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Success Stories

Deo Multan Request To Work In His Area

District Officer Education Riaz Khan visited Aawaz Aghi Center 18MR on the occasion of Open Hearing organized by Aawaz District Forum Multan on September 17th 2016. Mr Saeed Ullah (Secretary Social Services Aawaz UC Forum 18MR) introduces the working of UC forum for women & excluded groups empowerment and raising voices for accountability.

Mr Khan took interest and asked many questions regarding work of UC Forum, He appreciate the work of volunteer members at Union Council forum and request to start same work in his area Masti Khan at district Lodhran.

After that DEO listen the issues from the participants of open hearing and announce the following decisions.

  1. Girls High school 12 MR will be up-grade
  2. Toilet block construction in GGH 12 M is approved
  3. Wall construct promise at Government Girls School 12 MR,
  4. One EST teacher appointment promise
  5. Promise for solar panel for IT lab of GGHS 12 MR
  1. Mr Raiz is focal person of Punjab SAAF Pani project, he announced water plant in Boys higher secondary school and 1 plant in GGHS 12 MR
Aawaz De Layering The Patriarchal Mind Sets - Story Of Change From District Dera Gazi Khan

D.G. Khan is a region of far west of Punjab province. Compared to other districts of Punjab it is more tribal in its socio-cultural orientation and set-up. The contiguity of this region to Baluchistan has had the influence on the lives of people due to the nature of tribal culture. Financial constraints coupled with birth of girls in the family are a major challenge for the poor families.

A case of forceful early marriage emerged from a marginalized village of DG Khan where the father of two daughters was a sweeper of the area. Having no source of income, he was bound to get his elder daughter Ammara marry her maternal cousin. Ammara had passed grade 10th at the age of 15 years and was very keen to study further but the maternal uncle was consistently asking for her marriage to his illiterate and uneducated son who was 30 years old – double than the age of the girl. Ammara being aware of this difference of age, education and mental conscious resisted to accept the marriage.

Ammara was an active member of AAWAZ village forum at GD Khan and hence used to participate in most of its activities. She shared her agony with her friend Salma who was also a member of the village forum. Salma along with other forum members spoke to Ammara’s father. His father replied, "I am a very poor person and I am bound to abide by my word. I also cannot afford Ammara’s further education. I have another daughter, younger to Ammara and If I refuse this marriage, who would marry my younger daughter? I am not in a position to refuse the proposal which will ultimately lead to my two daughters ending up sitting at home for ever".

The issue was raised by Salma in Aagahi Center meeting conducted at UC. The meeting decided to persuade the father which was successfully met. At the same time the forum members convinced him for continuing the education of her daughter by appointing her as the in-charge Aagahi center. He was quite pleased and turned up his mind so. He showed his courage to refuse marrying her daughter believing that his traditionally tuned mind set made him to decide wrong for her daughter. He was quite sorrowful for that but at the same time thankful to AAWAZ mediation and encouraging support to enable him decide right for her daughter. Ammara had got her admission to complete her for FA from Allama Iqbal Open University (for distant learning) and happily running the Aagahi center too.

Aawaz Breaking The Chains Of Vicious Cycle Of Discriminations Against Young Girls - Story Of Change From District Jhang

AAWAZ is working for raising the voices of unheard. Under Output 1, it is trying to discourage the culture of violation of women rights from the society. One such case emerged from district Jhang, a district which is known for its custom of early child and forced marriages. Feudalism is prominently prevailed in this district and the feudal practices are negatively impacting the lives of women and girls in the area. Aasma was a child of 12 years belonging to a very poor family. She received a marriage proposal from a 30 years old man Iftikhar who belonged to a well off family in the village. Due to young age of the girl, her father rejected the proposal for which he was threatened and bribed by Iftikhar. The poor father could not stand the pressure and agreed to marry her daughter. Upon continuous resistance by Aasma, the marriage could not be cancelled. Even the Nikah Registrar was threatened as he refused to register the marriage on account of the girl too young to be married. Finally when Aasma got married, she realized that her father had got her married in exchange of money due to which she ran away from home and stayed with her sister. When Iftikhar became aware of her being living with her sister, he plotted a plan and abducted her from there.

Aasma mother consulted the AAWAZ village forum in-charge named Sofia Bibi and shared her fears. Sofia Bibi referred the issue to AAWAZ district forum. The forum members consulted the District Police Officer whose order through SHO of the area recovered the young girl. When she was found, Aasma was taken to AAWAZ Aagahi Center where in front of the AAWAZ union council forum members, she angrily refused to stay with her partners and instead preferred to go to shelter home. Her independent decision was respected by the forum members; however she was asked to rethink of her union with other family members where she gave a second thought and decided to be with her sister as before.  She is still living there while her case is under legal procedure as the FIR was lodged against the illegal act of marriage.

Aawaz Turning Down The Anti-social Practices Towards Women And Young Girls – Story Of Change From District Rajan Pur

Rajanpur is a district of Southern Punjab, characterized by its strict and conservative social norms towards women and girls where women specially fall victim to customary practices and has never been challenged by the natives of the area.  Atroba Bibi one such victim belonging to Qureshi caste (considered higher caste) was bound to get married with 55 years old man at the age of 17 years for an exchange marriage traditionally called 'Watta Satta'. She was not only a victim for Watta Satta (tradition in Punjab province) but also a prey of early child marriage.

