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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kajal Bheel and Forced Conversions in Pakistan

GHRD is currently working on the case of Kajal Bheel. Kajal is a 12-year-old girl from the Sindh province in Pakistan. On the 21st of October this year, Kajal was home alone with her brother when the perpetrators broke into the family house and abducted Kajal. Her uncle witnessed the incident from across the street but could not intervene as the perpetrators were carrying weapons.

Her parents later found out that their daughter had been forcefully married to one of the perpetrators and tried to lodge a First Investigation Report (FIR). However, the police were unwilling to help them. The family was summoned to the court where man unknown to them handed over a marriage certificate on which Kajal’s name had been changed.

Child marriages and forced conversions are illegal in Pakistan, and minors (people under the age of 18) are not allowed to marry. Because of this Kajal has been ordered by court to take a medical exam to prove that she is 12 years old, despite having a valid birth certificate. The medical exam stated she is 17 (which means she is still a minor). Nevertheless, the judge has decided to apply Sharia law instead of The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act and according to Sharia law, a girl is considered to be an adult as soon as she reaches puberty. Therefore, the court is claiming Kajal is an adult and there is no claim to a legal case, as Kajal has given evidence in court that she wanted to marry the perpetrator. However, there is reason to believe she was pressured to make this statement as the perpetrator was present during the court session.

Kajal’s second court hearing was supposed to be held on December 3rd. However, it was postponed as the judge felt he did not want to deal with the case anymore. The following court hearing was supposed to be held on December 9th. The court hearing was once again postponed until the 19th of December; during which two other similar cases on forced conversions will also take place. At present, Kajal is still with her perpetrators.

Demonstrations and seminars have been held in the Sindh province of Pakistan in order to stand up against forced conversions and child marriages and  raise awareness. Tomorrow, December 10th, demonstrations will be held in Washington D.C. on the same topic.

We have seen many similar cases like the one of Kajal. It is very common for young girls to be the victim of abduction, forceful marriages and religious conversions. The only way to stop this is to put pressure on the national government and encourage them to take action against forced conversions of young girls.


You can sign the petition here: http://ghrd.org/get-involved/petitions/save-kajal/


You can also follow the hash tag #SaveKajal on Facebook and Twitter in order to stay updated. 



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Youth in Action: Power to You(th) training program by Anna Donath, Human Rights intern

Between 30th October and 4th November I participated in a Power to You(th) training course on Youth Empowerment, Employability and Entrepreneurship. The training was organized for youth workers and youth leaders working directly with young people. It took place in Beaufort, Luxemburg, a small village in the beautiful region called “Little Switzerland” which is approximately 30km away from Luxembourg City. The training was organized by the Luxembourg National Agency and the 21 participants represented 15 different countries (Austria, Croatia, Check Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Turkey


       



Power to You(th) aimed to provide youth workers and youth leaders with creative, adaptable tools and the inspiration to facilitate youth empowerment and to promote entrepreneurship and employability of young people. We explored the tool of Youth Exchanges as part of the Erasmus+ programme to be able to use it in our work to inspire and empower young people to actively participate in society.

                                       

Using non-formal education methods and activities (such as outdoor work, experiential learning, and theatre and community interaction), this training aimed at creating an inspiring, active and creative space for the development of new ideas and exploring possibilities for youth employability and entrepreneurship by focusing on youth empowerment tools. It gave us, the participants, the possibility to discover meaningful roles and develop different tools in our work around youth projects.

                                                                 

We also had the chance to explore – as the locals calls - the City (aka Luxembourg City). We had an amazing walk through the city and thanks to the local participants we learned a lot of the history and culture of Luxembourg. We also had a great dinner there with the Luxembourg National Agency and were treated to the local specialities.

                                    

One of my favourite exercises and memory’s is definitely when we spent a day on exploring the world of Erasmus+ and whether it can be used as a tool for supporting the empowerment process and how youth workers and youth leaders can support young people in this process of reflecting and recording and learning to harness their skills to increase future employability (with the aim that we will be able to create powerful activities and projects with and for young people). To familiarize ourselves  with the whole process of organizing/participating in a Youth Exchange we received the most empowering task in the training. We were randomly assigned groups, received a  map of the neighbouring forests, lunch bags and an exercise of coming up with an imaginary person (complete with a detailed socio-economic description) and to take that person with us for a small hiking tour.

