Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
The WELDD workshops saw quite the impact in Pakistan. Women who had participated in the programme saw their feminist capacity strengthened to new heights, bringing resounding change in the society around them in various parts of northern Pakistan. From local protests to personal advocacy to conflict resolution, these women were able to stand up and make their voices heard.
For example, in the village of Qubo Saeed Khan in Sindh, there had only ever been one middle school for girls, but it had been closed down years ago. And then in August 2013, WELDD women leaders mobilized, having now learned of the sheer strength of their personal and collective capacities. They staged a protest against the inaction of the reigon’s education department and the school’s administration, and were widely succcesful. This school is now open again, with 120 girls now attending as students.
Alongside that is the story of Naseem Rauf, a remarkable woman who has faced unimaginable trials, but has come out not only stronger but radiating courage. Naseem, mentioned earlier on the WELDD portal, was born to domestic abuse, and had it follow her well into her marriage. However, through WELDD she found the capacity to fight her situation and become an activist and a woman leader who fights for others going through situations similar to hers. She is the leader of Sujhal Sawera (New Dawn), part of the Purple Women Movement in Punjab’s Mehmud Kot province.
When Naseem heard that a woman was being victimized by domestic violence in her district, she immediately led the young leaders of Purple Voices (WELDD Leaders), all clad in their purple chadors, to the survivor’s house. This woman had just been beaten up again, and Naseem and the Purple Voices group condemned her husband and sister-in-law, both of whom were responsible for tormenting her. The young leaders at once intervened and seized the aggressors.
They then met with the survivor’s parents and the larger extended family to advocate on the girl’s behalf. They discussed the matter with the family, explaining how this mindset and treatment is harmful. Initially, even the woman’s parents had presumed that the girl must have done something wrong, but after having these conversations were convinced of her innocence. The woman’s in-laws were persuaded to never victimize her again, and she now lives without the threat of violence always looming above her. She has continued to live with her husband, but this time, her husband knows that his wife has a multitude at her backing.
This is just one of the many cases Naseem Rauf has taken under her wing in the sphere of violence against women, and domestic violence in particular. Together with the young women of purple voices, armed with their purple chadors, these women have been robust advocates for gender based justice in their region.
Then, in 2013, a woman married a man of her own choosing is the Marguzhar Hill Station of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a family dispute arose as a result. This is an area where honor killings are not unheard of, an area where the honor of a family and sometimes the whole community is inexorably linked with its women. If women do not strictly observe the socially restrictive practices that safeguard the perceived notions of honor, they deserve punishment, and vengeance for bringing shame to the family. This is a country where nearly 500 women are murdered in cold blood every year under the guise of avenging the family’s honour. It’s one of the many forms of culturally-justified violence, and it takes away the woman’s agency to choose her partner in marriage. Those who do marry on their own choosing are, more often than not, killed on this pretext—which would have been the fate of this women, had WELDD leaders Harram and Rukhshana not intervened.
Through Harram and Rukhshana’s advocacy, which they had strengthened after the WELDD workshops, the woman was able to go ahead with the marriage and now lives happily and safely with her husband.
The WELDD trainings were also useful in educating participants about Pakistani politics. In November 2013, the trainings in Burewala, Punjab, inspired one participant, Mehreen, file her nomination papers for the next local body election. She learned a lot from the Leadership Module-2 training on ‘State, Democracy, and Human Rights’, where before she, like many others only understood of politics that they were complicated issues beyond their reach. Mehreen is hopeful that she will get the right support from other women, and is thankful to WELDD and Shirkat Gah for such useful and effective training. Her new knowledge and information have enabled her to understand women’s role in politics, and how to engage.
One of the participants said, “we have realized that politics are directly connected to our lives, and if we continue to sit back and not do anything, we will continue to have darkness in our lives and in the lives of other women of our country. Therefore, we will continue our effort and putting our input in mainstream politics to advance the development of the country.”
It is gratifying indeed to see these pockets of success. With the right support, they will not only grow and multiply, and bring about the sort of landmark changes to the lives of women that we are seeing today.