Friday, December 26, 2014

Smashing Flowers

By Shad Begum[1]

Photo credit 
I am a mother of two children shivering with pain, anger, and helplessness to imagine the heart-wrenching agony of the mothers and fathers, who lost their innocent children in the horrific attack on Army Public School at Peshawar. The monster of terrorism has crossed all limits of warfare, destroying mosques and other places of worship, attacking funerals, and now even devouring the blood of innocent children. As a nation, we Pakistanis are at a loss to understand as to what went wrong with our society, our values, and our policies that nobody feels safe in this country. We have offered great sacrifices in the War against Terrorism yet they remain unrecognized by many people around the world.

The loss of lives of innocent school children have shook the conscience of people around the world. There are statements of condemnations and sympathies for the bereaved families. The school children in Pakistan, even in India, stood in solidarity with the parents of the martyred children. Politicians, civil society, the government, the military, the judiciary and media – all stood united to formulate a united response to the horrific tragedy of the Peshawar school attack. The Parliamentary Committee came up with an Action Plan to deal with terrorism in Pakistan, yet there are questions that remain un-answered.

Photo credit "Hamri Web"
The attack on Army Public School Peshawar is not the first horrendous crime against innocent civilians; neither is it going to be the last. Malala Yousafzai was shot by militants along with her schoolmates while she was going to school. We also remember Aitezaz Hassan, the school kid that stopped a suicide bomber to explode himself in the school morning assembly. Aitezaz Hassan deserves the highest respect of this country, who sacrificed his budding life to save other mothers from weeping their hearts out. The sacrifice of Aitezaz should have a constant reminder that terrorists will not spare even school children, but we quickly forgot the tragedy and didn’t take appropriate measures to protect our schools. While this is true that the government cannot provide security to every school, there must have been an exercise to identify vulnerable schools and should have devised a security strategy for them.

We must look deeply inwards to search for answers. There should have been a judicial commission to understand the causes of the Peshawar school attack; fix responsibility and avoid future happenings but the government felt content with setting up a parliamentary committee to devise a policy but unfortunately policies are not always implemented.

The civil society has come up with an equally strong response by organizing vigils and protest against apologists of the attack. It is important to organize such events regularly so that the tragedy is converted to our national strength and resolve to end intolerance and extremism in our society.

We must also keep in mind that terrorism is a problem of regional and global dimensions. The reforms in FATA have long been overdue. We need to terminate the sanctuaries of terrorists who use inaccessible or poorly governed areas in Pakistan. The mainstreaming of FATA in national development is the first step towards a peaceful Pakistan. The people of FATA need local government institutions like other Pakistanis to solve their local problems without looking to the federal capital for every problem solving.

We should also seriously think about the militants’ rehabilitation and reintegration in the social life. These militants have been taught this way of life for years and punishment is not the only solution. After every conflict, countries and government take special measures to reintegrate militants to normal life.

Peace is not possible without a just society. Pakistan, both at the State institutions and society level, must take sustainable steps to counter the menace of militancy and intolerance. While a military response to the problem of militancy becomes inevitable in certain circumstances, it is the overall causes that we have to reflect on to address this challenge that is now threatening our future. We must revisit our domestic and external policies; invest in education and human development, and promote values of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and mutual respect to progress ahead.


[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage awards.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Regional Cooperation to Meet Global Challenges - The 5th Bosphorus Summit

By Shad Begum[1]

The process of globalization of the world economy and the telecommunication systems through the internet has changed the shape of global businesses and trade. It has not only provided new opportunities for growth and investments, but has also made old modes of productions useless, thus leaving many job markets redundant. Globalization has given shape to new complexities in trade and investments with little space for dialogue and cooperation, especially among regional countries. To understand these complexities and meet the challenges, the International Cooperation Platform (ICP) in Turkey organizes Summits since 2010 to provide a platform for dialogue to political leaders, government representatives, academia, media, civil society and philanthropists. ICP is a ‘the International Cooperation Platform (ICP) is an independent institution founded with the principle of enhancing proactive multilateral and inter-disciplinary cooperation for sustainable development’.

This year, the topic of the 5th Bosphorus Summit was: “Changing Scenarios of Tomorrow: Capturing Complexities and Cultivating Dialogues”. The Summit was graced by Abdullah Gul, former President of the Republic of Turkey, and was attended  by, , among others, leaders such as Lord Lamont, former Chancellor of Exchequer of UK, Her Royal Highness Shaikha Farihah, Princess of the State of Kuwait, Ms. Pohamba, First Lady of Namibia, and Mr. Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Mr. Aziz was the key note speaker for “In the light of recent transformation, how to Construct Economic Trust and Confidence in Europe, North Africa and Middle East?”

The three days conference in Istanbul thoroughly discussed important topics such as New Dynamics and Paradigms in Global Trade and Investment, Financing Infrastructure Projects, Solution Platform for Sustainable Future, the future of the World Banking and Financing the Sustainable Future and Development, Bridging the Gender Gap, New Technologies in Communication and Transportation, and Emergence of Smart Cities etc.