                                                                  

During the tour each group had to discuss each level of the process of a Youth Exchange project (getting informed, applying, organizing, participating and reflecting on a Youth Exchange project). We were walking in the most beautiful, fairy tale like forest for 4 hours and created a whole story. Not just about the imaginary person and her experiences, but we also created an imaginary Youth Exchange program, with actual training plan, with the budget and its objectives. But overall the hiking tour was more than a training exercise. The peaceful environment, the beauty of the nature gave us new perspectives and provided a perfect situation for self-reflection.

                                                   


Overall the training was a big success, not only  did I gain new knowledge, skills and experiences but also made new friends and professional partners for future projects.

                                       


Monday, December 8, 2014

GHRD Report: Youth in Action: Keep Active and Change your Life, Puente Genil, Spain by Syd Boyd, Communications Intern

In October 2014, I attended a week long training for Youth in Action in Puente Genil, Spain. The training was called “Keep Active and Change your Life” and was organised by the Spanish NGO Camaleon Rojo. The aim of the course was to empower European youth by providing greater understanding of the European job market, as well as methods to approach the job-hunting process. The programme was attended by four groups from different nationalities, the Italian team, the Austrian team, the Spanish team, the Polish team, and last but not least, the Dutch Team. Drawing on the resources compiled by teams from five countries, the trainee was provided with a comprehensive understanding of the European job-market and was equipped with skills to deal with the difficulties of securing a career in a difficult economic time. It was a fantastic experience and I feel privileged to have attended. I gained massive cultural experience and learned a lot during the training, and had the opportunity to meet highly motivated and inspirational people.


The training was intensive, starting every day at 08.00 and ending every day at around 22.00. The training consisted of a lot of role-playing and presenting. Main activities included, playing the Stereotypes game, partaking in Cultural Evenings, doing Energizers, defending a point of view, preparing an Interview and a CV, learning about news ways to present a CV such as the Video Curriculum format, and creating a song based on our experiences during the training. All team exercises were highly educational, especially as they involved interacting with people from different cultures with different mind-sets. I found I could deal with it quite well, and felt that despite different cultural approaches, there were basic human similarities that we could lock on to.


Besides activities directly related to the Youth in Action training, we were invited to participate in several cultural outings. Of course, being with so many different cultures was a training in itself, and we learned loads about the various cultures that were represented. Cultural excursions were an important part of the trip. Our first excursion was a visit to the town hall of Puente Genil, to meet with the Mayor. Local journalists were present, and country group leaders were asked to speak about the Youth in Action programme. It was nice to make the Puente Genil newspapers. An excellent part of the trip was the visit to Cordoba, what a fantastic city. It was about 28 degrees, and we spent the day sight-seeing. It was an amazing experience. The city used to be an important part of the Muslim Caliphate, and had impressive Muslim architecture. I was blown away by a mosque we visited, which had been converted to a Christian church. I had never seen anything like it. It was a bizarre mixture of Mosque and Church, with Christian paraphernalia adorning three of the walls, the fourth wall was still covered in Muslim temple art. The vast hall was like some ancient Middle Eastern prayer room, with sand coloured columns a sprawling flagstone floor. The ceiling was very high, and the whole thing looked like a massive desert cave, and very impressive. For the rest of the afternoon we walked through the historic part of the town, as well as the beautiful bridge leading out of Cordoba. A few of us spent a considerable amount of time shopping for souvenirs. It seemed to be no obstacle that pretty much every tourist shop was exactly the same, as we nipped into the next tourist shop available after having just left the first.

