Hilda Saeed (born 1936) battled discrimination in her own life: as a Christian married to a Muslim in Muslim-majority Pakistan she faced all-round hostility. That firsthand experience of insular discrimination contributed to her decision, later in life, to become a tireless campaigner for the rights of women, as well as for minority rights and interfaith dialogue and harmony.
Hilda Saeed had an early introduction to the turbulent politics of the Indian subcontinent when she witnessed, as a child, the sectarian riots that erupted in Karachi when India was partitioned and Pakistan was born. She began her professional career with an 18-year-long stint as a teacher of university undergraduates, and as a medical researcher and forensic serologist, after which she moved into journalism, editing a health journal for several years. It was during this latter period that she became a women’s rights activist, joining the Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Center in 1978, and becoming a member of the Shirkat Collective, a position she still holds today. Hilda entered activism at a time when the political climate was hostile to activists. Human rights were severely compromised under Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. Women activists ran great personal risks, marching when congregations of more than four people were banned. Hilda became a founder-member of the Women’s Action Forum. She helped take to court several cases that related to unjust accusations against women and members of minority communities. As a result, her family life sufferedbut today, her only child, a daughter, is also an active feminist. Hilda’s outstanding contribution has been in raising awareness about women’s reproductive and sexual health rights through her work as a media practitioner, and by participating in dialogues with both community members and government officials. From these efforts emerged the Pakistan Reproductive Health Network, of which she is a founder-member. This organization has raised issues related to sexual rights that are unpalatable to many Pakistanis. Hilda has also been an outspoken critic of discrimination against minorities, opposing, for example, the separate electorates’ scheme that has denied minorities the same voting rights as Muslims.
Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Center
South Asia | Pakistan