More than 50,000 people have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the last decade. In the turbulent border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, these are an everyday occurrence.
Extremist religious groups have great influence over social and political life, and actively recruit in schools and madrasas. Young people are particularly vulnerable to recruitment, especially where there is little outside knowledge.
Aware Girls is a network of young volunteers dedicated to saving their peers from indoctrination and radicalisation. They send out teams of peace educators to villages, towns and schools, to identify and dissuade individuals likely to join extremist groups. The work is intensive and personalised: as well as study groups to spread the word, there are one-to-one counselling sessions that may last weeks until a young man or woman changes their views and choices.
In the deeply conservative tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, this is dangerous work. The risk is heightened because Aware Girls is run and mainly staffed by women. The founders – two sisters – believe firmly in women’s rights and champion these too. At the last national elections, in 2013, they led all-female teams of polling station monitors to ensure women were allowed to vote freely and without intimidation.
In 2014 we supported Aware Girls to implement projects taking a holistic approach to conflict transformation in Pakistan:
• Recognising that women are often excluded from political processes in Pakistan, and yet are critically important stakeholders in building peace, we supported Aware Girls to increase women’s political participation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Last year, 851 women were reached by activists trained by Aware Girls to encourage greater political participation.
• We supported Aware Girls to continue their innovative and highly effective training of youth activists to engage with young people at risk of radicalisation in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a new programme that began in 2014 supported by Peace Direct, almost 4,000 ‘at risk’ young people were reached by 223 trained youth activists. Different peer education models were used, including study circles, book groups, movie screenings with post-screening discussions, sermons and presentations through mosques, and interactive discussions around the teachings of Islam about peace and pluralism.
In 2015 we will continue to support this successful work as well as assisting Aware Girls to expand their activities in other communities. You can too, by donating.