Turkey is one of the most developed Muslim countries with an annual GDP of approximately 820 billion USD for the year 2013. Agricultural products, textiles, home appliances, motor vehicles, ships and other transportation equipment are some of the major components of Turkish economy. The common history, heritage, and geographical proximity of Turkey with the Middle East and North African countries (MENA) makes it a major player both globally and regionally; especially given the fact that it bridges two continents: Asia and Europe.

Unlike many other developing countries, Turkey has mostly resolved its national questions and has set up its State direction. Turkey was the bastion of the Ottoman Caliphate and the centre of Islamic power before the First World War, but it has resolved the question of State and religion. Istanbul, also called the city of mosques, is heralded with mosques yet the tolerance for other faiths is inspiring. Turkey has also intelligently addressed some of its ethnic and regional issues by engaging the Turkish Kurds in a peaceful dialogue for the last one and a half years. Pakistan can learn from Turkey in dealing with the Baloch issue in Pakistan. With its modern infrastructure and developed human resource, Turkey is well-set to lead on many fronts, especially among the Muslim countries.

Apart from the official discussions, it was most enlightening experience to visit the Topkapi Palace, which was the seat of power of the Turkish Sultans for almost four centuries and the centre of court intrigues as shown in the popular TV play “Mera Sultan” on Pakistani channels. Apart from other attractions, the Palace has invaluable pre-Islamic and Islamic relics including the cloak and sword of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world each year. Side by side with the Topkapi Palace are the Blue Mosque with its exquisite domes and minarets, and the Aya Sophia Museum.

The Cappadocian caves and underground city in Kaymakli Central Anatolian region, dating back to the 1600 BC Hittite civilization, is the major attraction for foreign tourists. Going through inside narrow caves and passages, one is reminded of the ingenuity of human spirit by constructing such cities underground in rocks but at the same time it speaks of the human brutality as these people went inside underground cities because of fear of attacks by other human beings.

Konya – the city of the saints – is a unique spiritual experience for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Maulana Rumi lived and taught in this city. I felt blessed to attend a Sema – the religious dance and music by Dervishes – on the occasion of the Shab-e-Urs (birthday of Rumi) celebrated each year on December 17th and attended by lovers of Rumi from around the world. To feel the love, kindness and spiritual energy created by the Sema is a breathtaking experience. The world can become a better place with the love message of Rumi, which is none other than the message of Islam.

While visiting Rumi’s tomb produce a different feelings, to be inside the tomb of Shams Tabriz, the teacher and beloved of Rumi, is an indescribable experience. Shams is conspicuous by his silence during his lifetime and in his resting place. During these trouble times, the message of peace and love by Rumi can change the course of history and create a better world for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. One feels the urge to follow Rumi in his invitation when he says:

“Come, Come, Whoever You Are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
It doesn't matter
Ours is not a caravan of despair
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”

[1] The author is a human rights activist from Pakistan and an Honorary Member of the High Advisory Council of ICP.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

ABKT's press release: Government must take steps to stop trafficking of women and girls

Press Release


November 27, 2014

Subject:   Government must take steps to stop trafficking of women and girls

The case of 26 girls’ children recovered by local authorities in Karachi should be an eye opener for all those interested in stopping the trafficking of women and girls, especially from conflict hit areas as they are more vulnerable.  The problem of trafficking in persons has a regional and global dimension yet Pakistan has failed to take effective steps to eliminate the rackets of traffickers. The four-decade-old conflict in Afghanistan and the recent one-decade conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have further compounded the problem of trafficking in persons in Pakistan both internally within the country as well as outside Pakistan. The government must take immediate steps to strengthen the legal framework against trafficking in persons, as well build the capacities of state institutions to fight this menace. ABKT impress upon the government that there is a need of concrete steps to stop the trafficking of persons as poverty and lack of information of parents in the rural areas of Pakistan provide a feeding ground for traffickers. The government must direct the district authorities to establish vigilance committees in each district at village and Tehsil levels and verify the credentials of outsiders who acquire women and girls either in fake marriages or in the name of religious education. The media has a responsibility to aware the public about the trafficking issue within in Pakistan as well as globally. 

Shad Begum

Executive Director                   
Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation (ABKT)

Ph: +92-(0)51-210 08 53   Cell: +92-(0)345- 900 27 68

(ABKT is a non-governmental organization that support sustainable development in Pakistan through the right based approach & potential of local communities to decide upon & manage their own development process)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Report reveals women and youth hold little power in political parties

ISLAMABAD: Although mainstream political parties claim to give importance to women and youth issues, a recently released report revealed that they do not even allow women to vote in election.

Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) Association Behaviour and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT) launched the report at a local hotel on Monday which recommended that parties should encourage merit and allow youth to play a role in party affairs.

Recommendations included a quota for youth in intra-party elections, lifting a ban on student unions and discouraging feudal influence. Elections should be declared null and void in any constituency or polling station that bar women from voting, it said.

The report further recommended that educational institutions should provide an environment to young people to groom their leadership skills and programmes should be organised to increase women`s interest in politics.

