Words by Abi Scaife
The fight for gender equality has come a long way - but there is no question that there is still work to be done.
Throughout the world there are deep inequalities for women - and depending on your class, race, or location, even something as every day as your period can become a minefield.
As ever at Smiley News, we don’t want to ignore those problems - they are real, and terrible, and need combatting. Instead, we want to highlight the incredible people who are tackling these issues - one of whom is Dr. Zareen Roohi.
Turning tragedy into an opportunity to help those in need, the loss of Zareen’s daughter when Halimah was just 18 years old was the inspiration for one of Zareen’s two charities - The Halimah Trust.
“Me and Halima, we had a pact that we would work together and set up a social enterprise or charity. She was an activist - whenever there was a disaster somewhere, she'd be fundraising,” explains Zareen. “We had a promise that after she graduated from uni we'd set up our own charity.”
Unfortunately, Halimah would not see the charity she inspired - shortly after starting University, she was stalked by a man who eventually murdered her, ending her life at only 18.
“It happened on a Monday, her funeral was on the Friday. In between that time, I knew that we would be setting up a charity to do her work. And that would be the start of a new life.”
Four years earlier, when Halimah was just 14, Zareen had visited her family in Pakistan and witnessed the amount of children living on the streets in Karachi. She felt a need to help - and began setting up a charity and school for the children in an empty property owned by her brother.
Halimah, dreaming of helping others, was desperate to help her mother - and as soon as Zareen returned to the UK they went together and set up a bank account for their new charity - The Halimah Trust.
As it happened, the original project didn’t go ahead because of circumstances outside of Zareen’s control - and yet this bank account sat, forgotten, for four years - until Halimah died.
“After she passed away I hadn't remembered about [the bank account] - and then when I decided I'm going to do the work me and Halima were going to do together I remembered … and I knew that was part of the plan.”
Today, The Halimah Trust is a charity that works completely through the goodness of volunteers that want to change the world - one act of kindness at a time. They work in some of the poorest parts of the world to improve the lives of orphaned and needy girls through education, as well as responding to the needs of people in crisis.
Halimah’s life and legacy lives on in the Halimah School of Excellence, and the Halimah College in Pakistan, bringing education to girls in need.
Zareen is an incredible woman, who has turned tragedy into an opportunity to uplift and support women all over the world who are in need - and The Halimah Trust isn’t the only way she is doing that.
Inspired by the tales of women in Syria needing to tear scraps from their dresses to creat makeshift sanitary towels, Zareen knew that her work wasn’t done.
Zareen went on to set up Gift Wellness, a social enterprise, and its associated charity The Gift Wellness Foundation - the charity behind Period Poverty UK. Even during COVID, Zareen was working hard to combat period poverty - sending packages of period products to women who do not have access to them, or cannot afford them.
Gift Wellness sells its own non-toxic, hypoallergenic menstrual pads that are completely plastic free, and wrapped in paper - alongside other sustainable lifestyle products like cleansing bars. Alongside the foundation, for every pack of menstrual products sold one is donated to those in need - meaning your money goes double the distance.
Few people would set up one charity - let alone two - in the wake of a tragedy like the one Zareen experienced. But for Zareen that isn’t the reason she should have held back - instead, it was the reason for her to keep going, to continue giving and supporting and fighting for those who are in need.
Zareen attributes her deep heart and giving spirit to her parents - something she described as ‘Zinda Dil’ - a ‘living heart’
“It didn't matter what was going on, how tragic or how difficult things were … they were just so generous and kind to everybody,” says Zareen, of her mother and father who first inspired her giving spirit.
Ultimately, the story of Zareen and her charities is not the story of one woman working in isolation.
It is the tale of a mother and daughter, of family and friends and a community bound together - yes, by something terrible, but also by the knowledge that they could, and should, make a difference.
To learn more about Zareen’s story, you can purchase her book The Gift by following this link. To donate to The Halimah Trust, or Period Poverty UK, you can visit their websites by following these links.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Create. Create is the UK's leading charity empowering lives, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing through the creative arts. Support them here.
Save The Children UK. Save the Children is a UK charity for children that works in over 100 countries to make sure children are fed, learning and treated fairly. Learn more here.
Barnardo’s. This is a children's charity that protects and supports children and young people in the UK who need them. Find out more here.