What will you do better this year?

I’ll see my the larger purpose of my work

When I first think of this question my first answer is a slew of specific do’s. I will study for the LSAT, I will understand my parents have feelings like mine, I will be more patient, I will this, and I will that. But I wondered what all these “do’s” mean? Why will I be doing that?

When I went to the Ask Big Questions Fellowship Training in St. Louis this August, I met hundreds of people just like me, people who wanted and expected great things of themselves. And whenever I heard their stories I always thought—you can’t afford to lose. The difference you can make is too important.

And from this I realized that my slew of do’s this year are here to help me prepare for the service I hope to give in my own future. This year I will ask myself how will or can this benefit me? Because just like the other fellows I met earlier this August, I, too, cannot afford to lose. The work I want to do on behalf of Pakistani women is too important.

When I was younger, my father told me a story about his cousin who was married off to some man in Pakistan only to never return. One day this woman’s husband showed up with four children on his mother-in-law’s doorstep—without his wife. He told his wife’s mother he was going to find work and would be back for the children in a few days. Decades have passed, all four children are married, and he never returned.

And neither has his wife.

My father and my extended family have hypothesized that my father’s cousin was either sold to pay debts or was killed by her husband.

My first reaction upon hearing this story, like yours I’m sure, was shock. My second reaction was, “How can this still be happening?” I asked this not in a naïve way expecting that the world would be completely just. However, people normally don’t expect the worst to happen to their own family. But when the worst does happen your eyes can often be opened much wider than they were before.

Unfortunately, this kind of treatment of women does still happen, and it’s worsened by the fact that these women have no outlet. As is the story of many poorer women in any country, access to the law is limited or nonexistent. Women in Pakistan cannot rely on the police nor can they afford a lawyer. I knew immediately where I needed to go and what I needed to work on.

I’ve started to dream of a law firm in Pakistan; a firm that would see cases of domestic violence and handle every case pro bono.

I can’t afford to fail because the stakes are too great if I do. I can’t afford to fail because these women may never have an opportunity for relief, asylum, or recognition.

This year I’m going to work hard for myself—in school, in my family, in my community—so that I don’t fail the women on whose behalf I want to work.

Maira Dawood is a student at the University of Illinois- Chicago.  She is also an Ask Big Questions fellow.