In conclusion I found the whole experience tremendously valuable. Meeting the people from the other countries and developing a close relationship with them provided us all with a profound experience of each other’s culture, as well as throwing light on our own culture, and the things we do without thinking about them, as they are supposedly normal. The training was interesting too, as it enabled me to unravel my thoughts about job hunting, as well as passing on some information that had been very helpful to me. The atmosphere was fantastic and reflected in the ongoing Facebook group, which for two weeks after the training is still used as a contact point for participants from all teams, and where all photos are uploaded and further arrangements are made for meeting up in the participant countries. Everyone made a great effort, and people who at the start of the week were having difficulties with English improved in leaps and bounds. It was a pleasure to see people’s confidence and expertise improve in such a short time. Public speaking skills were greatly improved, as everyone was expected to get up in front of the group and present various role playing activities. Initially, some people were considered designated public speakers, but as the programme went on, everyone gained confidence and the skill to present, and present well in English no less. To some the experience was even life changing, as confidence increased and new horizons were delineated. Whereas previously participants had a fixed view of life and how it should be lived, now opportunities were limitless, and not bound by past conditioning. In short, the Youth in Action training programme contributed to the personal freedom of the participants, and as such achieved a worthy goal. I was inspired by the other people I met, as they were all outgoing, positive, and adventurous individuals, who had faced and overcome various challenges in their lives, and had a wide array of skills and pursuits. Certain characteristics I noticed in some of the participants I will emulate, as I was deeply impressed by them. In short, it was a privilege to have been able to attend the Youth in Action training.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust: Goals and Partnerships

I am Sanjesh Dhanja from Karachi, Pakistan. I am currently running an organization called the Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust (PHS) which is based in Karachi. Pakistan Hindu Seva is a non-political, secular, non-profit, non-discriminatory and progressive humanitarian charity organization. PHS strives for the betterment of deprived communities in Pakistan and also provides legal support for different victims affected by human rights violations in all of Sindh. PHS focuses on the rights of women and education of children which are affected to a high extent.  

Minorities in Pakistan are not enjoying their full rights, and are facing many problems. Minorities in Pakistan are being treated as second class citizens. To date we, minorities, are not free and are unable to enjoy our rights. As stated by the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah; You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan ... You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State".

Some of the major problems Hindus in Pakistan facing are: discrimination within the community, land grabbing, lack of education, lack of health facilities, water shortage, unemployment, low wages, child labor, child marriage,  bonded labor, rape cases, forced conversion, the Blasphemy Act and demolition of temples.

I belong to the Hindu community. Being from a minority group in Pakistan and facing discrimination has motivated me to initiate my own organization to work and fight for equal rights.
PHS has been affiliated with Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) since 2012. GHRD has given different trainings on development, communication, strategy planning, advocacy and lobbying.  These trainings have empowered me and the employees of PHS. Positive changes are made on documenting, reporting, reaching out to society, conducting fact findings and lobbying for cases.

I learnt to analyse, verify and monitor and follow up the cases which involve human rights violations . I learnt to summarise case files for websites and other publications, to write articles for the website, newsletters and how to improve communication with international organizations. I learned to write strategy plans, advocacy, lobby and legal assistance cases and a fundraising strategy for my organization.

I have learned many skills during my training which includes skills of communication, fundraising, administration and writing.

I have shared my experience as a Pakistani Hindu with the GHRD team. I have informed them of various social and economic issues that the Hindu community face in Pakistani society. I talk about forced conversion, discriminatory laws, bonded labour which are, among others, some of the most urgent human right issues for Hindus in Pakistan.

My goals were to explore my organization and community work through learning at GHRD. It was great to learn from the GHRD team about communication and reporting. I was given tasks for formulating strategic and fundraising planning as I was unknown to all this and I learnt a lot.

It was good time with the GHRD team at Hague.  It was nice to be a part of this training where I learned a lot which remains helpful to me and my organization. I would also like to say that I expect GHRD to create further opportunities for my organization as well.

I would like to thank GHRD for inviting me to their Head office in the Hague for this eminent training.  I will implement all my learning from GHRD in PHS and continue to use these skills to enhance the effectiveness of PHS.