Unfortunately, it is a bitter fact that we are still living in a society which is practicing these customary practices. This practice posed a constant pressure not only for Atroba Bibi but also her family. She was a student of grade 10 but could not pursue her education. She had to drop school out of family and social pressure and get marry soon as reaching her 20’s soon. Her parents particularly her mother resisted her marriage but this consequently increased pressure on her father from the family of Mohammad Akbar. A continuous delay became a matter of honor for Mohammad Akbar claiming that Atroba Bibi has been associated with him for quite long. Seeing the anger of Mohammad Akbar, the father of Atroba Bibi put undue pressure on his wife for Atroba Bibi’s marriage. 

Aurat Foundation, under its different programmes has been working in Rajanpur for increased awareness in the community regarding women rights. AAWAZ being one of the programmes established forums at village, UC, teshil and district level. This issue was also taken to its village forum by a local woman named Nageena who was a relative to both Atroba Bibi and Mohammad Akbar. The forum members tried to persuade Atroba Bibi’s father but he clearly stated that, "It is our cultural norm and failing to abide by it, I would not be considered a man of my words. This will make my survival in the family and Qureshi community a big challenge for me".

The issue was then referred to the UC forum that intervened between the two families for their inhumane act of forcing a young girl to go for an early and mismatch marriage without right to choose. Nageena; played a vital role in this regard as she got some information and awareness of women’s rights straddled through AAWAZ forums in her village. The local level involvement AAWAZ forums resulted in suspending the marriage till Atroba Bibi herself decides over it after completing her grades.

Eliciting Mind Sets To End Customary Practices – Story Of Change From District Rahim Yar Khan

Child marriage in Pakistan has been practiced from last many years, where children are being married before their physical and mental maturity. The problem of child marriage in Pakistan remains rooted in a complex matrix of religious traditions, social practices, economic factors and deeply rooted prejudices. Regardless of its roots, child marriage constitutes a gross violation of human rights, leaving physical, psychological and emotional scars for life. Sexual activity starts soon after marriage, and pregnancy and childbirth at an early age can lead to maternal as well as infant mortality. Moreover, women who marry younger are more likely to experience domestic violence within the home.

 

An issue regarding child marriage highlighted by Ms. Samina Gill class teacher of Govt. Girl’s High School, Basti Adama Wali Union Council Akram Abad Tehsil and District Rahim Yar Khan. On 22nd January 2015 she shared firstly, telephonically with General Secretary ATF and then during the visit of him and DC AAWAZ to school that a girl (students) of 13 years age named Maria Khadim D/O Khadim Hussain student of 6th class is absent from last five days and after getting information from her home we find that she will not come to school again as her father shared that she is going to marry on 15th of February 2015. It was shocking news for Ms. Samina, therefore she immediately met both Maria and other mother. But both these showed their helplessness towards the matter. Ms. Samina also tried to talk to Maria’s father but all her struggles went into vain. She finally decided to take up this issue to ATF general secretary. ATF general secretary took this matter to ADF. ADF members along with some local community people went to Maria’s home for resolving the matter. But a series of meeting didn’t prove useful.

Without registration of FIR, it was decided by ADF members to involve local Police SHO to build pressure and this become fruitful. As police took Mr. Khadim Hussain, Muhammad Niaz, Maria Khadim and Maria’s Grand Mother (most active actor playing role among both the families for this marriage) where Mr. Khadim Husain given a written statement that he will not practice child marriage as well as he will send her daughter to school regularly and all the family members gone to their home safely. Next day in the morning Maria Khadim joined school cheerfully school student and teachers welcomed her and celebrated. On the gate Maria’s father thanked the class teacher for all her support and guiding him to stop this unlawful practice as well as this will have positive impacts on her daughter’s life.

Time For Action: End Early Child Marriage And Say Yes To Girls’ Education – Story Of Change From District Nowshera

CEFM is one of the most commonly practiced forms of VAW in district Nowshera. Fatima, with the efforts of AAWAZ members was saved from becoming victim of early marriage. At the age of 12, her family decided to get her married with her cousin. Her knot was tied with cousin when both were hardly 6 years old. 

Fatima’s mother was reluctant to marry her daughter in such an early age and therefore contacted AUF. AUF members designated the role of negotiation to AVF ladies of the area who discussed the matter in person with Fatima’s family and in-laws family. The ladies discussed the cons of early marriage with Fatima’s in-laws. Initially her in-laws were very offensive as they took it as a personal matter and involvement of community people was not acceptable. But AVF and AUF then engaged Mashran of the area who in person discussed the matter with both families.

In a meeting with Fatima’s father and father in-law, it was mutually decided that the marriage would be postponed till Fatima turns age of 19. Until then she can continue her education. This was a sigh of relief for Fatima and her mother. “I am very thankful to all my elders and respected women members who treated me like their own daughter; put their efforts for something better for me and now I will continue my studies”, said Fatima.

Engaging Masharan for stopping child early marriage proved fruitful and a lesson learnt for AVF members too. AVF has devised a plan to engage these Masharan for their future advocacy initiatives especially regarding women issues.

Marriage Of Consent

 Rukhsana is an 18 year old girl belonging to an illiterate family of viilage Ayun, district Chitral. During her studies her family arranged her marriage to an old man of seventy residing in Karachi. Rukhsana was already in love with a young boy, Shahab of her area. Shahab had proposed and talked to her parents many times but Rukhsana’s family rejected the proposal. In 2012, Rukhsana managed court marriage with the boy as the boy’s family was also not supportive of the love marriage. The conflict originated from their marriage and situation became worse for Rukhsana’s mother. Rukhsana’s mother was blamed for supporting the marriage and was beaten by the family members. Thus she decided to leave her home and moved to her father’s home.

