Syeda Ghulam Fatima – The Pakistani Harriet Tubman

Syeda Ghulam Fatima is no ordinary Muslim woman – Muslim women in general are far from ordinary. But Fatima, now considered the modern day Harriet Tubman of Pakistan, has made it her life’s mission to saving others. Fatima, from Lahore Pakistan, works tirelessly to bring about an end to bonded labour.

Bonded labour is the most widespread, but least known form of modern day slavery that has horrifically enslaved many generations in the rural plains of Pakistan. A person becomes trapped as a bonded labourer when their work is required as a form of repayment on a loan. Bonded labourers typically work long, hard hours for little to no pay – and the value of their work eventually becomes worth more than their original loan. Bonded labour facilities typically target individuals who are illiterate, in need of medical help and have no other option. Workers are forced to work in brick kilns under unbearable conditions, and young girls are often beaten and sexually abused.

Any form of retaliation results in severe punishment..

“Bricks are the primary unit of construction across Pakistan. They are cheaper than concrete so almost everything is made with brick– especially in rural areas.”

Also too often, debts are then passed down to the next generation – and the next after that. Why? Because alongside the repaying of debt, they must also pay off the price for the accommodation and food provided by these “labour facilities”. Any form of retaliation results in severe punishment of the worker and their family members and when reaching out to easily bribed authorities is the only other option, the workers unwillingly accept an endless lifetime of misery.

Fatima’s goal is simple- to end bonded labour. She dedicates every day of her life to stopping the exploitation of workers and to save families. She lives every day to help the less fortunate, who are shamed into borrowing a small amount of cash because of desperate circumstances and become forever trapped in a world of never ending hard labour and growing debt. She estimates around 4 million people in Pakistan alone who are subjected to a life bonded labour.

“They worked me harder. I never saw my wages. If I wanted to stop, they beat me.”

Fatima, once a hidden gem, was discovered just a few days ago by Humans of New York’s Brandon and his team upon their visit to Pakistan. HONY did a 6 post feature on Fatima and used her story to conclude their trip. HONY then set up a donation page following the outpour of comments and support for Fatima and her mission. Their goal was to raise $100,000 in one week – they raised over $2.3 million. All proceeds will go to Fatima’s organization, “Bonded Labour Liberation Front”, in an effort to help families pay off their debts, provide them with legal aid against labour facility owners and setting up “freedom centers” for escaped families.

…4 million people in Pakistan alone who are subjected to a life bonded labour.

Fatima is an activist out to change the world, starting off with her home country, and has already helped many by working directly between the workers and their owners eventually freeing them through deals or helping them escape in the middle of the night. She has been beaten, shot at and even electrocuted. Her family has also been threatened and targeted by similar forms of violence, but Fatima cannot be defeated.

Their goal was to raise $100,000 in one week – they raised over $2.3 million.

Her passion is incredibly inspiring and her determination to help others for no self benefit makes her a perfect example of what humanity should strive to be like. Muslims are reminded of how acts of virtue like Fatima’s are important and women around the world are given yet another powerful female figure to admire and embody.

To learn more about Fatima’s story and to watch her bravery first hand – click on the short video below from HBO’s VICE.


To donate to Fatima’s cause – Click Here.

And to read about more inspiring humans around the world visit the Humans of New York Website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



Image: Humans of New York