The Change Architect
Saba Gul, 29
When she was an engineering student at MIT, Saba Gul heard a story that would plague her and change her forever. Azaada Khan, a girl who grew up in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, dressed as a boy for 12 years so that she could go to school. She eventually came to believe that she was indeed a boy; when puberty hit and her parents wanted her to marry a man, she simply couldn’t understand why. Her world crumbled. “It was so real, so raw,” Gul says. “All this little girl wanted to do was go to school.”
Last year, Gul set aside the career she had worked so hard for and turned her mind to helping girls become more than they are allowed to be. “Bliss is an organisation that gives girls a financial incentive to stay in school and lets them do something dignified, ethical, fun.” The organisation started its work in Attock, at a school for Afghan refugees, and has now moved on to Hafizabad. Here, students learn needlework and embroidery to produce handbags that are then sold around the world through a network of female ambassadors, from New York to Paris, Seattle to Sydney.
“Which woman doesn’t love a great handbag?” Gul asks. “It’s universal, the trickle-down of sales proceeds is substantial, and it markets itself.” She refined the design to make the bags both trendy and traditional, working within a system controlled completely by men; while her training as an engineer may have given her a foundation for problem-solving, the grit is all her own.
Her dream, though, is shared by every woman on these pages: “An equal-opportunity Pakistan.”