Dr. Mahwish Sharif, who is from a remote village in central Balochistan’s Kachi district, turned all the odds in her favor as she earned a medical degree and was named the first doctor with hearing impairment in Balochistan at Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital. The hospital is the province’s only health facility for the treatment of respiratory and viral diseases in Quetta, despite years of bigotry.
Dr. Mahwish dreamt of becoming a doctor as a child, even after she lost hearing when she was only 4 due to eardrum damage. Sharif’s graduation from Bolan Medical College in 2021 comes after many years of prejudice and disrespectful remarks, especially from staff members but her family’s support helped her fight all the odds.
Furthermore, Sharif described how unsettled she felt when taking an exam and seeing the word “impaired” placed next to her name by an examiner. She recalled another incidence of discrimination when she was obliged to submit a permission letter to use a hearing aid for a Balochistan University exam.
In a society where people with disabilities face prejudice and a lack of chances, Sharif’s story is not unique. According to Human Rights Watch, the total number of people living with disabilities in Pakistan range from 3.3 million to 27 million. Pakistan approved the Disability Rights Act in January 2020, which establishes a comprehensive legislative framework to safeguard and promote the rights of individuals with disabilities.
In July of that year, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the federal and provincial governments to execute a new rule requiring establishments to hire 2% of people with disabilities. Despite the enactment of the law and the approval of Pakistan’s top court, people with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in higher education and the workforce.
Sharif hopes to work toward achieving equality for persons with disabilities by encouraging more parents to allow their children to confront “the hardships of the outer world” in the future. She believed that they are not disabled, after all; they are only differently-abled. Sharif said: “I am disabled myself, and I want to encourage all disabled individuals to not give up hope, but to embrace the challenge.” Society will not allow us to succeed unless we work hard for ourselves.”