Jessica Abo talks with Khalida Brohi, the founder of the Sughar Foundation and the co-founder of The Chai Spot.
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Before COVID lockdown went into effect, Jessica Abo sat down with Khalida Brohi at the Social Innovation Summit in Los Angeles. Brohi is the founder and Executive Director of the Sughar Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women in tribal areas in Pakistan, and the co-founder of The Chai Spot, a tea lounge.
Can you share why you started the Sughar Foundation?
Brohi: I come from a tribal background in Balochistan, and I grew up knowing about honor. It meant that we welcome guests and are kind to people, but at the same time I knew that honor was the one thing dedicated mostly towards girls.
If girls made a mistake, they were the ones who could dishonor their families. I lived under the shadow of this fear that I could make that mistake or I could do something that would dishonor my father. Somehow, when I was a teenager, I saw the reality behind that. My cousin was murdered in the name of honor because she had fallen in love and my own uncle murdered her.
That’s when I started my fight against honor killings and launched the organization, Sughar Foundation.
What is the work that you do in these tribal areas?
We work in these tribal communities going to the tribal leaders and reminding them what Islam says about women’s rights. But at the same time, we work with the women directly to educate them about their rights and how they can learn from peer education, how to stand against customs like honor killing.
You see, the biggest problem is that over many years, many centuries, not only have men been the reason behind the prevailing of such customs like honor killing; but, women also tell each other to stop talking about it, to be okay about things like this, to be quiet in the face of violence. We tell them that’s not okay. We teach them through a six-month program. We give them grants and training to launch businesses so they become entrepreneurs and leaders in their societies, and that has been very successful.
What is The Chai Spot?
The Chai Spot actually is the company my husband and I run. After my cousin’s murder in my family and in my tribe, I got to be the first one who fell in love a decade after her murder — and not only just fall in love, but with a guy who was completely from a different world, an Italian American guy. My family completely freaked out. They were so afraid that they were not going to let that happen. His family was afraid.
We had so much opposition that it took us almost a year and a half to convince everyone that this was something that we could make possible. After our wedding in Pakistan, we had another celebration in the U.S., and we used that money to launch this business, because we knew that the fear we were seeing in our parents was a bigger fear, a global fear. And we had to do something about that using very little funds, but coming out with something so beautiful as a tea lounge where people come and sit together and learn about Pakistan, they become familiar with the stories of my people. They get to be less afraid. And that’s what we want.
50 percent of the profits also go back into communities in Pakistan to support women and children.
From an advice perspective, what are some ways that we all can protect our own honor or have more honor in our lives?
I truly believe that honor plays a great role in modern society. You see, we can’t function on a day-to-day basis without knowing our worth, without knowing where our dignity lies. Especially for women leaders, if they don’t go into a meeting room or into a conference or into a place where they’re ready to make a deal, knowing how much they’re worth, they won’t be able to do bigger things in their life. Honor means keeping that integrity, but at the same time respecting the next person. It’s the kind of diplomacy that everybody needs in current times and I truly urge everybody to take back their honor.