Visitors from Pakistan at CSI

By Saba Ismail of Aware Girls

On September 01st 2017, Aware Girls hosted a group of visitors from Pakistan under the State Department“International Visitors Leadership Program”. The theme of the event was “Countering Gender Based Violence Through Coalition Building”.

Jaana Rehnstrom, the Kota Alliance President welcomed the group and discussed their work to raise awareness of gender inequality and to empower women and girls locally and abroad.  The Kota Alliance  provides working space in collaboration with the Women’s Lab of CSI (Centre for Social Innovation in NYC) ‘for female social entrepreneurs and women’s organizations to co-operate, and to have access to resources, services and tools.

The founder of Project Liberation, Ivy Woolf Turk told the audience about the challenges women face being incarcerated and life after prison. 90% of incarcerated women have faced abuse and more than 60% have faced conventional domestic violence, but there are no rehabilitation programs for these women and therefore Project Liberation -workshops offer a fusion of life coaching, arts based intervention, yoga, meditation and other healing modalities for women in prison and for the recently released. Project Liberation activities assist women in building solid foundations empowering them to see themselves as whole, not broken, and helping them to adapt to a law-abiding life guided by authentic goals and desires.

Jonathan Kalin, the Founder of Party With Consent addressed the role of men in ending gender based violence. Party with Consent is “a movement that facilitates dialogue about sexual violence prevention through events and education”. Kalin encouraged the audience to challenge the current norms pertaining to masculinity to end gender based violence.

Aware Girls addresses gender based violence and challenges that women and girls face in Pakistan and in the U.S.A. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan the tribal and feudal traditions and attitudes against women are deeply rooted in culture, which is highly discriminatory towards the women, who often face the human rights violations. In Pakistan women’s sphere is the household, restricting them from leaving their houses and isolating them from society –  from the schools, market, universities, business and politics. How does all this relate to the USA? According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence, in the U.S.A, “41 – 61% of Asian women report experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime and three women are killed every day by an intimate partner (in the U.S.A). Discrimination towards the women must be challenged not only in the developing world but in the western countries as well. Throughout the world.

 In Pakistan, I had a dream that every girl be able to live her life to her fullest potential without gender becoming a barrier to it. So, to bring the changes I wanted to see in the lives of girls we started a campaign to educate girls about their rights and to give them leadership skills, so that they can speak up for their rights in their families, and can be the agents of change in their communities. We established an organization called AWARE GIRLS which is led by young women and girls, and which aspires to empower young women and girls so that they can have equal access to education, employment, sports, social services and decision making.

Aware Girls is combating violence against women by sensitization, making women to stand up for themselves for the violence they face. To accomplish their goal, Aware Girls is educating girls, establishes Girl Power clubs, mobilizes communities by using digital media, by communicating with policy makers, engaging men and providing a helpline counseling to enable women to reach the services they need, such as shelter, medical aid, legal aid, education and entrepreneurship services. In Pakistan Aware Girls is advocating for laws against domestic violence through a Charter of Demand developed in consultation with women and girls.

A few stories illustrate our work:

Tasleema, a factory worker, joined the Human Rights Education Program of Aware Girls, when giving birth to her 3rd daughter, but was extremely angry as she wanted to have a son. After attending the program Tasleema understood all genders being equally good.

Sadaf, before participating in Aware Girls program treated her daughters earlier in an unequal manner. After attending Aware Girls program, Sadaf changed her unequal attitudes and manners towards her own daughters.

Maryam stood up for herself when harassed publicly and took the male harasser to the police station.

When I arrived in New York, I saw the gender norms being persistent and thereafter I committed myself for the work to challenge patriarchy in New York as well. In Brooklyn, some girls and women face challenges such as not allowed to do internships, not allowed to use public transport and many girls facing domestic violence. Therefore we want to expand the work of Aware Girls to New York.

To advocate women’s rights, Aware Girls is part of global discussion networks and committees related to gender issues. The organization is also taking part to different United Nations -related commissions on gender equality issues. I have participated in the UN Commission on Status on Women, UN Commission on Population and Development, and UN’s High Level Political Forum and many other High Level Events in the United Nations. I have been fortunate to be invited to take part to global discussions and advocating for women’s rights.

 All human beings regardless of their gender born free, and with equal dignity. Bravery is not about controlling women and about violence - bravery is about accepting the equal human status of other human being, bravery is about speaking up for the violation of human rights.