 

The above dispute was identified during the dispute mapping exercise by AAWAZ and the issue was prioritised for resolution. In this situation, AAWAZ peace committee, especially the chairperson of village forum, Zartaj Begum played an effective role. She went to both of the families personally and talked with them about the situation. Once through her efforts both the families showed willingness to give up all their conditions, she arranged a combined meeting along with AVF members. During the meeting, both parties offered their excuses and thus this issue was resolved. After long and tiring discussions, it was decided that a wedding ceremony shall be arranged for Rukhsana and Shahab in culturally appropriate and respectable manner so that the family honour could be restored within the community.  Efforts made by AVF are praised at the community level and for their contribution to resolve the matter in amicable way and further deteriorating families relationships. Rukhsana and her husband have been accepted by their families.

Petty Issues

 In district Charsadda, a conflict rose between two neighbors of village Misri khel, union council Nisata, over a petty issue between children. Later, the family elders, Guldaraz and Hassan Khan, got involved in the dispute and during intense war of words, shooting took place injuring Hasan Khan. The incident turned into enmity between two families for about six months. Since none of the families were willing to resolve the matter amicably, there were chances that this enmity will again erupt into further loss of life.

 

AAWAZ district team identified the issue during dispute mapping exercise in the village. After sensitization and awareness raising efforts, AVF decided to take-up the matter with both the families for amicable resolution of the dispute. AVF members held individual meetings to engage both the parties through dialogue. Once both the parties agreed to meet each other to discuss, AVF members arranged a larger community meeting where village elders and family heads from both the parties participated. AVF members and the village elders used examples from the religion and cultural context regarding forgiveness and tolerance. Responding to the call of community and AVF members, both the parties were convinced to unconditionally resolve the dispute. Although both the parties agreed to the resolution, individual and joint mediation sessions were continued by AVF for few weeks. The parties are now living without enmity and have praised the mediation skills of the AAWAZ village forum.

Women Of Dir

The women of Dir Upper were banned to participate in the last elections of 2013. As a result, not a single woman polled a vote. AAWAZ invited women to participate in social and political forums when it was in the process of AVF formation. During the formation of ADF, 8 women participated in the session. This high women representation and inclusion in executive body mobilized the women and other stakeholders including political parties and will ensure their rights and participation in upcoming local government election.

A significant portion of women in the district did not have CNICs because of different religious and cultural reason. AAWAZ intervened and conducted several awareness sessions of the critical need of CNICs by giving day to day social, cultural, economic and political examples. Finally, the communities agreed to get women registered with the national database.

 

Through AAWAZ structures, a list of unregistered women and girls in their respective villages was made. During the compilation of the lists the AUF members were to meet NADRA officials for the provision of Mobile Resource Vehicles. NADRA scheduled an MRV for one week, to go to the mentioned villages. Women of the AVF made announcements in the village and went  door to door to register maximum women. A total 275 women were thus registered.  They will now be registered as voters so that they can poll their votes in the upcoming Local Gpvernment elections. Their voice will strengthen democratic process in Pakistan. Voter turnout will be increased. Some women who are poor will also benefit from schemes like Benazir Income Support Programme.

No Boundaries For Development

Hashmin Bibi is a 35 year old woman having multiple physical disabilities. She is a resident of Village Surg, District Attock. She struggled a lot throughout her life to prove her existence as a human in the society as she had been suffering from growth disorder since birth. Negative attitudes of her family, stigmatization and bullying on part of community and lack of confidence in her served as main barriers to Hasmin’s pursuit of education. Her family thought of her education as a financial burden. Hashmin shared how she struggle for education. She told that she went to school on her own. She walked 8 kilometers daily to attend a high school. She can still remember the discriminatory behavior of her own family and school-mates. She does not consider her parents responsible because of poverty. She told that used to sell eggs to bear expenses of her education up to matriculation. After matriculation, as expenses grew, she had no other option but to quit her educational career. But she did not want to sit idle. This courageous woman then worked as informal health visitor in health department. She faced a lot of hardships there. She still remembers how her superiors ignored her in different matters and a time came when she was forced to leave that job. 

Before the intervention of AAWAZ in the area, Hashmin bibi was at home and always tried to be an active part of social gatherings of her village. She also tried to earn something for her economic needs as she is currently living with her sister and brother in law. Hashmin Bibi with some other poor people from her villages was identified as “activist”. She was elected as president of AVF by the community considering her activism and motivation to work for the betterment of her village. Furthermore she is trained with other forum members on Women’s Political Participation, Conflict Resolution and Improved Social Services Delivery. Hashmin Bibi’s interest and hard work took her to AAWAZ UC forum and further to AAWAZ District Forum. She is now an active member of ADF Attock.

When Punjab Government announced Local government elections Hashmin bibi contacted with AAWAZ field team and shared that she want to contest elections for woman councilor seat. SDF field team approached her and welcomed to practical politics. The team provided her technical support in papers submission and coordination development and facilitated her in starting her election campaign. In the beginning, she faced a lot of resistance from her family and local community as politics was considered a “bad” area for women, but AAWAZ field team took sessions with local community to aware them on the issue and benefits associated with women’s involvement in politics. As the result of this, some local influential people joined campaign. After fifteen days of her active campaign she was the most potential candidate for the seat in her Ward (Election Constituency).Although elections are now postponed, but HashminBibi continued her campaign and she is still in contact with local community as she is desperately waiting for re-announcement of the election. She wants to become representative of deprived and oppressed woman population of the area.

