Feminist heroes create a generation of women’s rights champions

In 2019 our partner in Pakistan, Aware Girls, came face to face with the government crackdown on civil society organisations that has increasingly enveloped the country. Yet in spite of the toxic and repressive environment confronting them, they continued to speak out against the failures of the state to act against injustices like forced marriage and gang rape. In May, we saw the crux of government anger against these activities, when Aware Girls co-founder, Gulalai Ismail, came under direct attack and was forced into hiding, eventually fleeing the country. 

In Pakistan, a Feminist Hero Is Under Fire and on the Run

Feminist heroes create a generation of women’s rights champions

In 2019 Aware Girls were able to champion women’s participation in politics and elections, making impressive strides in their advocacy and community awareness work. They identified officials working for the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP) they could best work with for policy change in favour of female representation, and in response to sustained pressure from Aware Girls and other women’s rights activists, the ECP deployed female staff in polling stations, and the Electoral Law was implemented. This is a major step in women’s participation and inclusion – made possible by our partner’s sustained efforts in a challenging environment. Now, for an election to be considered valid, at least 10% of voters, and 5% of electoral seats must be women.

As well as shaping policy reform, Aware Girls’ work during the year led to a change in attitudes at the local level around women’s participation and inclusion, through 12 community awareness meetings.

Believe political parties have adequate female representation

  • 64% Before the training

  • 16% After the training

Believe women should have the right to vote

Believe women’s participation is crucial in strengthening democracy

In the tribal areas of Pakistan, women have been denied a voice for centuries. Aware Girls work in the conservative and male-dominated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where women and girls are deprived of a basic education and even healthcare. Before 2019, they had no female representatives to stand up for them. But during the year, Aware Girls’ training and advocacy changed things. 28 young women in the region received training in campaigns, aimed at influencing the attitudes of the community and policy makers. The group has used their new skills to convince their communities and policymakers to take up their important message, and in March 2019, mobilised 150 people to participate in a Women’s March in Peshawar to raise awareness on these goals.

Even more significantly, Naheed Afridi, a member of Aware Girls’ Citizens Committee, became the first woman to contest provincial elections in Khyber in 2019. She was successful in winning a district seat with the Awami National Party. It is not common for women to be in public spaces and engage with men in this region, let alone to ask for their vote, but Naheed changed this. Her campaign was an inspiration to other women, while raising awareness about the importance of voting for all.

“I want to be an inspiration for the neglected women of the tribal areas”

- Naheed Afridi

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