A pioneer and tireless advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in Pakistan, Tanzila Khan says it is important to be persistent to overcome inequality.
Tanzila Khan said her father’s words are etched in her mind.
“Lead the way for other women. The world is yours,” he would say to her growing up. She followed his advice and started working towards advocating effectively for women with disabilities.
In 2019, she launched Girlythings. pk, an app that anonymously delivers menstrual and maternity products to women across Pakistan, including villages and metropolitan cities.
The idea was born when Khan, 31, could not find a shop with wheelchair access to buy sanitary napkins in the city of Lahore.
Growing up, Khan was faced with many challenges because of her disability. However, she also saw many women facing the same problems, so she decided to do something about it.
“I have always been about solutions, and I've always been very entrepreneurial about what I want to do in life,” she told TRT World.
1/2 Congrats to disability rights activist, author, motivational speaker, and @StateIVLP #ExchangeAlumni Tanzila Khan for winning the inaugural @PrincesTrustInt Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment Award! @ECAatState @StateDept @usembislamabad pic.twitter.com/FsDu785kzb— ExchangeAlumni (@exchangealumni) June 22, 2022
Besides Girly Things, Khan launched her company Iwish, which helps create sustainable solutions supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
She also runs an NGO, Creative Alley, where she works with young people to teach them about disability and sensitize them about inclusion.
Khan said she had to work “extra hard because when you have a disability, you're already marginalised.”
“Growing up, I still remember that I was judged for being a girl and being disabled. And sometimes it was hard to make friends. No one would talk to you. And I think if you struggled with anything, people would avoid being near you,” Khan told TRT World.
“There were people who have been very supportive throughout my life, and then there were people who did not believe in me,”
At 16, she released her first book ‘A story of Mexico’, followed by The Perfect Situation. The profits from the books fund community projects on disability, women empowerment, education, and the environment.
Khan emphasizes that her projects are not just focused on people with disabilities but people from all walks of life.
“Your personality has to be open and welcoming, and you have to be positive. If you're not positive about yourself, how do you expect people to think positively about you?"
Through her journey, Khan also realised that there were not enough TV shows or books centered around the daily challenges disabled people face in the country.
So she decided to take the lead and push for more empathy and inclusivity in that space.
In 2020, she wrote a short comedy film called Fruit Chaat, where she addressed some of the challenges she faced in her life as a wheelchair user.
“I think it's essential to be inclusive towards people with disabilities. And no matter what we do, ensure that we work with people with disabilities and not just for them.” she said.
“We don't deserve special treatment just because we have a disability, but we do deserve to have an equal footing.”
Last month, Khan picked up her Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment award as part of the Prince’s Trust International awards ceremony.
In her message to young women, Khan said: “It won’t be an easy journey, but aim to set very high goals for yourself. Get your education, make friends, and network.
"In the process, change someone else's life and start this chain of love and empathy for everyone else.”