The Tubewell Project

The availability of safe drinking water to the community members of Union Council Kaneeza, District Peshawar has been a critical issue for the past 15 years. A tube well was constructed to supply water to 1200 households of the UC, but had never been operational.

The government had announced that the project was put on hold due to lack of funds. The community members on the other hand were of a different view of the situation. Two government officials had been assigned the task of completion of the tube well project but these officials had been enjoying their salaries since then and the tube well was still not functional. After the introduction of AAWAZ programme and the formation of AAWAZ Union Council Forum in UC Kaneeza, the issue was taken up very seriously. The forums members along with the community members approached the Public Health Department, demanding for the tube well to be operational and removal of the corrupt officers responsible for the tube well project.

After persistent protests by the community members, the Public Health Department released funds, and the tube well in UC Kaneeza is now operational. As a result of sensitization towards demand articulation and accountability of duty bearers, the residents of Union Council Kaneeza now have safe drinking water in their homes after many distressful years.

Education Opens Doors

Government Primary School Samwala is situated in village Samwala UC Majohan, district Abbottabad. The building of the school was occupied by the local owner soon after the school building was constructed on his donated land. The owner used the school building for storing cattle food. The school was subsequently closed and education of the girls was suspended.

The issue was raised by the AAWAZ Village Forum and was further referred to the AAWAZ UC forum. A festival was organised by the AUF where the issue was deliberated in length and it was decided that the working group of the UC Forum will meet the concerned land owner. Two meetings were carried with the land owner but he was unwilling to vacate the building. The coordinator and general secretary of the UC forum decided to follow up the matter together. These two officials conducted a third and final meeting with the land owner and exercising their social influence made the land owner vacate the school building.

The school is now functional. Students have resumed their studies. Initially, there was no teacher available but the UC forum members ensured her presence now. The initiative of AAWAZ has enabled children to achieve one of their strategic rights addressed effectively in the UC.

Woman Of Strength

Abida is a resident of UC Moazamabad, District Sargodha. She is the mother of three children. Abida used to live with her husband and father in law, but both the men were drug addicts. Her husband would beat her every other night for no apparent reason, until it came to a point that one night she took her three children and fled from the house. 

Unlike many Pakistani families her parents were very supportive, so she moved to her parents’ house. But Abida continued to live in constant fear and suffered from a feeling of isolation. Everyday was a struggle, and it took her almost a year to regain her lost courage and self esteem.

Abida’s mother was a member of the AAWAZ Village Forum. One day she told Abida about AAWAZ and encouraged her to attend the meetings. Abida started looking forward to these meetings as every meeting taught her something new and productive. She became a member of the AVF and attended their activities regularly. She received training on Gender Based Violence, which helped her to see her own experience objectively, to heal her pain and regain confidence.

By attending further sessions regarding women’s rights, importance of obtaining a Computerized National Identity Card and women’s participation in decision making, she became more aware, was better informed and she felt more independent.

Abida now works with members of the AAWAZ Village Forum to generate awareness in women about women’s rights and laws that support their rights. She also plays an active part in motivating women to raise their voice against violence.

She attended the mockup sessions organized by AAWAZ and, along with other women members, conducted training sessions conveying what she had learnt to women in neighboring villages where AAWAZ was not present.

 “I found my lost voice through AAWAZ. It has not only given my life a sense of purpose, but also the confidence that I can actually help other people”, says Abida.

The Wages Of Violence

Shahnaz Bibi, a resident of Basti Darbar, D.I. Khan, was married to Nasrullah. Her husband, unfortunately, was a   drug addict and spent most of his time either sleeping or engaged in illegal and immoral activities with his friends. A few months after the marriage, Nasurullah was found involved in a murder and sentenced to imprisonment for ten years.

In the absence of her husband, Shahnaz became the sole breadwinner of her family and worked hard to support her two children. When Nasrullah returned from jail his interests and behavior did not change, and he remained a burden on his family.  One day he asked Shahnaz for some money, but she flatly refused to give it to him, saying that she could not spare any money for his nefarious activities. Nasrullah got infuriated. He locked Shahnaz in a room and attacked her with a knife. Shahnaz called out for help but there was no one around to help her. Fortunately, a child named Amir heard Shahnaz’s cries and informed Sardar Bibi, a well-respected woman of the village who also happened to be the President of AAWAZ Village Forum.

Sardar Bibi, along with other women members of the AAWAZ Village Forum rushed to Shahnaz’s house in order to rescue her.  They broke into the house and tried to convince Nasrullah to leave his wife alone and not to hurt her, but he refused to stop. Sardar Bibi threatened him that if any harm came to his wife, they would report him to the police and other human rights organisations working in the area. This obviously scared Nasrullah so that, finally, he dropped his knife and Shahnaz was safely taken out of the room.

Later, members of the AVF and prominent local elders discussed the matter with Nasrullah, reminded him of the sacrifices made by his wife for his family, and also sensitized him about the rights of women. As a result, he acknowledged that his attitude had not been appropriate in the past, and promised to fulfill all family obligations and responsibilities in future.  Nasrullah also sought an apology from Shahnaz for his past actions. Follow up visits and enquiries by AVF members confirmed that he is a much better person now. The timely intervention by AVF saved an innocent woman’s life and brought about a much needed change in her husband’s behavior.