Monday, September 22, 2014


What does it mean to violate human rights? Do we  know when our rights are violated? If you can answer these questions you probably know that human rights are “the rights a person has simply because he or she is a human being”, which are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Officially, there is a universal consensus about them. Nevertheless, I sincerely doubt whether this universal consensus is put into practice in the world we live in.
As rights and values are defined and limited by cultural perceptions and there is no universal culture which all human beings identify with, denial of universal rights is frequent in our modern multicultural society. Even though we might think that human rights violations do not occur in the countries we live in, the reality is that no single country is left unaffected.
Human rights violations take many forms and are rampant in developing countries, where government corruption is part of everyday life and resources to fulfill the basic rights of the population are scarce. Extreme poverty and insecurity are the common denominators, which make people even more vulnerable. Without options and government protection, they are often treated as less than human beings. For instance, endless human rights abuses in the form of mass atrocity crimes are being perpetrated in countries such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo; prisons with inhuman conditions and strong repression against freedom of expression have been reported in Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela, China, Malaysia and in many African countries; child labor is particularly common in Haiti and chronic gender-based violence in India, where gang-rapes are frequent. Stoning and religious intolerance have been found in the Middle East and in African countries; cases of systematic torture and arbitrary detentions are committed in countries from South-East Asia and Latin America, where the abuse of non-democratic powers also restricts minorities’ rights; modern forms of slavery such as child marriage and bonded labor are widespread, as well as terrorism; the list goes on and on.
However, we should not make the mistake of believing that developed countries are free from all guilt. Global interdependence has engendered human trafficking and human rights abuses by powerful transnational corporations, which are characterized by forced labor and sexual exploitation. And behind these cruel practices, there are always individual perpetrators who authorize the ordeal and ignore the most basic rights of the victims.
But, do human rights violations affect all of us in the same way? Definitely they do not. Since a victim from a developing country is usually exposed to extremely cruel situations in their home regions, accepting the offer of a “better job” abroad – usually in a developed country – is seen as the only escape. But the job is a fantasy. On arrival in the destination country, isolated and with no knowledge of the language, this person can be forced to work under appalling and deplorable conditions; totally at the mercy of the traffickers. If they escape, they usually end begging on the streets, homeless, where they risk dying without anyone noticing their “absence”. On the other hand, a victim from a developed country can see her social, economic and cultural rights limited or even reduced[1]; as a consequence, the present gap between rich and poor people becomes bigger. For instance, this situation is occurring in some Western European countries where the economic crisis has had a strong impact.
Additionally, more and more people have ended begging in the streets; torture of people who have participated in demonstrations by authority forces is also an increasing tendency concerning human rights violations in some developed countries that suffer from the economic crisis; and discrimination based on skin color, gender, religion or even for just being a “poor” person is increasing, which can even turn into violence or aggression. Human rights are alleged to be guaranteed by law, but despite the multitude of international instruments, governments are rarely willing to ensure that those who profit from vulnerable people are punished; and civil society remains passive towards such injustices.
Reflection on human rights abuses from a global approach is therefore more necessary than ever. The interdependent world we live in makes us all responsible for human rights violations (when we buy products from companies that use forced labor; when we do not take action against corruption and violence against women; or when we do not claim for equal opportunities, to mention a few). Even though it is very difficult to eradicate human rights violations, knowing our rights is the first step. The second consists of attacking discrimination, combating poverty, promoting respectful and tolerant education, and providing access to justice for all. We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we live in when we allow such outrageous practices to persist. We cannot deny the fact of the human condition, which encompasses both the unique and common features of every human being, making us all equal on the face of the Earth.
[1] According to the United Nations, “economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to adequate food, to adequate housing, to education, to health, to social security, to take part in cultural life, to water and sanitation, and to work”.


Disclaimer: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Human Rights Defence.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Youth in Action in Spain: Get Transnational!

At the end of June, GHRD’s European Volunter Service (EVS) volunteer, Barbara Mojzes attended a Youth in Action training programme in Spain, targeting transnational youth initiatives within the new Erasmus+ Programme. 




