in Lahore hawking artefacts. The hard working woman, who was once aspiring to be a doctor, had to give up her dreams and do odd jobs after her father and brother passed away when she was in class 13. And she had the additional responsibility of looking after her ailing mother.
Saima’s father and two brothers passed away within just three years. She had to start earning a living in Lahore to support her ailing mother as no one from her family or friends helped her through the crises.
Saima appeared for many job interviews while pursuing her education but due to a tough schedule couldn’t take up any of the jobs as she had to take care of her mother as well. She did find one job, which seemed to accommodate her timings.
“Things went smoothly for four months,” Saima said. But then her employer started making inappropriate demands on her, such as going out for a meal with him as a personal secretary. He never discussed this as the job requirement when she was interviewing because he wanted her to settle in and see if she met his “standards”.
“He said in a meeting that I was his wife,” Saima recalled. She told him that she was not comfortable with him saying things like that and that it would create problems for her if her family found out about it. Saima had been warned of a culture of harassment and exploitation at her organisation by one of her friends who had worked there before.
She left the job and was so destitute that she even considered begging on the streets.
But then she saw a child dressed as a clown to entertain other children to make ends and this inspired her. “That child taught me such a great lesson that I could do anything for my mother,” said Saima. When she started working as a clown she felt as if the Saima in her had “died”.