#PowerWomanSeries: Meet Tanzeela Qambrani – Pakistan’s first ever lawmaker of African descent changing the narrative and looking to empower marginalized women

By Duchess Magazine

Tanzeela Qambrani of the Sheedi Community of Sindh, a people often stigmatized, forgotten and looked down upon is proud of her heritage and offers no apologies. They trace their origins to East African slaves brought to India by the Portuguese. The word “Sheedi”, a racial slur is used to denote a person of dark complexion.

African-Pakistanis are referred to as the Sidi, Siddi, Sheedi or Habashi.

Qambrani, born in 1979 in the Badin district of Pakistan, to a father, Abdul Bari, a lawyer and while her mother, an headmistress, was raised to be self assured and empowered. Her parents fought tirelessly for change.

Tanzeela Qambrani is the first woman of the Sheedi tribe to become a member of Sindh Assembly. That one victory breeds hope for a somewhat invisible and marginalized community. The Sheedi heritage is being mocked and tied to slave trade by non Sheedis even after hundred of years have passed.

In 2018, Qambrani overcame racial and sexist barriers from her own clan when she was nominated by the Pakistan’s People Party (PPP), in the regional parliament of southern Sindh province, today she is a member of the Sidnh provincial assembly, the first Afro-Pakistani woman to have held such an esteemed position. She expresses hope of the stigma being completely washed away, evoking respect, rather than contempt. Tanzeela Qambrani is focused on uprooting deep culture of intimidation and bullying.

A passionate advocate for girl education:

“Over 95 percent of our people send their children to school,” she says, “but when they’re repeatedly humiliated, bullied and called Sheedis in the classroom by their classmates, do you think they’d ever want to go back to the classroom?” The mother of three adds that teachers take part in the bullying too, with comments such as “You’re only good for manual labor” leading to high dropout rates. She says.

The Sidi community, a tiny population of about 50,000, a well-integrated people are known to preserve their culture and traditions. Believed to be descendants of merchants, sailors, and soldiers of East Africa, they are said to be mostly Muslims.

Pakistani politician Tanzeela Qambrani, a mother of three, and holds a postgraduate degree in computer science from the University of Sindh.

Her politician journey started off after being officially joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 2010. In 2017 not everyone was in her favour when she landed nomination as chairperson of the women’s wing of the party in Matli, for the Badin District, Qambrani says a powerful opposition forced her to pack her bags and move — with her children and husband in tow — to her parents’ house until the backlash died down.

The 42 year old’s rising profile and ascension to politics has been hailed as an “important step” for Pakistan’s African-origin community, often prone to prejudice and discrimination from both Pakistan and Indians because of their physical apperance and history. They have for a long time been completely shunned from all public appointments.

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