The training organized by Spanish National Agency and took a place in Cercedilla; a picturesque Spanish village just a half an hour ride to Madrid. 24 participants representing various organisations from all around Europe, Turkey and even Nigeria guaranteed the diversity of opinions and perspectives during the whole week.



 The priority of the seminar was to promote European projects through transnational youth initiatives within the framework of Erasmus+ Programme and to establishing platforms for people who are interested in developing youth initiatives focusing on entrepreneurship.




Our trainers were experts on non-formal education and working methods, as all of the training sessions involved games, energizers, simulations and amusing exercises, which created a positive and cheerful atmosphere for further fruitful cooperation.  


In the very beginning of the training, participants got an opportunity to present their organisations and activities during the Project and NGO market. The session gave us an overview of organisations’ focus areas and their capacities. Since the core aim of the training programme was to establish transnational collaboration among various NGOs and set up projects (transnational youth initiatives) that are suitable for future realization.


One of my best memories is definitely the international night organized  during the first evening we spent in Cercedilla. The aim of the night was to present your own traditional cuisine. We had so much fun while tasting various (and sometimes peculiar) foods and drinks from Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, UK, Spain, France, Turkey and the Netherlands.


Following four days of intensive training and project management, we spent a pleasant afternoon in Madrid; the amazing Spanish capital that never sleeps. The timing was perfect since we all needed  some rest and inspiration during the last days of our great journey. So, we enjoyed the sightseeing led by local hosts and delicious dinner as much as possible.


It was not always easy to work with people with different cultural backgrounds and views, but I wanted to cherish this multicultural environment to the fullest. I mean what a boring and dull world it would be without this incredible diversity. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Dalai Lama in Netherlands: Buddhist Teaching and Public Talk in Rotterdam

On 11th May, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most powerful spiritual leaders of the world visited Rotterdam, GHRD's EVS volunteer and intern attended this event.


Barbara Mojzes

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most powerful spiritual leaders of the world gave a thought-provoking public lecture in Rotterdam in front of 11,000 people.

Photo: Jurjen Donkers
The 79-year old Dalai Lama, currently living in exile in India surprised the audience with his down to earth attitude, spontaneity and great sense of humor. Wearing an orange baseball cap during his teachings made the lecture even more enjoyable and reminded us about how often we are concerned about improving our body instead of improving our mind.



As the head of a 500 year old religion, the Dalai Lama was not afraid to connect his beliefs to more modern theories from Quantum Physics in relation to questions of existence and the present time. For example, he spoke about a theory which came up with the possibility that time may not even exist. This is because, he argued, if the present moment we are living in turns into the past every second, and in the same second, the future becomes the present, does the present moment exist at all?



His Holiness then explained the three principal aspects of the Path. These are renunciation (the determination to be free), bodhichitta (the altruistic aspiration for enlightenment) and wisdom. We all, “Dharma Friends, Spiritual Brothers and Sisters” want happiness not suffering, but we need to know how suffering and happiness come about. Suffering is always a result of our own actions and the main reason or all the suffering in the world is ignorance, due to the gap between appearance and reality. It is not  technology, state governments or weapons that are our biggest enemies, but our own selfish attitude and ignorant minds.



Sara Fiorentini

Since I started working for human rights protection, one of the main issues I have had to face is that the more religious authorities influence the social and political choices of a country, the less a real integration between different communities is possible.

It is undeniable, indeed, that religions have a great effect on society as well as the opposite, in a dialectical relationship. I have always believed that religions can find a common ground to peacefully coexist and promote the protection of  fundamental rights which are recognized as intangible precepts. Nevertheless, if we do not contemplate the possibility of creating a neutral structure that allows different religions to express freely and to identify their common features, it seems impossible to state the existence of these universal principles. 


To this end, I was highly inspired by the Dalai Lama’s speech about the possibility to get a human rights-framework that allows different religions to coexist in a peaceful way on the basis of secularism.
He stated that every religion talks about love and compassion, as well as teaching self-discipline because it is fundamental to avoid impulsivity and greed. Therefore, the only difference between religions rests on the way in which they promote love and compassion, that is to say that religions do not contradict each other.

