In Pakistan grassroots change comes by women, for womenBy Asif Raza, World Vision Pakistan, senior communications officer
Without education, many women in Pakistan can only earn an income by working in the fields. Although women are paid less for the same work that men do, women often feel pressure to financially support their large families and have few recourses to change their situation. To raise awareness of basic rights, particularly among women and girls, World Vision Pakistan began an advocacy project in 17 villages. Staff trained people in how to contribute to the development of their villages by forming community-based organisations and registering them with the government.
As the community-based organisations began to form, children’s groups also formed to raise awareness of children’s rights. In one group, children decided to start a campaign to address the issue of education, especially for girls.
Thirteen-year-old Bushra, a member of the children’s group, reached out to the one person in her village who was able to teach others. Seventeen-year-old Shazia was the only female in her village to complete secondary school because the education of girls was taboo in her village. She agreed to help, since only four of the 93 women in her village could read.
With the support of their families and elders, the two girls formed the Adult Literacy Center for women, with a focus on mothers. Shazia agreed to teach without any financial compensation because she was motivated to see change in her community.
Fifteen women now attend the center, many bringing their small children with them to learn. They spend more than two hours a day learning English, Urdu (national language of Pakistan) and mathematics.
“We want to bring change to society,” said Shazia. “World Vision has provided us a platform to accomplish our goals and ensure that every woman has equal rights.” A regular student at the center, 22-year-old Shehnaz Bibi said, “It’s a matter of pride for me that I can now write my name instead of simply using a thumb-print for my identity.” Sughra Bibi, 25, says she can now read road signs while travelling: “Prior to this, when we were en route to any other village, we remained unaware about the locations and sometimes bus drivers dropped us off at the wrong locations.”
Shazia now teaches her cousin, who was previously unable to advocate for a fair wage in cotton picking because she was unable to read. “Now, she will be able to read and write and no one can snub her rights. That is an achievement for me,” she said. World Vision Pakistan believes that a lack of services is not the only hindrance to development. Community members must first overcome cultural practices and attitudes to help their communities understand the obstacles they face and how to resolve them.