Silence Hides Violence

Nazakat Bibi is a 20 year old woman and a resident of UC Bagnoter in district Abbottabad. She was married at the early age of 14 against Rs.100,000 as dowry. Her husband Muhammad Ishfaq is a driver and earns Rs. 20,000 per month.

Ishfaq would not give any money to his wife to run the household. As a result, there would be constant quarrels between them and Nazakat Bibi was beaten severely by her husband every time she asked for money. In order to avoid the brutal episodes of violence, Nazakat Bibi started using her dowry money for household expenses. A considerable amount of the money was used up during the birth of her daughter.

One day, Ishfaq demanded that his wife give him the entire amount of dowry money. Nazakat told him that she was left with Rs.50,000, as the rest had been spent for medical check ups and delivery of the child. Ishfaq flew into a rage and started beating his wife mercilessly. Nazakat was left battered and bruised, both emotionally and physically after the incident. This was the moment when she decided to put an end to a situation that had become unbearable; but she didn’t know how.

Nazakat Bibi confided in a friend who guided her to the AAWAZ Village Forum. She met with the Forum members and discussed her problem.After considering the issue in detail Forum members decided to act as mediators. They held a series of meetings with Muhammad Ishfaq and made him realize the consequences of his actions and the emotional implications for his family. They also told him that he had no legal right to the dowry money and could be sent to jail for his actions. Ishfaq realized that his brutal attitude towards his wife would bring nothing but harm to the family,and promised that he would not use violence against her again.

The Forum members also made a written agreement with Ishfaq where he signed an affidavit declaring that he had no right to use his wife’s money as per the nikah agreement.

Nazakat Bibi is now a regular member of AAWAZ Village Forum. “Domestic violence is the story of every other household, but we should not stay quiet about it. Forums like AAWAZ not only allow space for such suppressed topics to be discussed; but they are also useful for finding ways to deal with such situations”, says Nazakat Bibi.

Drinking Safe Water
Tasneem is a 30 year old woman living in Union Council Noor Sar, District Bhawalnagar. She has three children, aged 3, 6 and 8. Her husband works in the field from dawn to dusk while she stays home taking care of the children and doing the household chores. Three years ago her youngest child Ayesha was born. After Ayesha was weaned she started to get sick and frequently had diarrhea and stopped gaining weight. Tasneem and her husband were anxious and worried because almost every child in their village had the same sickness. Some children had died. Disease was common in the area since many people drank polluted water, as there was no safe drinking water available in the village. The nearest access to clean water was about 3 kilometers away from her house. During the afternoon, Tasneem and other women from the neighboring villages went in groups to fetch water. The path is difficult and it took them about two hours to go and come back. Every day after the tiring trek, Tasneem would come home feeling exhausted. She felt she had no energy left to cope with the many tasks that awaited her for rest of the day. Tasneem’s husband and other locals of the area approached the Public Health Engineering Department. The health department authorities told them that since the village residents were not paying their bills their water connection had been suspended and could not be restored. The people had not paid because each one of them thought that they consumed much less water than their neighbors. This had become a source of conflict between them, and they ended up by not paying their bills. When the AWAAZ Village Forum was formed in Basti Noor Sar, Tasneem along with some other women, was among the first to become a member. Tasneem raised the issue of lack of clean water in the meeting of the Forum. The amount that was payable by different households was at the top of the agenda. After much discussion and several mediations it was decided in the AAWAZ meetings that the only way to get safe drinking water was to pay an equal amount of money to the water supply department. The participants finally agreed. After two months, during a meeting of the AAWAZ Village Forum the agreed amount was contributed by every household in the village. Village members then went and submitted the dues to the authorities, and the department restored the water connection. Now clean water is available. Children will now not suffer from repeated bouts of stomach infection, and women will not have to trudge long distances to fetch water for the family. “The most challenging task was to bring people together,” says Tasneem. “AAWAZ has given us a platform to sit together and find solutions to our problems in a constructive way. We were all facing the same problem, but everyone had a different solution to it. The health of women and children has improved substantially ever since the availability of the water. I am happy that my children have access to safe water at home and in school”.
Together We Can Prevent Domestic Violence

Shahnaz Bibi, a resident of Basti Darbar, D.I. Khan, was married to Nasurullah, who  was  a  habitual  drug addict  and  spent  most  of his  time either  sleeping  or engaged in immoral activities with  his  friends. Few months after the marriage, Nasurullah was found involved in a murder and sentenced to imprisonment for ten years.

 In the absence of her husband, Shahnaz being the sole bread winner of her family, worked hard to support her two children.  After his return from jail, unfortunately, Nasurullah’s interest and behaviour did not change and he remained a burden on his family. 

One day, he requested some money from Shahnaz which was flatly turned down by her on the pretext that she did not have any money for his nefarious activities. Nasurullah got infuriated and locked Shahnaz in a room and attacked her with a knife. Shahnaz called out for help but there was no one around to help her. Fortunately, a child named Amir heard Shahnaz’s distress calls and informed Sardar Bibi about the incident, a well-respected woman of the village who also happened to be the President of AAWAZ Village Forum.

Sardar Bibi along with other women members of the AAWAZ Village forum members rushed to Shahnaz’s house in order to rescue her.  She broke into his house and tried to convince Nasurullah to leave his wife alone and not to hurt her but he refused to yield. She even threatened him that if he takes any violent action, they all would be going to report it to the police and other human rights organizations working in the area. This obviously scared Nasrullah and finally, he dropped his knife and Shahnaz was safely taken out of the room.

