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SEPTEMBER 11, 1994



From a tiny village in western India to the corridors of the Cairo Conference it has been a 15-year journey for Raheema Dholaki in the struggle for women’s rights. Her mission here is to explain her experiences in empowering women.

“We women who have come here from every comer of the world, cannot go back empty handed, we must achieve something.

“My first priority is the overall health of women, especially the poor who have no access to free clinics rear their homes,” said Raheema who now lives in Ahmedabad, a city in western India. Raheema was born in a poor Muslim family in Gujarat 38 years ago. Like most of her friends she was married at 13 but took the unusual step of divorcing her husband and going back to her parents when she was four months pregnant. “My family tried to send me back to my husband, especially my mother and borthers, who thought  I would be a burden on them,” said Raheema

However, her father, a muslim priest, realized that his  daughter was determined to make a life for herself  and supported her decision.  Raheems started working for the Self Employed Women’s Association  (SEWA) where her main concern was to assist women who made garments and handicrafts at home. She sought to unite them in an effort to get better wages for their labor.

Looking back at her life, Raheema said that the most important experience for her was when she started working and discovered the oppression and plight of poor women and how much needed to be done.

Raheema’s experiences have taught her more than her 6th grade education and she is amazed by the debate and the rhetoric taking place here, “Why is everyone so bothered about the few countries that disagree with the document, is there no superiority in numbers? ” she asked.

“Tradition, society and religion have  kept women suppressed,” she said, “it is shocking that while even the poor and uneducated women with whom I work have put religious differences aside, here at the Conference supposedly learned people are using religion to dictate what a woman should be allowed to do regarding her own reproductive health.”