The only way to gain a peaceful coexistence between religions is to build every State’s rules on secular principles able to reflect the fundamental teaching of love that every religion shares. According to this pattern, a tolerant society is possible: a society which rests on moral ethics and promotes both individual and communal values. A State should promote these principles by delegating educational tasks to individuals, families and small communities that when working together, have the capacity to build up a local, national and then international idea of tolerance and mutual respect.


Friday, May 2, 2014

In the voice of: SAWERA

SAWERA was introduced to GHRD by Front Line Defenders, an international organization based in Ireland that was set up in 2001. The organization works to protect human rights defenders, like the staff at SAWERA, who are at risk because of their peaceful and courageous work for the human rights of others in their community. Front Line Defenders provides this protection in many ways including providing security grants to improve human rights defenders' physical protection and conducting security and computer training to strengthen their physical and online security. See www.frontlinedefenders.org for more details.  


GHRD was lucky enough to interview a member of SAWERA in order to learn more about their work. We thank them very much for their time and insightful answers!

- Please explain what SAWERA is and where you work?

SAWERA - the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas, works to promote the equal status of women in the tribal society by helping to foster women's social and political rights. We try to improve the lives of the women in the region by promoting women's literacy and employment and educating people in an attempt to combat domestic violence.

We work in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, known more commonly as FATA, of Pakistan because when the Taliban regime fell in Afghanistan in December 2001, the remaining militants retreated to the FATA in Pakistan in order to regroup. This area is located in northwestern Pakistan, just across the border with Afghanistan, and has a population of approximately 4.1 million. Here the militants challenged the fragile tribal governing system in place in the region and exercised their power and control by brutally targeting innocent civilians and thus diminishing the power of the existing governing system.

A map of Pakistan which highlights the FATA region in red

The Government of Pakistan tried to limit the Taliban with a military operation but it was unsuccessful and the militants were able to extend their activities and move towards the bigger cities located near the FATA. As a result, people began to leave their homes in the region and reside as displaced persons in the outskirts of the district. Civil servants, businessmen and humanitarian workers fled the area as incidents of kidnappings and targeted killings increased.

Not only did the militants reject the incumbent governing system by the tribes in the FATA, they also strongly denied women's rights in the region. Female teachers, doctors and health workers were shot and killed which served to scare women back into their homes. Educational and economic opportunities for women diminished to 0%, with women's involvement in decision making and dispute management processes becoming an unattainable dream. The society became increasingly male-dominated and women were viewed as secondary. This was the real inspiration and motivation for the founding of SAWERA.

SAWERA began by organizing meetings with women on the importance of women's rights and education and went on to open a school to educate the girls whose schools had been destroyed by militants in the Khyber Agency district of the FATA.

- Please explain a bit more about the work SAWERA does?


SAWERA works to promote the equal status of women in this tribal society by helping to foster women's social and political rights. We try to improve the lives of the women in the region by promoting women's literacy and employment and educating people in an attempt to combat domestic violence.

SAWERA began by organizing meetings with women on the importance of women's rights and education and went on to open a school to educate the girls whose schools had been destroyed by militants in the Khyber Agency district of the FATA.



- And what is your role within the organisation?


I work as the security adviser for SAWERA. I manage the level of threat against the organization and respond to any security incidents. My duties include assessing an area from a security perspective before any SAWERA staff travel there. I do this by identifying and mitigating the risks and threats. I design security protocols and procedures to provide protection for SAWERA staff and I deliver safety and security training to protect them. Moreover, I also manage responses to security incidents and deal with the media.

- Please tell us more about the people you work with?


We work to help the female half of the population in this rigid, tribal society where there is a strong militant hold. This half of the population have been consistently ignored by tribal administrative authorities since the country was founded in 1947 and since the 2001 influx of militants from Afghanistan, the situation for women and children has become much worse.

