Naeema Butt is a social entrepreneur from Pakistan, who has been working for the past 11 years to improve gender equity in Pakistan. In particular, her work in the arts is trying to portray how difficult it can be for women to break into certain industries in the country.
Naeema’s journey began when she faced harassment and discrimination in her personal and professional life as a young woman from a conservative family, and also as a female soccer player. It was an uphill battle of finding herself and pursuing her dreams. These painful experiences are what fuelled her struggle and made her more determined to prevent others from going through similar experiences. She then thought to raise her voice against such oppression targeted towards women. “I was a victim, but I decided to do something about it,” she recalls. “The pain I used to carry within me was really heavy and I wanted to express it. I find theatre as a means of expressing myself and the pain and discrimination I went through in life,” Naeema adds.
The weapon that she uses to fight back against gender-related oppression is interactive theatre, where she raises issues specific to gender oppression and other marginalized communities.
Her journey towards interactive theater began during university when she was introduced to street theatre. She saw how it provided solutions for communal problem. She believes that art is the strongest tool to find solutions and empower people. “It’s a healing tool,” Naeema explains.
In this 11-year journey, Naeema has achieved many illustrious milestones such as being the founding director and CEO of the Pehlaaj Story Center for Change organization in Pakistan. She now works at the Theatre of the Oppressed as a facilitator for oppressed communities in the country. After completing her facilitation training at the Mandala Center for Change in the United States, she got an internship from the Playback Theater in New York which solidified her passion for the industry. These experiences have also encouraged her to create a training programme around interactive theatre as a therapy tool for women who are victims of different forms of oppression.
Naeema has also been involved in the Pakistan UN Women Volunteer Task Force Group for the past two years. She is also the Founding Country President of World Merit Pakistan, a UK-based NGO working on Sustainable Development Goals.
Naeema has been working as a Fellow for the Lab in Pakistan and is also a graduate of our social entrepreneurship Accountability Incubator. Buth roles are assisting her in fostering greater levels of transparency and accountability through her brilliant theatre skills. She’s facilitated various workshops which brought her brand of street theatre to forums including the legislature.
Rounding up her list of achievements, Naeema is one of the first Pakistani theatre activists to get invited to present their work for peace at the Federal Congress on Cultural Policy in Berlin, which was organized by the Goethe Institute and ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen). She has also presented her work at the UN in New York, and with various groups in Washington DC. Her work with victims of abuse led to a nomination for the Ellen Stuart International Award in 2018. It is the most prestigious international awards for theatre activists.
Of late, her work of showcasing gender-based oppression for society to reflect and change mindsets has taken a turn. She is now acting in a mainstream national media drama to expand the impact of her work and reach out to the masses. Naeema’s first drama is called “Mein Khuwab Bunti Hon” and will be aired on HumTv at 7pm on weekdays. She plays a significant role of a woman who is trying to save her marriage and at the same time forced to accept the way life presents its challenges.
She explains: “It has been quite an interesting journey to play this role and I’m really feeling the pressure carried by women in arranged marriages.”
Instead of feeling helpless and giving up, Naeema has used her passion and tenacity to really work towards change in this sector. We salute her bravery in building upon her struggle for gender equity.