 Later, members of the AVF and prominent local elders discussed with Nasurullah the sacrifices made by his wife for his family and also sensitized him about rights of women. As a result, he acknowledged that his attitude was not appropriate in the past and promised to fulfill all the family’s obligation and responsibilities from then.  Nasurullah also sought an apology from Shahnaz for his past mistakes and follow up by AVF members also confirmed that he is a much better person now. In the end, a timely intervention of the AVF saved an innocent woman’s life and brought about a much needed change in her husband’s behavior.

Girls Education: Road To Development

In tehsil Prova of district D.I. Khan, there is a small village called Jhook Sikandar. This village comprises 200-300 households but, unfortunately, there was no government primary school for girls in this village. The nearest available educational facility for girls was in a nearby village, which was at a distance of three kilometers.

The absence of a girls’ primary school in the village was highlighted during a meeting of the AWAAZ Village Forum where it was unanimously decided that the issue needed to be brought to the attention of the District Education Department. Members of the AVF along with notables of the area met with officials of the District Education Department to demand that either a primary school for girls should be established in the village on a priority basis, or girls should be permitted to enroll in the local Government Primary School for Boys.

AVF members also requested the Education Department to appoint more teaching staff in the boys’ primary school.  The Education Department accepted the demands of the community and approved the enrollment of girl students in the boys’ primary school. Three additional teachers were also appointed in the school.

An AVF member and father of 6 year old Abida, Zahid Khan, says, “Like most of the girls in our village my daughter had never gone to school. The AVF meetings changed our perspective about girls’ education. I now believe that every girl should be educated so that she is able to read and write and have access to information, and the self-confidence that she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen.”

Bringing about a positive change in the attitude of the people living in a conservative area like D.I. Khan was undoubtedly a notable achievement by the AVF. 

Striving For Equal Rights

Sadaf is a young 23-year-old woman, resident of UC Wanda Khan Mohammad in district D.I. Khan. She was married to Ijaz for a year. It was an arranged marriage and, despite everything that she did, Ijaz was not happy with his marriage.

After sometime, Ijaz married another woman of his choice. When Sadaf came to know about his second marriage, she demanded a divorce. However, financial constraints did not allow her to access the legal channels available to her.  To make matters worse, Ijaz refused to grant her a divorce until and unless she paid him some financial compensation.

Sadaf eventually came to know about the AAWAZ Village Forum (AVF) in her village through a neighbor.  After learning about how the Forum was working for the betterment of women in the area, she brought her grievance to the notice of the women members of AVF, and subsequently to the AAWAZ UC Forum. Upon receiving Sadaf’s complaint the Forum held a meeting with Sadaf’s husband, but he remained adamant about his decision not to divorce her.

The Forum’s efforts to convince Ijaz about the rights of his wife in the light of religious teachings and social traditions remained futile ultimately forcing them to approach the police. Under pressure from the police Ijaz finally agreed to divorce his wife without any exchange of money. Eventually, the divorce took place without any further conflict between the two and Sadaf was released from her misery. Sadaf was so impressed by the AAWAZ programme that she sought membership of the AVF and resolved to work for the rights of women in her village.

Walls Where Needed

Shamim is a four-year-old girl who lived in tehsil Kot Addu with her parents and two smaller siblings. Shamim wakes up at 6:00 in the morning and rushes to get ready for her school. For her, school not only means studies, but it also meant walking an hour with her friends.

Shamim and her friends loved their school, for it had big courtyard and classes almost the size of their own homes. The sight of the school would make the children forget all about the long journey to and from it.

However, one morning the children reached the school and were shocked to find heaps of bricks in front of the entrance. They could hardly recognise the school as their own. The 138 feet boundary was all covered with bricks. Sadly there have been no boundary walls around the school. The “Government Girls Primary School” was surrounded by commercial area and the land was now claimed by intruders who were mostly the shopkeepers of the commercial area.  

The issue was raised in one of the AAWAZ Village Committee meetings. The next day the AAWAZ general secretary and other community workers came to the school and inquired about the matter. Those now claiming the land tried to bribe the General Secretary of ATT (AAWAZ Taraqiati Tanzeem) and offered him one of the shops from the land. They said that the land was too big for the school alone and this will be now converted into 10-15 shops of 10*20 feet. Each shop was worth 4 Lac rupees (2646 GBP).

The school teacher, Musarrat was threatened after she tried to raise her voice against the injustice. She was told that if she did not remain silent she would be transferred to a far flung area. This did not keep Musarrat quiet, however not only did she cooperate with the AAWAZ communities to resolve the matter, but also involved all the school children in the protests against the injustice.

The community members from the ATT tried to reason with the people but they didn’t listen. The intruders also tried to bribe the school teacher and finally the matter was taken by the ATT members to the police and an FIR was registered against them.  The police came with the ATT members and the claimants were asked to lift the bricks from the land.

Once the bricks were removed the ATT members contacted the Education District Officer and the boundary walls were built around the school. The school that had a huge courtyard but the children could not play due to the absence of walls was now surrounded by walls.

The children were very happy and Shamim said that now they were able to play in the courtyard because of the privacy of the walls. Teacher Mussarrat was proud of her students and the AAWAZ committees that helped them not only to get the school back but also by building walls secured the future of many generations to come.

Land Conflict

Land disputes can cause social disruption and sometimes loss of life. An efficient and effective system for settling land disputes is an essential element of any country’s land administration.

