From homemaker to labour leader


Published: February 14, 2012

Party’s first female worker talks about throwing off her burqa, taking to streets.

LAHORE: “Take off your burqa (veil) and accompany me in the hunger strike tomorrow.” Those were the words with which Shamim Qayyum 

was invited by her husband, Mian Qayyum, to join the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) in a hunger strike in Faisalabad in 2005.

Shamim, speaking at Café Bol on Monday about organising women workers, said she had previously never imagined leaving the house.

“I was a home-maker. All I knew was that things were not going well for the labourers and that my husband was planning a hunger strike,” she told the audience.

On the third day of the strike, she recalled, her husband asked her and her three children to join him. She said she was the only woman in the strike that day. Other women and children joined the strike later. “It raised my spirits to see women coming out of their houses and supporting their men in the cause.”

After a nine-day strike, Shamim said the labourers were called in for negotiations, which were successful. She said during those nine days, a rally was led by Dr Farzana Bari, but with growing concerns of the labourers, she said, another rally had to be organised, this time led by her. Formed in 2003, the Labour Qaumi Movement aims at addressing the issues of labourers, especially those working in the power looms of Faisalabad.

Previously, Shamim’s husband, Mian Qayyum also delivered a talk about the role of women in the Labour Qaumi Movement at Cafe Bol.

Shamim said she was thankful to her husband for his support.  “It just didn’t change my life, it changed the lives of several women I would go out and talk to,” she said while talking about her decision to take off the burqa. She said at first it was difficult to convince women to stand up for their rights. However, with time these women realised that it was for their own benefit, she added.

The current energy crisis, she said, had increased the number of home-based workers. Shamim said there was a dire need to address the difficult conditions the majority of these home-based workers were working in.

She told the audience about an incident where four workers were illegally detained by the Faisalabad police and how she mobilised women workers to rally towards the police station in protest.

“On the fourth day of their detention, the workers were released,” she said. She said despite having similar skills, women labourers in the textile power loom sector were given less wages than men. She said she had organised a strike in which women refused to work at the looms unless they were paid an equal wage. Within days of the strike, she said, their demands were met.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.

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