Pakistan: Kishwar Naheed

For the past 45 years, Kishwar Naheed has been a fearless and independent voice in support of the arts in Pakistan and has worked hard to revive dying crafts in remote areas.

— Kishwar Naheed

For over four decades, Kishwar Naheed has been a fearless and independent voice in support of the arts and culture in Pakistan, in an environment that has, at times, been extremely hostile. In her current role as coordinator of Hawwa Crafts Cooperatives, this gifted feminist writer, poet, and activist has been responsible for reviving dying crafts in remote areas of Pakistan, and for helping about 2000 craftswomen make better lives for themselves.

Kishwar Naheed was born into a middle-class family that educated its sons well but only taught its daughters to read and write before arranging marriages for them. Kishwar insisted on higher education, did her masters, and wrote poetry. She married a man of her own choice, was disowned by her family, and became a civil servant, a career which she pursued for 38 years. Sent on leave for five years when the country was under martial law, she went to court to protest her suspension, and was reinstated. She was briefly arrested in February 1983, along with other women activists, for protesting against the proposed Law of Evidence that was discriminatory to women. Kishwar used her leave to promote home-based entrepreneurship among rural women and revive dying crafts in Pakistan's remote areas, becoming involved with Hawwa Crafts Cooperatives, which has, over the past 20 years, trained and upgraded the skills of 2000 craftswomen. As a writer, too, Kishwar was in trouble under martial law. Two of her books were banned, and she was also briefly arrested on charges of spreading pornography. Frequently under surveillance, she had to send her two sons, aged 16 and 18, out of Pakistan, for fear that the martial law regime or the fundamentalist forces might use them to intimidate her. In 1998, Kishwar, then working as director general of culture, resigned from the service when the minister of culture objected to a classical dance festival in the country. This pioneer in feminist and resistance literature has produced nine volumes of poetry, eight books on women's issues, eight books of translations of contemporary resistance and international literature, and 12 books for children. She has also written weekly columns for newspapers. Kishwar, who lives in Islamabad, also works as consultant with Action Aid and the Asian Development Bank.

Hawwa Crafts Cooperatives (HCC)