Land disputes among brothers are very common in Pakistan. The situation gets aggravated over time and the hatred is carried through generations. A similar dispute had occurred between two brothers living in UC Mardan Rural, Tehsil Mardan. The root of the dispute was the 6 marla (1632 square meter) commercial plot situated at the corner of the road. This plot was on land that had been equally divided by the two brothers. However, according to Ishaq it belonged to him as he had been involved in taking care of the plot and maintaining it over the years. His brother, “Saleem” said that he had an equal right to the plot. This issue resulted in a rivalry between the two brothers and for years they were not on talking terms.

The issue was raised by Ishaq’s son, 24 year old Aadil who was part of the AAWAZ Committee. He said that his father was a diabetic and the constant bitterness and tiff between the two brothers and their families was taking a toll on him. He said that his father refused to give in and so did his younger brother.

Aadil was a member of the AAWAZ committee and had recently attended a training on “Role of Youth in Conflict” organised by AAWAZ. The training made him think that instead of solving the issue in the traditional violent way, he should try to resolve it through dialogue. He sought the help of the AAWAZ members during one of the meetings. The AAWAZ village committees also have jirga members. In Mardan the traditional Jirga is usually done by the “buzurgs” (elderly persons) of the village. People of the villages have high regard for the jirga members.

The AAWAZ committee members went to the brothers and tried resolving the dispute. They tried to convince them that they were both equally entitled to the land. After various attempts and interventions, the brothers finally made peace and decided to equally share the property.

Aadil said that usually such disputes carry on through generations and are hardly ever resolved without murders. He further said that the land dispute had been going on for six years now and had turned both the families into rivals. Aadil felt that AAWAZ was a great platform to raise issues. He believes it not only helped in resolving the issues in most cases but also had helped him learn a lot by sharing experiences with the diverse members of the AAWAZ structures. Aadil says that the trainings given through AAWAZ provide self-awareness which in turn makes a significant difference in preventing destructive conflicts.

Aadil says, “It is generally accepted that in kinship-based societies a land dispute settlement system must be locally based, participatory, simple to administer, affordable and likely to receive the general support of village communities. But settling land disputes is complex. AAWAZ committees with the inclusion of the local communities are therefore playing a vital role in resolving such conflicts.”

Basic Health Facilities

In the UC Bagh-e-Iram of Tehsil Mardan, Usman Ghani is one of the village committees member and also AAWAZ Taraqiati Tanzeem member. Usman’s family like all the other families in the neighborhood have faced a lot of issues with the basic health facilities provided in the area.

“Health is the fundamental human right and necessary for individual well being and economic growth and development in a country. Like water and sanitation and other social services, health is also not a priority for the government”, says Usman.

He says that many infants and women die in the area due to lack of basic facilities. Also, the infant vaccination facility had been very far away from the UC due to which the residents had to face a lot of accessibility issues.

The issue was raised in the ATT meetings and it was concluded that since there was no available land, it was difficult to construct a basic health unit (BHU). As a result, one of the ATT members donated 15 marlas (4080 square feet) of land for this noble cause. According to the market value each marla of the particular land is worth Rs. one lakh (662 GBP).

The AAWAZ members wrote an application to the District Health Officer who is also the member of the AAWAZ District Group for the setup of a free basic health services in the area. The current BHU has all the basic health services and in addition the vaccinations are also available due to which the children’s health has drastically improved.

“The AAWAZ programe is of great relevance for a country like Pakistan where core issue of health service delivery is of utmost significance. This is particularly true for the rural areas where accessibility and affordability are major issues”, says Usman.

Asking For Dignity

In the Tehsil Takhtbai, Village Patt Baba, Fehmida Begum lives with her husband and children. In the area where women are considered mostly as a commodity and are sold in exchange of dispute settlements and animals, Fehmida works for the rights of the women and is a very active member of AAWAZ Taraqiati Tanzeem.

One fine day she and her husband had a visitor, a girl of 14-15 years. The girl seemed badly shaken and was just standing at the doorway not speaking a word. Fehmida took her in the guest room and tried to inquire about her whereabouts but she wouldn’t say anything. Fehmida and her husband kept the girl in their house for a week during which they tried to ask her about her parents, one day she finally told them that her name was “Wajeehat” and she was from a nearby village. After further inquiries from the people around them they were able to find out that she was married to a 70-year-old man.

Fehmida told the girl that they have found her address and soon she will be with her husband, this broke Wajeehat’s silence and she cried and told Fehmida that she had escaped her house. She said that her husband would torture her and is the father-in-law of her sister. Wajeehat had been raped by her sister’s father-in-law. She got pregnant and her parents married her to the 70 year old in order to save themselves from humiliation.

She said that she did not want to live there and wanted a divorce from her husband. The issue was raised in the AAWAZ meetings. Wajeehat also attended several AAWAZ Taraqiati Tanzeem meetings and learned about her basic rights. She was able to sit with the local women through AAWAZ platform where they would talk frankly to other women about rights and abuse issues.

The AAWAZ committee members tried talking to her husband to give her divorce. He said that they were a very “respectable” family and divorce is never an option in their family. Therefore his wife has to live with him. The members then consulted the lawyers in the AAWAZ District Group and were guided on the rights of “Khula” (right of a woman to seek divorce from her husband). The husband was unwilling to let go the custody of his daughter but the AAWAZ committee members intervened and told him that it’s the mother’s right to keep the baby. After several interventions and mediations the committee members were finally able to make a breakthrough.

Wajeehat got “Khula” through the court and also retains custody of her daughter. She now works with a family as a house maid. Through the help of proper guidance regarding her rights she is now able to lead a free life.

