Pakistani human rights activist Gulalai Ismail set up Aware Girls when she was just 16-years-old to empower women and girls in her country. Members are trained in how to ignite other young women’s political engagement and spread peace in the region. The board is chaired by women and girls, and the management itself is entirely female-led. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for her work in female education when she was just 15, attended the group in 2011.
In May 2015 none of the 50,000 eligible women in the constituency of Lower Dir in Pakistan turned out to vote. One report said mosques had broadcast warnings to women, and polling stations were guarded by “baton-wielding men” who blocked the few women who did attend. The established political parties’ vested interest in maintaining the status quo means traditional gender roles remain deeply embedded.
Aware Girl’s Women’s Political Leadership Program was set up to counter the disenfranchisement of women in the community. Teaching young women how to carry out surveys in their districts about women’s experiences is the group’s key tool. Gathering the information about real-life experiences means the group can target the most needed areas. Often this will be done through holding meetings in the community, crucially with both men and women, to inform people about the real need for women to be involved in politics. Campaigns also take place using different forms of media such as radio and film. Each year the project runs special radio programmes from Women’s Day in Pakistan – right through to International Women’s Day.
Young volunteers are also involved in preventing indoctrination and radicalisation. Peace educators visit villages, towns and schools, and identify and dissuade those likely to join extremist groups. There are tutorials to spread the word, and one-to-one mentoring sessions that may last weeks until a young man or woman changes their opinions. With the project and its founder Gulalai Ismail winning the Commonwealth Youth Award in 2014, and receiving recognition from Michelle Obama, this grassroots project is fast becoming a big hitter on a global stage.
Gulalai Ismail, Founder