What's happening now?
In Pakistan, attacks in schools, universities and polling stations continued to disrupt education and democracy. The 2018 parliamentary elections were marred by violence: armed groups attempted to disrupt the elections, and suicide attacks and strikes killed hundreds of people. Although women and people from religious minorities have had the right to vote since the foundation of the state, being able to vote is a different story, with intimidation still occurring across the country and people being prevented from voting.
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.
Armed groups have great influence over social and political life, and often actively recruit in schools and madrassas. Young people are particularly vulnerable to recruitment.
Standing up to violence, standing for elections
Aware Girls supports a cohort of 28 people in their ‘Youth Peace Network’ (YPN) to provide training on peacebuilding and countering violence and violent ideologies in their communities. As a result of the training, the 28 members developed action plans for engaging the community in their peacebuilding work and went on to implement four study circles, two inter-faith dialogues, two peace education sessions in local schools in Swabi, and a music academy, reaching over 150 young people.
In 2018 Aware Girls organised five dialogues in universities and colleges in Swabi, bringing students together to discuss non-violence in academic institutions, reaching a further 435 young people.
The dialogues we support have had impressive results in changing young people’s attitudes towards dealing with conflict. When Aware Girls spoke to participants before and after the project, it was clear that the work had a real and positive influence on their attitudes towards violence and perceptions of peacebuilding. Here are a few ways that the work we support in Pakistan is opening doors to greater understanding of the options for turning away from violent ideologies.
In 2018, the ‘Young Women’s Network for Good Governance’ was set up by 23 Aware Girls graduates to promote women’s participation in political and public life. During the year the Network engaged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to advocate for accessible polling stations, female polling staff, awareness around women’s right to vote, and increasing their electoral participation. As Shumaila shares in her own words, the training led to an increase in confidence and self-esteem in participants:
In their words: Shumaila's Story*
My name is Shumaila. I am 24 years old and I am a nursing student. I come from Sherpao village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. As a young woman, I am passionate about my community’s issues. I have seen too few women represented in community decision-making and development. However, I didn’t have the confidence and skills to become active in the civic and political life of my community.
After I participated in training with Aware Girls my confidence grew. I gained new skills and decided to join a political party with the aim of working for the welfare of women. My parents weren’t going to let me do this, however after much persuasion they agreed. I joined a political party and started using my new skills in peer education and community mobilisation to reach out to other women.
On the day of the 2018 general election, I realised that women were not going to polling stations. I had to do something about this, so I booked four vehicles and started going to every home to ask women to come out to vote with me. I continued this for hours and kept on taking women out to vote. I didn’t count the exact number of women; however, I must have mobilised and enabled hundreds of women to go to the polls to vote on Election Day.
*Name changed and photos representative for security reasons.
Photo: Daniel Berehulak