Wajeehat said that despite the fact that early marriages pose numerous threats, they are very common because people are very poor and mostly illiterate. Traditions such as dowry (e.g. the younger and less educated the bride, the lower dowry requirement); social perceptions of girls and women, beliefs concerning the “marriageable age” and families fear of elopement are some of the reasons for child marriages.

“A married girl is perceived to be safer from harm because it is believed that she has a husband to watch over her” says Wajeehat.

Wajeehat appreciated AAWAZ efforts and said that it is easier to talk to women about our issues and be guided by the AAWAZ members on our basic rights. She says, “Before being the part of AAWAZ committees, I didn’t know that I had any rights as a woman and that one day I will be free from the chains of my ugly marriage.”

Personal Is Political

Danish Bibi lives in UC Kuthwal, District Abbottabad. She is a member of AAWAZ Taraqiati Tanzeem (ATT). When Danish Bibi joined the ATT, she had completed her Twelfth grade. However, after meeting with various members of the AAWAZ District Group (ADG) and undergoing several trainings through AAWAZ she decided to continue her studies and is now pursuing her Bachelors degree privately.

 “Education leads to individual development and creates awareness about individual rights”, says Danish Bibi.

She hailed from an area where women are usually married at very early age and literacy rates are very low. Women spend most of their time within their homes, with little chance for social or political involvement outside the family. They have very little contact with formal institutions, programmes, or public services other than door-to-door family-planning and primary-health-care campaigns.

 Danish Bibi is a confident 23 year old woman. She says “I had never dreamed that I would enter politics but now I am a general secretary of a big political party at tehsil level”.

Her face beamed when she talked about how she had joined politics. She had attended one of the trainings organised by AAWAZ on the “budget cycle”. The district forums were also part of the training. During an informal session between the training she mentioned her desire to be part of the politics to one of the ADG members who was a very active member of a political party.

“The next thing I knew that I was asked to fill the form for the General Secretary, I never knew that my wish could ever come true and that too so quickly” says Danish Bibi. She was overwhelmed when she finally learned that she had been accepted as General Secretary at tehsil level for the political party. She feels that women’s entry into politics has and will quicken the pace of their political empowerment.

Danish had never cast a vote in her life, but during the 2013 elections not only did she cast her first vote but she became a very active member of the community to replicate the mock sessions given by AAWAZ.

“We went to several other villages where there was no AAWAZ presence and taught many women about the right to vote and conducted several mock sessions”, says Danish Bibi.

Danish Bibi is now also working as a community worker with “Save the Children”. She says that families trust me. My parents, who were inclined to get marry me off, have now started thinking differently. She says that she has immense support from her parents who have also been attending several ATT meetings.  

According to her the ATT meetings have provided a forum where women’s issues are discussed. These include: supporting a political candidate of your choice, or organising protests against issues such as  cases of domestic violence, cases of divorce or abandonment, unfair wages, unfair prices, misappropriation of relief goods, or ‘high-handedness’ of police or government officials.

She feels that women are still unequal to men, but there has been tremendous improvement in their status through progress in education, improved health and longevity, and entry into jobs in the organised sectors.  She thinks that a woman should be very independent and feels that programmes like AAWAZ not only create awareness among the communities but they provide linkages to anyone who wants to excel.

From The House To The Public Arena

Shumaila, 36 years old woman hailing from Baghbanpura town, has two children and lives with her husband and mother in law. Shumaila is an equal bread earner of the family. Shumaila is not only a resource person for the Aaghai  Centre, Baghanpura Town, but is also an elected Lady Councilor after an intensive Local Government Campaign.

 She used to be a housewife raising her two children until her husband lost his job. Shumaila was also a member of the AAWAZ Village forum. After her husband lost his job, she started working as a resource person in the AAWAZ Aaghai Centre. She worked from 1pm-5 pm everyday on a salary of 6000 Rupees.

Shumaila was approached to work as a teacher under the Punjab Literacy Project. She started the project within the AAC and the programme was attended by the forum members and the neighbors. The project was paying her 5000 Rupees and she would sit in the confines of the AAC and carry out the adult literacy programme.

“Women in the neighborhood were so excited to be able to write and read sms on their mobile phones. Some of them would get excited that they are now able to read their electricity bills and the parlor names on the street. I felt I was helping them. It made me feel productive at the end of the day”, shares Shumaila as she recounts her numerous encounters with the women of the community.

Even though her husband had found a job, she was now enjoying her work helping the community members through the AAWAZ platform.

“PML-N was looking for honest and popular female candidates. Our CBO gave them my name and they approached me. My husband and in-laws didn’t agree at first. It was intimidating for me to think about contesting for elections. However, once I declined they came and visited my husband and convinced him to encourage me to contest,” said Shumaila while sharing her journey to becoming a Lady Councilor.

Her husband agreed and her mother in law become extremely supportive as well. Since she had a strong community support in the ten villages under the AAWAZ programme, it gave her the spring board to campaign throughout the UC. The community knew her well and was fond of her, therefore, recommended her to others. She had gained their trust during her years with the Aagahi Center and they were confident that she would represent them well.

“During the election campaign the UC was filled with banners and posters with my picture on them. My husband was often approached by his relatives where they would criticize my work and my pictures. It was a very difficult time for me. I would have not been able to go ahead with all that without my husband by my side. I believe a supportive husband is a blessing.”

She won the elections by great margin and was appointed the Lady Councilor.

 

AAWAZ is a DFID-funded, five-year Voice and Accountability programme to strengthen civil Society

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