A Pakistani asylee finds — and gives others — “The Courage to Say No”

The #MeToo movement has illustrated that the challenges women face. In her new book, The Courage to Say No, Dr. Mahmood shares her unique perspective as an asylee who rebuilt both a life and career in the U.S. Upwardly Global was proud to support Raana in navigating her job search in the U.S.

Dr. Raana Mahmood

From my earliest days, the concepts of justice and equality were important to me. My parents saw my ambitions and were supportive of my professional goals. I eventually earned my medical degree.

But after I was married and had a son, my husband and in-laws weren’t happy when I went to work at a hospital. My husband became increasingly hostile. As I tried to teach my son that men and women were equals, I didn’t want him to grow up in a home where these values weren’t respected. My son and I eventually left the house.

I took a job as a gynecologist and became a single working mom. But my challenges with harassment and abuse continued. I eventually needed to leave my country — this time without my son, who was then a teenager. I left Pakistan and was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2011.

I found myself alone in New York City. This was one of the hardest times of my life. I lost my home, my job, my family, and my country, but I didn’t lose my dignity.

I connected with Upwardly Global. They coached me through the job search in the U.S. — teaching me about U.S. work culture, helping me with my resume, connecting me training resources. I did practice interviews with my coach and attended networking events where I met other immigrant professionals. As I’d been forced to leave my family back in Pakistan, UpGlo became a new family for me. My coach helped me think through ways to channel my passion — fighting for justice and equity — into a new career path.

With support from Upwardly Global, I got a tech job in a local pharmacy. But I continued to witness the abuse and double-standards that women face across the globe. One of my coworkers was fired after she complained that a male customer had touched her inappropriately. It was heartbreaking.

That’s when the idea for the book was born. It took three years to write — and it was a healing process. Putting my story, all the painful details, down on paper was incredibly difficult. But my goals were clear: I wanted to reveal the realities of sexual harassment and abuse. And I also wanted to prove my strength — for myself and others. There is always hope after struggle.

Times are changing in Pakistan. Women are now more confident about getting an education and knowing their rights. More than 70% of Pakistani medical students are women, even as social and professional barriers still hinder their success. Marriages are built on a mutual understanding even as divorce rates are rising — it’s now more accepted by society. Parents don’t want to see their children in an abusive relationship; this is so different than my era, when families left their daughters to die at their husbands’ homes.

Whereas in the past women in both countries kept quiet about harassment and abuse, social media and campaigns like the #MeToo movement are now allowing them to share their stories. More women now have the courage to say no to unwanted sexual advances. We have a long way to go. But I hope we’ll get to a place where women can rest assured that if they open up about abuse, society will not only believe them, but also demand justice on their behalf.

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Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees.

Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees.