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As the weather warms and tourists descend on the nation’s capital, 12 Pakistani women will be among the thousands of visitors in DC this week. But they aren’t here to see the cherry blossoms or tour the White House. They’re here to meet with US policymakers to propose solutions for how the US can help end extremist violence in Pakistan, a country that has lost 35,000 civilians to terrorism since 2001.
The delegation of women will be meeting with key policymakers from the State Dept., USAID, and Congress to recommend how US foreign policy can help support Pakistan’s very active civil society, which is mostly led by women.
The delegates are representatives of Amn- O-Nisa, the Pakistan Women’s Coalition Against Extremism, launched in October 2011, to address instability and violence in Pakistan.
Read more about the delegation: Pakistani Women Leaders Propose Solutions for US Foreign Policy to Help End Extremist Violence
View the recommendations: Recommendations for the US Government from Pakistani Women Leaders
Meet the Women Leaders
Executive Director, PAIMAN Alumni Trust
With a mission of social change through innovative approaches, Mossarat Qadeem works directly with mothers to deradicalize extremist youth in Taliban strongholds and reintegrate male family members into communities. In moderating extremism in Pakistan, she chooses to “collaborate, not confront.”
She was a lecturer at Peshawar University in 1990, when just four of 180 professors were women, and has continued to break new ground. “Working with conservative religious clerics, we were successful often when we thought we would fail. Often, our own fears are the only thing stopping us from reaching out.”
Regional Coordinator, PAIMAN Alumni Trust
Shehnaz Akbar delivers services to disenfranchised communities and trains youth, government officials, religious scholars, and civil society actors on women’s rights, gender-based violence, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and democracy and governance.
As a self-appointed local “peacekeeper” in the district of Rajanpur, she mediates between Sunni and Shia sects by convening meetings with religious leaders to discuss peace and security. She has convinced both communities to form peacekeeping volunteer groups comprised of young men who safeguard religious precessions and ceremonies, successfully diffusing tensions and reducing violence in the district.
Naziha Syed Ali
Naziha Syed Ali is a freelance journalist and documentary film producer who focuses on human rights abuses and the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. She has written extensively about militant organizations and the victims of terrorist violence, and has researched education and madrassa culture in Pakistan.
Ali organizes seminars, festivals, and media campaigns that promote peace and freedom of expression. In early 2011, she helped organize a signature campaign and a cultural festival that drew over 30,000 people to Karachi to denounce hatred and intolerance.
Editor, The Diplomatic Insight
As a child in the war-torn region of Kashmir, Farhat Asif’s father told her “conflict cannot end by starting another conflict, but through peace and dialogue.” [pull quote] Motivated by his words and a desire to bring peace to her homeland, Asif later founded Pakistan’s first Arabic/English bilingual magazine. The theme of the magazine is peace through informed dialogue, and it strives to promote understanding and tolerance.
Prior to establishing the magazine, Asif worked at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, conducting research on women, peace, conflict, and development in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Operations Officer, World Health Organization
Dr. Tahira Baloch is an operations officer for the World Health Organization, where she coordinates public health programs and oversees health emergency and disaster management projects in Balochistan province. She also manages the provision of free maternal health care to women at the district and provincial level.
Baloch has worked for numerous UN Missions around the world and serves as a council member on the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She conducts research and focus group discussions and convenes roundtable meetings with policymakers to convey the population’s grievances and to advocate for sustainable solutions.
Director, Qadims Lumiere School and College
Living in Pakistan’s most remote and volatile region along the border of Afghanistan—Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK)—Bushra Hyder has experienced first-hand the effects of increasing extremist violence in her homeland. Yet she says, “when terror comes to your doorstep, you cannot fear it; you cannot tolerate it anymore.”
Hyder established and directs her own high school that teaches students about other religions and cultures, promoting compassion and understanding. To help her community cope with frequent violence, she has created student “peace clubs” that visit a nearby hospital to meet with survivors of bomb attacks. Hyder also conducts trainings with young women on leadership, conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and microenterprise, and lobbies local government and religious officials to implement peace curricula in schools throughout the region.
Born in Rawalpindi, Huma Chughtai is a freelance consultant with over 25 years of experience working in the areas of governance, gender and development, parliamentary capacity, judicial reform, and human rights. Chughtai practiced law and then served as a legislative researcher for the National Assembly of Pakistan, focusing on Sharia law, constitutional, legal, and judicial issues, women’s rights, and parliamentary practices. At times, she serves as legal advisor to the Ministry of Women Development and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus.
As a trainer for PAIMAN Alumni Trust, she teaches men, women, youth, and students about conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and human rights. Drawing on her expertise in Sharia law, she emphasizes the peaceful elements of Islam and links international conventions with Islamic tenets to counter the radical arguments that fuel extremism.
Executive Director, Peace Education and Development (PEAD) Foundation
Sameena Imtiaz is an avid proponent of education to counter extremism. She leads training courses for youth groups, teachers, clergy, and community leaders to promote tolerance and nonviolence. She has authored school curricula and teacher training materials that promote cultural diversity and interfaith harmony, and she advocates for their implementation in religious and education institutions. She counseled the central government to include peace education in standard curricula and has pushed for the same goal at the provincial levels since decision-making on education was decentralized.
District Coordinator, PAIMAN Alumni Trust
Zarmina Rafiq trains civil society actors, youth groups, and university students on peacebuilding and conflict transformation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat valley—two of Pakistan’s most remote, conflict-ridden regions. Drawing on her eight years as a district councilor, she also trains women councilors on advocacy, budgeting, gender-sensitivity, and legislative matters.
Despite limits on women’s mobility in FATA and Swat, Rafiq travels extensively to assess community needs. She has gained the trust of local leaders and has unusual access to the homes of families in these communities, even using kitchens as safe meeting spaces for groups of women to discuss how they are affected by extremism. Rafiq also meets with local government officials, parliamentarians, policymakers, and religious leaders to advocate around women’s issues, peace education, and conflict resolution.
Master Trainer, PAIMAN Alumni Trust and UN Development Programme
Farida Sadiq is an independent consultant and master trainer with over 12 years of experience in the field of conflict resolution, democracy, and governance. Sadiq conducts trainings and advocacy sessions with youth and local communities on conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Through these sessions, she has formed groups of “peace practitioners” who advocate for non-violence and help diffuse tensions among neighbors, families, and communities.
She advocates to religious leaders in Punjab province for the inclusion of peace curricula in Pakistani schools. Sadiq also trains district councilors, government secretaries, and women seeking elected office on gender sensitization, voter education, women’s empowerment, and leadership skills. She has trained more than 9,000 women leaders, the majority of who were eventually elected to office as district councilors and parliamentarians.
Executive Director, Balochistan Foundation for Development
Sonia Sahar has over 11 years of experience in the development sector with expertise on gender, women’s health, and women’s political rights. She has worked extensively with political parties, government officials, and elected representatives to combat violence against women, advocating for the implementation of measures to ensure women’s protection in conflict and disaster-affected areas. She provided technical support to Balochistan’s provincial assembly to pass the United Nations’ Safe Motherhood Resolution and assisted the province’s women’s parliamentary caucus in drafting their by-laws.
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Myth #1: There isn’t evidence that including women makes a difference.
Quite the opposite. Research shows that inclusive processes are more credible to the public and have a higher success rate. There is also empirical evidence of women‘s contributions to improving peace negotiations, sustaining ceasefires, disarming and reintegrating fighters, and improving governance and justice. The best evidence is the failure of current efforts. Fifty percent of peace agreements fail within a decade, unleashing more violence and fragmentation of armed actors.
Myth #2: This is a “Western” agenda. We have to be culturally sensitive.
UNSCR 1325 came from women in conflict zones worldwide and today, in every war zone, from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka to Libya, women are endangering their own lives to bring about peace. Sidelining them or suggesting that they are “westernized” due to our own lack of cultural understanding damages their efforts.
Myth #3: It is hard enough getting an agreement. Adding women will just rock the boat.
The immediate goal of stopping warfare and ensuring a ceasefire often overshadows everything. A common argument is that pushing the issue “too soon” may rock the boat. However, research indicates this assumption is unsubstantiated by evidence and that bringing women in earlier in the process enhances stability, decreases corruption in political institutions, and promotes higher living standards.
Myth #4: We are already working with women.
The lone woman or ad hoc meeting are not enough. Traditional development programming does not address the issues of peace and security that the UNSCR 1325 agenda tackles. This agenda is about ensuring women‘s central role in the key moments when their future is being negotiated at the end of war. It is about ensuring that 50 percent of the population has a say in determining national security, constitutional, governance, justice, social and economic priorities, and systems that will govern their lives.
Myth #5: We do not have the budget to do more training, add more staff, etc.
Many argue that the U.S. government lacks the budget for additional training and staff to support implementation of UNSCR 1325. However, the U.S. and its allies currently dedicate huge resources to peace and security issues, despite poor returns on their investments. This is in part because efforts are not targeted adequately to the people and realities on the ground. Gendered-situational analysis provides important information about the context and the actors, including their capacities and needs. It ensures that U.S. resources are targeted correctly. This agenda does not require new funds. It requires reallocation of existing funds and reprioritization of activities.
Myth #6: “The Women” need to organize themselves and speak with one voice.
The notion that women are disorganized and lack an agenda is inaccurate. At most it is a relative concept, as it presumes that other actors, especially armed groups and political parties have a coherent agenda. In many cases, women are not only organized but also have a shared message.
Myth #7: We cannot find any qualified women. We need to focus on girls’ education first.
There are double standards as it is rarely asked if the men are qualified. Willingness to use violence is often qualification enough for a seat at the table where decisions about the future are being made. Women who have experienced violent conflict and cared for others during war have a firm grasp of the impact of conflict on the lives of ordinary people. Even in the midst of chaos, they demonstrate resilience by caring for their dependents (as in refugee camps worldwide) and providing islands of normalcy (as Afghan women did in their secret schools and clinics). They are uniquely qualified to talk about priorities for peace and security.
Myth #8: Not all women are peaceful.
Where war and oppression exists it is unfair and unrealistic to assume that all women will be pro-peace. A minority of women takes up arms to fight for a cause and, in communities where injustice is rife, women can encourage vengeance and violence. But overwhelmingly, women are the first to mobilize for peace and reconciliation. From Northern Ireland to Rwanda, Cambodia, and Iraq, women have been at the frontlines in the struggle for real democracy, peace and moderation. The fact is women are never passive victims. Their influence – positive or negative – should not be underestimated.
Myth #9: Sexual violence is an inevitable consequence of irregular warfare and the changed nature of conflicts.
Sexual violence is common in many crises. But it does not have to be inevitable. It is often assumed that rebels or non-state militias are the primary perpetrators of sexual violence. But research shows that close to 50 percent of known cases are perpetrated by state military, police and other officials. In Iraq, U.S.-funded and trained police have been implicated in civilian rapes. The U.S. government works closely with many governments and funds the training of security personnel. We cannot prevent every incident but more can be done to ensure U.S. allies and U.S.- trained security forces are not perpetrators.
Myth #10: We are implementing UNSCR 1325. We have a national action plan.
Declaring “we have a plan!” is not enough. Creating a national action plan (NAP) on UNSCR 1325 is not the same as implementing it. Planning a plan or even finalizing a plan is not implementation – it is aspiration. Every day there are opportunities in real-time, real-life contexts where civil society can make a difference – and in doing so – contribute to peace and saving lives. The women of Libya, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and elsewhere cannot afford more missed opportunities. Civil society does not need a plan to start acting. The time to act is now.
These 10 myths were adapted from the US Civil Society Working Group’s Expert Statement on UNSCR 1325 and the US National Action Plan [PDF].