In 2008, under the control of militants, dozens of new sanctions against women were introduced in the FATA region, for example they introduced the rule that women were not allowed to go outside unless they were accompanied by a male member of their family. If a woman was found to be breaking this rule she would be severely punished. The Taliban groups based in the North and South Waziristan districts of the FATA announced that women were not allowed to apply for a CNIC card – the National Identity Card, which is compulsory for opening bank accounts, applying for a passport and almost all substantial monetary transactions, such as buying cars, land and other assets. They also insisted that women wear the burqa (traditional scarf).


- What do you think are the biggest challenges and problems that women face in FATA?


Violence against women and honor killings are two burning issues for women in the tribal region, coupled with the fact that the power to challenge these issues lies with the leading male figures in society, to whom women are invisible. There are no institutions or mechanisms for women to submit complaints about their abusers. There are no women's courts in the tribal area.

Furthermore, before the war against terror in Afghanistan, the female literacy rate in the FATA region was 3%. However, when the Taliban retreated from Afghanistan, and entered the FATA, they started pushing their own agenda, demolishing many girl’s schools, claiming that these schools were providing secular education. Then, for fear of more demolitions and bomb blasts, the remaining schools for girls closed. These factors combined to further reduce the levels of literacy and female education in the region which is the third biggest challenge.

SAWERA has worked hard to improve the lives of girls and women

- Please explain some of the innovative projects you have implemented


SAWERA has implemented a wide range of programs in the FATA since its inception in 2004. Women Protection Groups were set up in an effort to protect women from violence, harassment and to engage them in peace-building, non-violent activities. For the first time in the country's history, women and girls are being involved in security mapping and peace-building initiatives. These groups identify unsafe places within their communities and they subsequently go on to link-up with government and non-government institutions for the provision of support on the bases of their identified security issues.


SAWERA also implements an Open Intervention Program to build the capacity of local community based organizations (CBOs) for women in the FATA. This program incorporates diverse training events on the approaches to development in order to enhance the capacity of CBOs in building an understanding about the obstacles that inhibit people, governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations from realizing their developmental goals. These trainings also enhance the CBOs strengths so that they will achieve measurable and sustainable results. This project has facilitated some 30 village-level CBOs to date, with many participants now serving as social activists in their communities, facilitating ongoing developments. 

SAWERA also provides IT (Information Technology) training for women in the FATA. These trainings have provided the participants with skills required for employment, and some have gone on to secure jobs in government institutions, earning a source of income for their families.


- What are the main issues that SAWERA faces?


SAWERA is operating programs in the FATA, one of the most dangerous regions in the world for human rights work and in particular women's rights work.

In June 2012, Farida Afridi, one of the founders of SAWERA, told journalists that she was receiving threatening messages from an anonymous source. These messages told her to stop her work for women's rights and to stop her open criticism of the Pakistani government, the Taliban militants and the male-dominated structure of Pakistani society. In July 2012, whilst leaving her house to go to work, Farida was shot once in the head and twice in the neck by two men on a motorcycle. Later that day, she died in hospital.

Additionally, in 2013, the SAWERA office was bombed, thankfully nobody was injured, but there was a lot of structural damage to the infrastructure. The militants continue to threaten us, demanding that we cease our work for women's empowerment and the promotion of women's rights. The threats still exist, each and every day for us.     

- What do you think SAWERA needs in order to work more effectively?


Funding is key. At present we are operating with limited resources and we do not have adequate funds to provide financial support to victims of the violence. Ideally we would like to have the resources to manage investigation visits within the country as well as rest and respite visits out of the country for staff members who are attacked or under severe stress. Additional funding would also be useful to help us in relocating our office to a safer location so that the space could have the dual-purpose of being an office and a safe-house for staff and families in emergency situations.

- Why do you think international support is important to an organisation like SAWERA?


International recognition acts as an encouragement to the staff of SAWERA. By recognizing the importance of the work we are doing to promote women's rights the international community gives us strength. It also serves to spread the news that such marginalization and discrimination exists in the FATA and hopefully this can lead to more support for these women.