Measures should also be taken to increase women`s literacy. It said that the government should also facilitate registration of people living in remote areas.

Most political party representatives present on the occasion claimed that their parties involve women and youth in party matters.

Mufti Ameer Zeb of Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal said that his party has been working for women`s rights and has been giving importance to youth.

Pakistan People`s Party`s Ghufran Ahad agreed that no political party gives importance to women and young people.

He said that workers were always ignored and sons of influential people grab the most important party positions.

`The current government is not serious about solving the problems faced by young people. Instead of creating jobs, it has been considering to privatising different organizations,` he said.

Farooq Iqbal of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said that his party gave priority to women and youth and even in the next elections tickets would be given to youth.

Sana Ejaz of Awaami National Party (ANP) said that women hold key positions in her party and ANP had women minister when it was in government.

Election Commission of Pakistan Director Public Relations Altaf Ahmed said that ECP believed in a democratic Pakistan. He said that a proposal had been sent by ECP that elections should be declared null and void if ratio of polling by women remains at less than 10 per cent.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan representative Nasreen Azhar said women should be involved in decision making. She said women, youth and people belonging to different religions should be treated the same.

ABKT Executive Director Shad Begum told Dawn that the study includes a survey held in three districts i.e. Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Malakand District. `Study shows that most of the political parties have talked about women and youth in their manifestos but they have no action plan and strategy for them,` She said.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Closing Gender Gaps in Pakistan – Time to Act

Young women leaders in political education program  
By Shad Begum[1]

During the past few years, Pakistani women have achieved international awards in the fields of human rights and filmmaking. These awards include Nobel, Oscar, Emmy, the Right Livelihood Award, and the International Woman of Courage Award. Pakistan stands at rank 72 amongst 153 countries of the world in terms of women representation in the Parliament. This representation is possible only because of the especially reserved seats for women and not because of a greater space for women in politics. Despite these awards and somewhat good raking in parliamentary representation; however, huge gender inequalities exist in Pakistan. The recently published Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) 2014 by the World Economic Forum reflects on the gender inequalities in the countries of the world including Pakistan. In the GGGR, Pakistan occupied the second-last position, ahead of Yemen only.  Pakistan has been consistently on the second-last position for the last three years in gender inequalities in the world.

The World Economic Forum is a Geneva-based not-for-profit Foundation and according to its website, “is an independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests, working in close cooperation with all major international organizations.”

The GGGR, taking advantage of the data available with credible international organizations such as the ILO, UNESCO, UNDP, WHO etc., has measured the performance of countries along four major indices in the gender gap: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.

Pakistan spends less than the UN recommended 4% of GDP on education. The lack of public spending on education results in under-developed human resource, which leads to poor economic performance. The spending on the overall social sector is far below than the desired level, which affects the health and survival indicator.

Economic empowerment of women is the key to closing the gender gaps in Pakistan but unfortunately women have either no access or control on economic resources. The property rights of women are not enforced as men take the responsibility of managing the economic resources. There are significantly fewer companies which are owned by women in Pakistan. In financial institutions and business enterprises, women are conspicuous by their absence in majority cases. The women workforce in public sector institutions is far below than the desired level to close gender gaps in employment.

The economic dependency of women directly leads to their political dis-empowerment. Although political parties in Pakistan nominate women on reserved seats for the allotted quota in parliament, very few political parties allot party tickets to women on open seats. The representation of women in the political parties decision-making bodies is only cosmetic, as male-dominated decision-making bodies within the political parties take major decisions. The percentage of women ministers in Pakistan is also less than one percent.

Gender inequalities are the result of traditions, customs, and practices that are heavily tilted in favour of men in the Pakistani society. Since policy-making is the domain of men in Pakistan, women’s priorities, by and large, remains outside the scope of development agenda in Pakistan. Almost half of the Pakistan’s population comprises of female but this huge human resource is not fully tapped for economic development.

While this is true that societies develop gradually, we should not forget that deliberate actions and planning can change the realities on the ground just as has been witnessed in the case of some recently developed economies such as China, South Korea and Malaysia.

There is a dire need of shift in policies to close the gender gaps in Pakistan. The National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women under the National Plan of Action for Women in Pakistan needs a serious attention. It envisages removing imbalances and inequalities in all spheres of life, including socio-economic development and women’s equal access to all development benefits and social services. A policy is relevant only if it is put in action with concrete milestones and timeframes. We hope that the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan will take concrete steps to remove gender inequalities and stand with its head high in the comity of nations. All this is possible only if we bring fundamental changes in our attitudes towards women as equal citizens of Pakistan, but the journey of change in attitudes should start from our homes first.  

[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage awards.

کرونا بھی غیرت کے نام پر قتل نہ روک سکا۔

پچھلے کئی مہینوں سے دنیا میں زندگی کے تقریباً تمام تر معمولات بندش کا شکار ہیں۔ جس کی وجہ سے لوگوں کو بہت سارے مسائل اور مشکلات کا سامنا ہ...