Pakistan

Women have a voice

Day 11 of #16DaysofActivism

By Johnny Fisher and Hazeen Latif

This year the UK celebrated 100 years of women being able to vote. Before that democracy was interpreted to mean “rule by the men” rather than “rule by the people”. This development has been repeated over and over again. Women around the world are be able to participate fully and equally in decision-making at community and national level. Sadly, in many communities, people are unaware of these national developments and the threat of violence is often used to prevent women from speaking out in public conversations. 

In Pakistan women do participate in public life and Pakistan is one of an increasing number of countries to have had a female prime minister. But in some Pakistani communities it would be considered offensive for a woman to engage in influential conversations at community or family level. Women who try to do so face threats of violence and exclusion. 

HCR supports a community-centred radio project in one such community. Community activists have worked together to get training and put community radio programmes on air. However, the participants in the radio work are all men. Women do participate in complementary off-air activities, and one lady, Zakia*, has been running health and hygiene workshops for women and girls. Another older lady in the community has offered her home for Zakia to run vocational groups for women and girls. The older lady said, “We have to do this, whatever the cost to me”.  Inspired by this Zakia also spoke to an HCR associate about getting involved in radio. She realised it could be very dangerous for her as it might invite repercussions from the wider community. But she believes that radio by women and girls, for women and girls would extend the benefits of the workshops to more people. Zakia said to our associate, “Someone must stand up and speak, and I will do it”. 

HCR is supporting women who want to engage in public life through radio. We are also speaking up for the many women whose voices are not heard because they have been intimidated into silence by the threat of violence.

*Not her real name

in some Pakistani communities it would be considered offensive for a woman to engage in influential conversations at community or family level.

in some Pakistani communities it would be considered offensive for a woman to engage in influential conversations at community or family level.

She is a mother, when she herself is still a child

Day 6 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 (Girls not Brides). Early marriage violates a girl’s rights to health, education and opportunities in the workplace. It can often expose girls to violence throughout their lives and trap them in poverty. This is an issue that cuts across countries, cultures and religions. 

Pakistan continues to rank near the bottom of the gender inequality index, with Pakistani women facing terrible inequality in access to health care, education and work. One of the solutions to assisting girls to escape discriminatory customary practices like early child marriage is providing education and skill building opportunities.

HCR faces these issues in some of the communities in which we work. Recently, in a village in Pakistan, an HCR associate was confronted with child marriage at a women’s empowerment session. A girl, aged 15, had an eighteen-month-old baby and was married to a 45-year-old man. She is a mother, when she herself is still a child. In a culture that tends to be patriarchal, the birth of a son is celebrated as boys are considered assets who will provide support for ageing parents, whereas a daughter is often considered a liability. This traditional culture, along with poverty, reinforces practices like early child marriages.

HCR has made gender a major priority in all its projects. We believe that human rights are essential to the full development of individuals and communities, and that gender equality is a basic human right. In Pakistan we use media to continue to work towards the education of girls and women and target many of the underlying issues that keep them in a cycle of poverty.    

Early marriage violates a girl’s rights to health, education and opportunities in the workplace

Early marriage violates a girl’s rights to health, education and opportunities in the workplace

A ‘New Dawn’ for Volleyball in Pakistan

By Hazeen Latif

When it comes to community empowerment, service providers often look at what resources and strengths THEY have and what THEY can do to meet community needs.  But it is too easy to overlook what the community already has, to meet its own needs, even among poor and marginalised communities.  As a core value of HCR, whenever we work with communities we always begin by listening to them and helping them to listen to each other, exploring what assets and strengths they already have, before we begin to explore what things need to be improved (see blog “It’s a ting thing”).

In our work among village communities in Pakistan’s KPK province, for example, it would have been far too easy to focus on the desperation felt by many young people, which has often resulted in frustration, substance abuse and even gang violence.  But as we began our listening activities, we heard stories of youngsters who really wanted to do something meaningful with their lives, but didn’t know how.  We also  found tremendous energy, talent and enthusiasm for sports as well as plenty of open ground to organize sporting activities such as cricket competitions.  

With HCR’s help, the young people recently came together to register a community-based organization calling themselves, “New Dawn Community Services Group” and one of their first activities has been to set up a volleyball court on some unused open ground. 

A “New Dawn” for volleyball in a village in KPK Province, Pakistan

A “New Dawn” for volleyball in a village in KPK Province, Pakistan

“New Dawn” Volleyball has now become an important feature of village life for both young and old alike as some gather to play and others to watch.  As one father told his son as he came in starving, after a long game of volleyball: “It is a miracle that you are home early today”. 

Among other community support activities, one of New Dawn’s next goals is to bring neighbouring communities together to play a cricket tournament, something we first tried successfully in 2015. 

Besides taking young people off the streets and giving them healthy activity to do, sport really does bring people together, but best of all, it’s completely run by the community and for the community. And it all started with a simple act of listening!

A mother, but still a child

Early marriage is a major obstacle for girls in acquiring education and has many physical, social and psychological implications. The girls are forced into this cycle of poverty, inequality and illiteracy.

One of the solutions to assist girls to escape discriminatory customary practices like early child marriage is providing education and skill building opportunities. Education is the most valuable asset and ultimately empowers the girls to reach their fullest potential.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which define global development include target 5.3 ‘Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations’ (under Goal 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’).

HCR faces these issues in some of the communities in which we work. Recently, in a village in Pakistan, an HCR associate was confronted with child marriage at a women’s empowerment session. A girl, aged 15, had an eighteen month old baby and was married to a 45 year old man. She is a mother, when she herself is still a child. In a culture that tends to be patriarchal, the birth of a son is celebrated as boys are considered assets who will provide support for ageing parents, whereas a daughter is often considered a liability. This traditional culture, along with poverty, reinforces practices like early child marriages.

At HCR we continue to work towards the education of girls and women all over the world and target many of the underlying issues that keep them in a cycle of poverty.  

 

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'Who will marry you?'

By Hazeen Latif

Sahib Gul is 25 years of age and has never been able to walk. He uses his arms to go places in the community. The ground is covered with dust, stones, glass and rubbish. Sahib Gul’s hands get dirty, cut and blistered. He never thought he would be respected in the community. Almost every day he hears humiliating remarks from the community, even from relatives. Street kids taunt and tease him about his short stature.

His uncles and parents comment, “Who will marry you, your clothes and hands are always filthy, and how will you stand or walk with your wife”. These words have always echoed in Sahib Gul’s mind, that he is not worthy of a family life.

However, through all this, he has remained hopeful that someday he will hold his head high and have a family. This is what he shared with me when I met him a year ago.

Sahib Gul in 2016

Sahib Gul in 2016

A year on and things have changed. Recently HCR gifted Sahib Gul a wheelchair.

Sahib Gul's response:

‘I am so much more confident sitting in this wheelchair. I feel I have got my own feet I am no longer on the ground. To me it's not a wheelchair but it’s a journey from being dependent to independent. Through this wheelchair I can earn, contribute financially for my family, and will have a beautiful wife of my dreams. Now, no one can say, “who will marry you?”’

Sahib Gul in June 2017, after receiving his wheelchair

Sahib Gul in June 2017, after receiving his wheelchair