Earlier this year SAWERA won the 10th Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. This was an international acknowledgement that despite the risks and the losses we have faced, the international community is aware of our work and recognizes our courage. It was also an opportunity to extend our global network and to meet with people who will further support the work of SAWERA. 


SAWERA has some global partners including Safe World For Women, Women’s WorldWide Web (W4) and Asian Girl Campaign, who all highlight the importance of SAWERA's work globally.  

- Where does SAWERA see itself in 5 years?


It is our goal in SAWERA for the female literacy rate to be increased by 50% in the coming five years. We also hope for peace in the region, as once peace is restored both boys and girls will be able to go to school safely and happily. As we continue to work to change people's attitudes in the tribal society we hope that they will learn to accept the equal status of women and be open to women's empowerment.
The strength of the women in the region will grow and this will resolve some of the issues women are facing, allowing them to exercise power in areas of decision making in the coming years.

Ultimately, peace is of utmost importance for women in the region to exist in an environment that will allow them to realize their rights. 



Photos courtesy of SAWERA

Disclaimer: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Human Rights Defence.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Youth In Action: on the edge – inclusion across borders

by Karin Sternäng


Earlier this month, GHRD’s Human Rights Intern, Karin Sternäng visited Azerbaijan to learn more about social inclusion as part of a Youth in Action Project.


The training programme, 'on the edge - inclusion across borders' was organized by the European Intercultural Forum in cooperation with a local organization from Azerbaijan called Bridge to the Future. 30 participants representing 24 youth and human rights organisations attended the event and came from a diverse range of countries including The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Latvia, Spain, Italy, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Moldova. The aim of the training was to raise the issue and awareness level of the social exclusion of young people. This was done through non-formal methodology consisting of discussions, workshops and role-plays. With so many different organizations present, the training also served as an excellent platform to learn from each other’s experiences and to form new partnerships.


The subjects discussed during the training course included the definition of exclusion, solutions to exclusion, identity issues, youth participation and identifying the specific problems that youth in Europe experience in relation to exclusion. An exciting aspect of the training was to see how the group developed throughout the week. Due to the fact that participants were from so many different countries and backgrounds, it took us a while to reach a common ground where we could understand each other, our common issues and interests and feel comfortable as a group. By the end of the week however, we had developed a strong group dynamic.


On one of the training days we went on an excursion to the nearby city of Ganja, which has been awarded the European Youth Capital 2016. It was there we met with representatives from the European Youth Capital Committee and the Municipality who informed us about the application process of becoming a European Youth Capital and what Ganja can expect over the next few years in regards to this award. The training itself was set in the beautiful surroundings of  the national park of Togana, which is located in the north west of Azerbaijan. This peaceful venue was great for the training but unfortunately it was too disconnected from reality; if it hadn’t have been for the great Azeri food they cooked us, we would not have known we were in Azerbaijan! However, as I had never been to the Caucasus before nor to a country where the limitation of freedoms is so evident. My travel partner and I had booked our flight so that we would have an extra 4 days to explore Azerbaijan on our own. Azeri people are extremely friendly; they were all very helpful in situations where we were a bit lost or in need of help. Although Azerbaijan is a wealthy, resource-rich country, this is not something you can understand from walking through the streets as corruption is ever present in daily life. The reality of the political and social situation in Azerbaijan serves as a bitter truth to its people and judging from the friends we made in Baku, sadly none of them feel hope that change will come or that they could play a part in starting a social or political movement in the near future.

İçəri Şəhər. The "inner city"/old city of Baku
Overall, the training was successful in bringing awareness to the problem of social exclusion. We were made aware of the many different situations of exclusion that youth in our countries face on a daily basis and what this in turn can lead to for the individuals and groups affected. Having said that, the other participants and I felt that the discussion had stayed at a very a-political level and that we still lacked a deeper level of analysis of the problems.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the European Intercultural Forum and Bridge to the Future for the invitation, organizing the training and for a great week in Azerbaijan.


For more information on GHRD’s upcoming projects and training events check our website (www.ghrd.org) or contact our education department (education@ghrd.org).

Disclaimer: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Human Rights Defence.