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Speaking up

November 9, 2011

The Leadership for Environment and Development Pakistan has organized a workshop to promote gender equality and say that the involvement of men in gender discourse is crucial to end violence against women in Pakistan.

For many Pakistani women, talking about gender issues is not an easy thing
For many Pakistani women, talking about gender issues is not easyImage: ap

Noor Bano, a 16-year-old resident of Malangabad, a remote village in the Khairpur district of the Sindh province, believes that convincing men to treat women as equals is a Herculean task. Despite that, Bano is of the opinion that men should be involved in the quest for gender equity.

The real change

For a girl with a poor and underprivileged background, it is not easy to talk about gender issues. Bano's newly acquired consciousness about women's rights is a result of a six-month-long training program conducted by the Leadership for Environment and Development Pakistan (LEAD), a non-profit organization working to influence poverty alleviation through leadership and capability enhancement programs in the country. The LEAD workshop focused on rural and unschooled girls from low-income communities to educate them about their rights.

Pakistan's leading human rights organizations report widespread gender discrimination in the country
Rights organizations report widespread gender discrimination in PakistanImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Bano is one of the 22 girls selected for this training. "Real change will only come when the girls are able to convey lessons from their training to all the men in the village," said Bano. Other girls too believe that they have learned valuable lessons from their training.

Patriarchal Pakistan

However, this is not an easy task in a male-dominated Pakistani society. Women in Pakistan are generally not allowed to discuss their problems with men. Pakistan's leading human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, report widespread gender discrimination and domestic violence in the country.

Ali Tauqir Sheikh, chief executive officer of LEAD Pakistan, believes that investing in young girls is the right thing to do. "We believe that investing in these young girls will result in high returns. They are the ones who do most of the chores like rearing the livestock, gathering water and firewood, and looking after young siblings," said Sheikh.

Sensitization of men

Pakistani women rally on International Women's Day in Karachi
Pakistani women rally on International Women's Day in KarachiImage: AP

Farzana Bari, Pakistan's rights activist and director of the Gender Studies Department at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, is of the view that though it is vital to work with women of all ages, it is better to start with the younger girls, as gender ideologies are indoctrinated at an early age. "The elderly women, the ones who have internalized the patriarchal ideology, can also unlearn certain things about gender roles. The gender studies programs in Pakistan’s public sector universities are focusing on this very aspect: how to make men and women unlearn the myths about gender," Bari told Deutsche Welle.

About the role of men in minimizing gender discrimination, Bari is of the opinion that men can be ''partners in the quest…Men should be working as partners to end violence against women. It is about humanity. You can change men. I do believe that even in the Pakistani society, which is very feudal and patriarchal, men can be sensitized and play a significant role." Bari adds, the important thing is "to work with them and make them aware about issues of masculinity and social justice."

Though more and more people are becoming aware of women's right issues in Pakistan, Bari thinks it will take a while for things to really change.

Author: Shamil Shams (IPS)
Editor: Sarah Berning