The youth charity founded by the then, Prince of Wales, Charles III, The Prince’s Trust International, launched the Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment Award to honour the work of “young women who have succeeded against the odds to make a lasting difference in their communities.”
As the inaugural award was presented to Pakistani Tanzila Khan at The Prince’s Trust Awards 2022, Amal said, “It’s an honour to have been invited to present an award by Prince’s Trust International. And a particular pleasure to be able to champion young women making a difference in their communities.
“Our awardee took every stereotype and debunked it; each barrier she faced, and broke it. She refuses to accept the status quo – and fights to change it not just for herself but for all girls and all those living with disabilities.
“Her advocacy brings light to the darkest places – and I hope that after receiving this award, she will be able to shine even more brightly.”
And Tanzila Khan did defy all odds: she did not let being a woman with a disability prevent her from becoming one of the fiercest women's rights and disability rights advocates in Pakistan. She became a published author at 16 and, later, founded a mobile application and website, Girlythings.pk to help women in Pakistan access menstrual hygiene products from their homes.
It is very gratifying to see an absolute powerhouse like Tanzila Khan recognised for her work.
Menstrual health is still very much a taboo topic in Pakistan and conversations surrounding it are next to none. Periods and period products are something to be ashamed of: shopkeepers wrap period products in brown wrapping paper before handing them over; pretending you're "ill" in front of male family members when you're just on your period is all too common; wanting to normalise conversations around menstrual health is enough for anyone to be labelled as tarnishing "cultural and religious values" and notions of female modesty. Interestingly, on social media, men who would never ask the women they live with about their experiences with periods suddenly become experts on the topic and it becomes one ripe for discussion, for men to comment and debate on social media, to the exclusion of women.
Recently, in response to the severe flooding in the country which is affecting more than 30 million people, there were widespread calls for donations. Amongst these, while many NGOs and volunteers were collecting essential items such as dry food, water, tents, and clothing or collecting money to go towards buying these items, several women-led NGOs and volunteers issued calls for donations of sanitary products or money that would go specifically towards purchasing sanitary products for women. These calls were subject to widespread criticism by right-wing men. Their basis for attack? Apparently, feminine hygiene products are a luxury and not a necessity, especially not when compared to food or shelter and to prioritise, or to even have the clarity of mind to ask for these sanitary items would mean having ulterior motives and pushing "foreign agendas not in accordance with cultural and religious values."
Despite efforts to normalise conversations surrounding menstrual health, according to a poll by UNICEF in 2017, 44% of girls in Pakistan did not have sufficient access to sanitary products.1 While there has been a gradual trend in conversations surrounding menstrual health, the growth has been slow. Waiting for conversations about menstrual health to be normalised before work is done to increase the accessibility of feminine hygiene products would not be the right approach. This is where Tanzila Khan's Girlythings.pk has stepped in.
It caters to the need of Pakistani women, particularly Pakistani women with disabilities, to be able to order menstrual products and menstrual hygiene kits online, anonymously. This is a big step forward as it increases overall women's access to menstrual products since it helps able-bodied people too.
Tanzila's story will teach young women the importance of dreaming, overcoming all obstacles that stand in their way, and lastly, the importance of bringing about positive changes for the people around you.
Written by Khadeeja Ahmad