The literary world in Pakistan will always speak about
Ameena Saiyid with the utmost respect. Her contribution has been significant in changing the dynamics of women in the field of literature in the country. An incredible force of determination and vast knowledge, she has been a mentor for thousands of women across the country who know her as simply the ‘Mother of Literature’ in Pakistan. Today, Ameena Saiyid sits on the board of her own publishing house, Lightstone Publishers which she runs on a full-time basis as its managing director. She feels proud to say that Lightstone, her publishing company which she started from the ground up, is a fully women-led, indigenous business. Let’s learn more:
SD: Share with us more about your journey?
Ameena: I was living in Lahore and teaching at the Lahore American School when I attended a book fair organized by the Oxford University Press. I enjoyed it immensely and on my next visit to Karachi to see my parents, I applied for a job there and got the position based in Lahore. That was some 40-odd years ago. My self-confidence came from the foundations of my education. I was extremely blessed to have parents who put me into a private school, Karachi Grammar School (KGS). The education from there grounded me and formed my thought processes. When I left OUP, my energy was spent into forming my own business.
SD: What are the challenges that made you?
Ameena: I faced several challenges when I first started, especially as a woman here. I’ve worked in all male-dominated workplaces at one point. Over time Pakistan has seen women come into work more and take up higher and senior positions but this was still over time. There were also problems of subtle harassment. I had to be very strong in such an environment including learning to avoid many uncomfortable situations. I was pretty much alone in all of this. There were problems where my voice was not being heard or my ideas were being sidelined. However, I fought through this in life. I have to say I am what I am today as all these things are what made me stronger.
SD: Your stance on women’s empowerment?
Ameena: I believe in women working and that will be their financial empowerment. To be educated or seek knowledge is how women will go far. That is why we should set up opportunities for them. And if they don’t have the opportunities, then the ones who are in positions to do so, must empower them with knowledge through educational programs and give them the encouragement and guidance to go further. The educational system in general is in severe need of reforms. It is of utmost importance that we not lose this time period to educate our girls and women. Women make up approximately 51% of our country and we have failed miserably in this manner. it is time for people to come forward on this. Only a collective effort will make this possible now.
SD: How important is it to create literature festivals?
Ameena: It’s important to have such literature festivals which get attended by people who are thrilled that something like this exists here. There are authors from all across the world who come together. They create a safe space for writers as well as readers- and most of all enable the audience to interact with their favorite authors. The literature festival is an exchange of a wealth of knowledge among the people of the country to the rest of the world. I am so proud Adab Festival is a huge success every year since its inception and has grown immensely. The throngs of crowds are a testament to the center of cultural exchange which has been vital to our country.
SD: Looking at the challenging times engulfing Pakistan right now, how investing in knowledge will make a difference?
Ameena: There is no denying times are very tough right now, and there is great depression about the future of this country. However, through all of this, I remain hopeful. I will never lose hope that things will get better. However, the voice of the people cannot be muted. It must be upheld by the constitution and given adequate platforms to make this country prosper. I emphasize investing in people first. Our mindsets and culture can only change if people have the power of knowledge. Pakistan must refocus its efforts on establishing better schools and better systems within the schools already there. It is on the onus of the government and authorities to give this to the people.