International Women’s Day

Every day around the world, women suffer and lives are destroyed because of war.

But this is only half the story.

This International Women’s Day we share some inspiring stories of women taking bold action in their communities to stop war, stand up for women’s rights, and build a more peaceful future – for everyone.

 

 Supporting women’s rights and helping young men turn away from violence: the life’s work of Saba Ismail in Pakistan

“When I was 12 years old I had a cousin my age who was told she had to get married to a man almost 15 years older than her. Her only option was to drop out of school. I knew it was wrong but I could do nothing to stop it. It was a really painful experience.

In my hometown in Pakistan, there were women working for UNICEF who were role models for my sister Gulalai and I. We would go and meet these women and listen to them. They inspired us to stand up for rights as women, and speak out for the rights of others.

Then in 2002, we set up our own organisation, Aware Girls, to enable girls to stay in school. Over the years we have been working to increase the political participation of young women. We also educate women on their rights, on peace and the effect of conflict on women.

In 2009 we met a woman whose 13 year old son was recruited to join a militant group. He went to Afghanistan without even informing his parents. His mother received his dead body after a few months.

That was the moment when we understood what was wrong. We go into camps where boys like this live, and to places occupied by the Taliban and militant groups to stop this.

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“When I was 12 years old I had a cousin my age who was told she had to get married to a man almost 15 years older than her. Her only option was to drop out of school. I knew it was wrong but I could do nothing to stop it. It was a really painful experience.

In my hometown in Pakistan, there were women working for UNICEF who were role models for my sister Gulalai and I. We would go and meet these women and listen to them. They inspired us to stand up for rights as women, and speak out for the rights of others.

Then in 2002, we set up our own organisation, Aware Girls, to enable girls to stay in school. Over the years we have been working to increase the political participation of young women. We also educate women on their rights, on peace and the effect of conflict on women.

In 2009 we met a woman whose 13 year old son was recruited to join a militant group. He went to Afghanistan without even informing his parents. His mother received his dead body after a few months.

That was the moment when we understood what was wrong. We go into camps where boys like this live, and to places occupied by the Taliban and militant groups to stop this.

The journey of working for peace in Pakistan

So throughout these years we have been working in different thematic areas: on the political participation of young women, on addressing gender based violence, working on sexual and reproductive rights, working on peace, working on the economic empowerment of women and supporting women who have been affected by conflict. We have been going into the camps they have been living in, places that had been occupied by the Taliban and militant groups.

Back in 2009 Gulalai and I were the only ones doing this. It was just the two of us and a driver. We went into those communities and worked with women because we wanted to advocate that the humanitarian response has to be gender sensitive, and we wanted to document it in the form of real stories from women who experienced these problems.

From working on all these issues we have learned a lot. We have worked with thousands and thousands of young people, so of course it really is an amazing journey.

Resisting oppression

My father always taught us you have to resist against oppression. We have learned from him because all these years he has been resisting injustice. He never gave up on his values, he never gave up on his beliefs. I think that is what he transferred to me and Gulalai.

The most important issue for us is to believe in the power of young people, and young women especially. Men can get funds very easily compared to organisations led by young women. So we are breaking the barriers of women being in leadership positions – not yet accepted by our society.

There’s a lot of public harassment by men in our society – harassment in universities, in colleges, everywhere. Aware Girls was the first young woman-led organisation in Pakistan, and it takes a lot of courage and confidence to continue. You have to be ready for all the negative reactions and be ready with your strategies…how you’re going to prove that yes, young women do have the capacity and they do have the expertise. They are not just talking, but they have a real impact.

Sustaining hope

What sustains me is seeing that things are working, when we see that there are people whose lives have changed.  It is incredible to realise that I am able to prevent just one person from joining a militant group. Or seeing one woman that I’ve helped and she is now out of that misery or out of that situation, she is now an independent woman, she is a free woman. Even though we have faced a lot of challenges, that gives us courage and strength.”

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Nimo's story

“My Name is Nimo and I am 20 years old. I was born in Kismayo, Somalia.  When I was young I went to school. I managed to reach intermediate level before my parents could no longer afford it.

It is difficult for my family to cover all our expenses. My mother is responsible for the family living costs. She runs a small fruit and vegetable business in the main market but we struggle.

In October last year, I heard about a skills training project being run by a local organisation. I applied and was delighted to be admitted to the tailoring course.

Since I joined SADO’s skills training project, great change has taken place in my life. Not only was I learning new skills but was earning $60 per month.

For the first time in my life, money and my skills came together. The life of my family has also changed, and even in the community my respect is growing. I am considered a professional female that can deal with the male dominated activity of tailoring.”

Read more stories of women in Somalia

 

 

 

“Women have a unique ability to build bridges and to overcome differences between opposing communities.

Women are not only victims of conflict, they are drivers of peace. Women’s voices must be heard if peace is to last.”  

-Gulalai Ismail, award winning peacebuilder in Pakistan

 

 

Momi’s story: empowering young women in Pakistan

Momi Gul is a young law student in Pakistan. She speaks out for the meaningful participation of women in the peacebuilding process.

Momi became part of the Youth Peace Network organisation by a local peace organisation called Aware Girls. She began encouraging young women to take part in peace processes at the grassroots level.

Momi says, “Women makes half of the country’s population, our failure to bring peace in our communities stems from the exclusion of women from the peacebuilding processes. Peace can be made possible only when women take an equal part in it”.

Momi Gul organises informal training workshops for girls in her University Hostel and in her community. In these she brings young women together to help them understand the process of building peace in their homes, neighbourhoods and communities.

The young women learn about non-violence, tolerance and pluralism. Through these workshops Momi Gul is empowering other young women to get involved in peace, claim their rights and stand up for what they believe in.

 

Photo: Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/Aware Girls

 

 “I  learnt that peace is not possible if women are not able to enjoy their rights. In the bi-elections in our village I mobilised my mother to cast vote.

Our whole family was against females voting but I took a stand and thus my mother became the first women of our family who casted her vote.”

Jahanagir, young male who attended training on women’s rights and non-violence in Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

This International Women’s Day, how will you stand up for women building peace? 

 

 

Photo: Aware Girls

 

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