Former Premier looks to a world living in peace

HUNDREDS of local people packed Dewsbury Town Hall on Saturday to welcome the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohatmara Benazir Bhutto, who was visiting the town for the prime aim of helping raise money for charity.

She was greeted by a standing ovation as she walked into the main hall to take her seat on the platform with other guests, including the Mayor of Kirklees, Coun Barbara Allonby.

The event had been organised by the Savayra Foundation UK, a charity set up by Dewsbury solicitor Sayeeda Hussain Warsi to help destitute widows in Pakistan and their families.

Mrs Bhutto, who was elected the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988, spoke about the difficulties women faced in attaining positions of leadership.

"Leadership is a commitment to an idea, a commitment to a people and a commitment to a land, but I find that women often have to make difficult choices which sometimes men are not forced to make when they decide to enter leadership positions in politics, education, health business or charity."

But women took on such challenges for all the women who had gone before them and who had given them the opportunity to make those choices.

"I studied in the United Kingdom and as a student at Oxford, I saw a different society to my own. I saw a society where there were free elections, where there was trade union activity and where there was a free Press," she said.

"I saw the awesome power of people here changing policies, changing leaders and changing the course of history. I came to England at a time when the British politician Enoch Powell was threatening to throw Asians into the sea and I saw the Conservative Party choose a woman - Margaret Thatcher – as their leader."

While at Oxford, she had become the first female foreigner to be elected President of the Oxford Union, despite being told that as a foreigner she could never win and should not even run for it.

"But I did run for it and I did win because I overcame my fear of losing. I learned to overcome fear and I learned to take risks. I learned never to give in when a task seemed impossible or formidable."

Later she was told that she could never be elected Prime Minister of a Muslim country and that at 35 she was too young to run for it. "But at Oxford I had learned to overcome my fear of losing. I did run and I did win. I refused to take 'no' for an answer."

She said her message to those present was never to take 'no' for an answer and never let obstacles stand in their way or be disappointed with setbacks.

The greatest obstacle to women in the third millennium was the bigotry of some men, not all men, but now women were fighting back against dictatorship and intolerance.

"We live in a time when there is war, death, destruction and fear. But I dream of a world were we can live in peace and without violence and I believe women have an important role to play in building a world free from fear. To me, women are not just the building blocks of the family, women are the building blocks of society."

She felt one such woman was Sayeeda Hussain Warsi who with her team was playing an important role in helping women and children in Pakistan and Kashmere. "I congratulate them all on the excellent work they are doing."

The Mayor of Kirklees, Coun Allonby, said the Savayra Foundation not only cared for and helped vulnerable and disadvantage widows and their families, but also encouraged women to make the best of the opportunities available to them.

Mr Imtiaz Mir, who was MC for the event, also praised Sayeeda and the trustees and said they were busy people in their own field but had taken a step further than most.

During the evening a video was shown of the work being carried by the foundation and Sayeeda explained that some 300 women and their families were being supported by the charity as well as 50 girl students and they hoped to double this figure next year.

The other trustees, Javed Iqbal, Mohammed Waheed, Tabasum Aslam, Nasra Waheed and Saba Baig, appeared on the stage amidst great applause.

Thousands of pounds were raised on the night through direct giving in cash and cheques and many other businesses and individuals have pledged further amounts.

The main sponsor for the event was Dewsbury solicitor Musa Patel, and many other businesses also gave their support.

Entertainment for the evening was provided by local schoolchildren and comedian Nirala, and Aamna Warsi presented bouquets to the Mayor and Mrs Bhutto.

During the evening awards were presented to people who had been nominated by the community in five categories.

They were: Academic achievement: Dr Khadam Khamas, Dr Nasreen Balg, Assia Hussain.

Business award: M Iqbal Tabasum, Sarwar Butt, M Abdul.

Sports award: Solly Adam, M Javed and M Salim.

Service to the community: Ramzan Ashraf, Altaf Daji.

Outstanding woman: Shakeela Mimtaz. Yasmin Akhtar Mir.