I am about to rant.
We all become a product of our experiences. But I became a product of products. Within me are stories, tears, laughter of so many women that I have met across the world. When I cry, I cry for them, on behalf of them. When I laugh, I make them laugh and laugh with them. And what I am about to write now is for them and for myself. Because I am done looking at the exit door even before I have entered. The following is the story of thousands of individuals who I hope will haunt your dreams of a startup.
When I started my journey, the doors of the job sector closed on my face for reasons such as inaccessible buildings, washrooms etc but I didn’t give up and started working on my own. I reached where you see me today. I was an entrepreneur in my 5th grade. I remember selling friendship bands in my class to buy lunch. I soon realized how empowering entrepreneurship is for marginalized communities to weave together creativity and courage and live through life with pride. Since then I did commercial workshops to earn my lunch. Not once did I ask my father for money out of pride. Until I landed in a huge debt of 100K at the age of 22. But that was the first and last time and taught me great lessons on managing finances. I was soon invited to many spaces to speak, to share in Pakistan and abroad. I made full use of that to highlight problems and facilitate change until recently I collapsed internally and I feel its time I take an exit from the startup world too.
At one such launch of an Incubator for women that delighted me to the core soon turned my delight to a stone in my stomach. As the presentation about it ended, I raised my hand to ask questions about its accessibility and the very first step of application not being accessible to women with visual disability. My mistake of not having had breakfast that morning mixed with anger and hurt choked my voice and made it shaky. I got the same reply that I always get, ‘We didn’t think of it’. I looked around that room filled with the movers and shakers of ideas and prototypes and thought, Entrepreneurship was always my Hero but who are all these people?
After the Q/A ended, the hall emptied and not a single one of them turned around to ask me if there was any way they could take me to the first floor where the Incubator was actually located. What to talk of protesting. In fact, there was nothing to protest. That is how the world works right? It’s always them and us. In my case them are the privileged ones who have access to opportunities regardless of what ideas they have. And then its us. No matter how, creative, fluent in English we get or ideas and action we bring. We will remain losers. No matter how awesome our business ideas are, we still will be at the bottom of the pyramid. Yes, I know the world works that way! Yes, I know buildings were made long before you and I were born but then what is the use of intelligence that you get studying in first world countries, attending fully funded conferences and getting loads of funding for your idea if the community that needs you remains below your vision? I don’t expect anyone to become a spokesperson for disability but is it too much to ask for a more inclusive approach to your work? Is it really that hard O world? Does your brain hurt if you for once imagine a person with disability using your product or service or being part of your initiative?
I looked at so many people in that room I wanted to be friends with but now when I meet them I will thank them for creating Hierarchy within the startup world. Thank you! For ensuring survival of the fittest in the eco system of startups. Thank you for raising competition for me who is mentored and well-groomed to run their business than me. Thank you for being tunnel vision-ed and really not helping the one who needed it the most. But I hope you made money.
And for the following people, I have some questions. Please help me in making these reach them,
The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women: Do you have Data?
US Consul General Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau: I learned humanity for disabled when I went to USA for my medical treatment at the age of eight. It’s a pity you didn’t bring that sense of inclusion to my country and agreed to be part of a project that is discriminatory. Anyways, which Pakistani dish do you like?
Punjab Minister for Labour and Human Resource Nauman Kabir, Minister for Human Rights Faisal Mushtaq, Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr. Hassan Amir Shah and everyone else in that room: Did you consciously agree to be part of something that was discriminatory to a huge population of women or was it just innocent ignorance and if either. Do you have any plans to make it right? Call me.