“Women should acquire some skill, apart from their studies and should never lose hope as it will only make them feel incapable. They should believe in themselves.”
Acliché and generalized view of Pakistani women is that they lack agency and are hesitant when it comes to making important life decisions. The perception is that they often h0ld back when it comes to sharing ideas and venturing into something that is out of their comfort zone. However, today this narrative is repeatedly countered and challenged by many Pakistani working women who are performing and proving themselves in every domain.
Sabeela, a woman in her 50s, is one such example of a woman who broke all the traditional constraints and moved past the societal barriers by opening her own food stall in the middle of a busy bazaar. Since burgers are her speciality, therefore, she named her venture Maa Gee Burger Point where a variety of quality burgers are served at affordable rates.
Sabeela started her journey in 2018, when her husband, the sole breadwinner of her family became bedridden and the question of providing for the family surfaced. She had seven mouths to feed but no source of income. Moreover, her children’s education was immensely affected as she was unable to pay for their educational expenses. It was then that she decided to fill in the shoes of the breadwinner, but with an intermediate degree it was quite a challenge. She thought of doing something innovative yet dignified. She recalls, “I thought that women in Pakistan were already teaching, driving cabs, running boutiques, etc. I wanted to do something new. I could cook very well but establishing a large-scale enterprise was a challenge due to financial constraints, therefore I thought of opening a food stall that exclusively sells burgers. Healthy yet inexpensive burgers seemed to be the best option at the time.”
Once the idea of establishing her setup was fully developed, her next concern was finding the right location where she could execute her business plan. Being a woman, it was essential to choose a place that on one hand ensured her safety and the security of her children and on the other hand promised a profitable business. With some thought, she chose Chaklala Scheme 3, Rawalpindi, but was nervous and skeptical about people’s attitude towards her. However, it was only a matter of time before Maa Gee Burger Point became one of the most famous burger spots in the city.
The name, Maa Gee Burger Point is as creative as the endeavour itself, but the story behind this ingenious name tells us a lot about Sabeela’s struggle. Sabeela said, “I was born as a mother because my father died when I was only fourteen. I had two sisters to tend to at that time and after getting married, I had seven children to look after — three of my own and four from my husband’s first marriage. I not only took the responsibility of all the children and my sisters but also ensured their safety and giving them as exceptional a brought up as I could provide. Hence, the name of my brand connotes love, affection, care and warmth that one gets from home.” Sabeela believes that it is her motherly nature that attracts customers from all over the city. She says, “Civilians and Army Officers who live in the vicinity have shown enormous respect and support. I remember once a group of soldiers came to the stall and saluted me for my work.” This shows that her motherly figure has indeed boosted the popularity of her food stall.
Establishing and executing any business plan without the support of immediate family is the biggest obstacle, especially for women in eastern societies. Surprisingly, Sabeela’s daring attitude towards life helped her surmount this obstacle with dignity and courage. When asked about the reaction and support of her immediate family, she responded: “When you hit rock bottom, people and relations, no matter how close they are, view you as an outsider who is different from themselves. They assign you a peripheral position where you are categorized as nothing more than an unnecessary burden. I never wanted to occupy that peripheral territory, that is why I never asked my family for financial support. I never told anyone in the family about my startup as it would have given them the idea that I needed their sponsorship for the business. Besides this, I would have received backlash from them for taking this initiative because women working at a food stall in a busy market is not a common occurrence. However, my immediate family’s attitude was completely different when they saw me on television for the first time.” Thus, Sabeela’s only familial support came from her children, which made her stand firm on her decision. The clarity of her choices and the fact that she did not let herself become a burden because of her economic problems is praiseworthy and admirable.
Sabeela’s startup is a success and has a bright future ahead. She believes that her startup is driven by a strong vision. Challenges and problems still exist but her passion to support her family and her children’s education has always helped her in dealing with them. One such challenge is the availability of space where she can continue her work. Maa Gee Burger Point was initially set-up in front of a local bakery but after a profitable beginning, the administration of the bakery asked her to relocate. Being the only earning member, she could not afford to act against this bullying and so she moved to a different place. This was a major blow for her business as the customers were not aware of the relocation, but Sabeela did not lose hope. She is thankful to the person who allotted her a new space to start her venture once again. Nonetheless, she appeals to the authorities to help her in reclaiming her previous space, so that she can run the affairs of her life without economic complications.
The bold decision of stepping out from the comfort of her house into a market that is run mainly by men requires tremendous courage. Wonder women like Sabeela aka Maa Gee have gone well beyond the traditional role of a woman and have made a name for themselves. Sabeela, like her name suggests, showed a ‘clear path’ to Pakistani women by conquering all obstacles gracefully. She says, “Women should acquire some skill, apart from their studies and should never lose hope as it will only make them feel incapable. They should believe in themselves.”
Maa Gee inculcated the same thought in her daughter who is currently studying business and plans to expand her mother's startup to a larger scale. Hence, Sabeela is a phoenix who rose from her testing circumstances, broke free from societal constraints, eliminated the hurdles in her life, and subverted the generalized notion that Pakistani women only tend to take up traditionally accepted jobs. Her story is an eye-opener for the society where women are generally perceived as timid, helpless, and weak. Maa Gee and women like her fearlessly respond to the stereotypes associated with Pakistani women by blurring the gender roles prescribed by the society and by reclaiming their space in the social, political and economic fabric of the society. HH
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