I meet Maryam Bibi, one of Pakistan's true heroes, in our office. Maryam is known among those circles of women who fight against all odds in the most challenged communities, sacrificing and risking everything at times, all because they have a vision of what could be. Today, she is wearing a black sweater and a dark tie-dyed skirt that falls to the floor -- all constructed of too-light fabric for the early days of New York City March. Her head is covered by a white, embroidered scarf which creates the perfect frame for her square face and straightforward brown eyes. I like her immediately -- like her smile, like the way she looks out at the world as if she is always searching.
"The solution to Pakistan's ills is democracy," she says. "Plain and simple. But to get there, people need to build trust on all sides. We need more honesty from our own leaders and from the Americans as well."
Maryam runs Khwendo Kor, the organization she founded in Peshawar, to empower women through education, access to better health and helping them set up small businesses. She remembers her own experiences in a forced marriage where she was beaten daily and kept in purdah, and her memories fuel her ongoing empathy that rounds out but never softens her fierce determination and conviction. "Surviving itself can be an achievement in Waziristan," she tells my colleagues and me. "This is why we need to understand relationships in their entirety and not look at individuals or societies only in fragmented ways. I have learned, you see," she said, "that self-respect is more important than wealth."
I nearly fell out of my chair and told her that I say that "Dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth" in nearly every speech. How is it that we are saying the same thing? I asked.
"Because we are sisters," she said.
Indeed, as we have just recently celebrated International Women's Day, may we all remember our common sisterhood -- and brotherhood -- regardless of class, ethnicity or religion. Maryam is a reminder of how much each of us can do - and of how much each of us is needed to do something if we are to create a new, shared future.
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