October 21st, 2016

Young Changemakers

Gulalai Ismail, Pakistan

Young Changemakers

More than 50,000 people have been killed and millions have been internally displaced by war and violence in north-west Pakistan in the last three decades. Held back by a lack of education, patriarchal traditions and feudal customs, young women and girls have suffered even more than others. But inspired by her father, a human rights activist, Gulalai was determined not to let her gender be a barrier.

In 2002, at the age of 16, Gulalai and her sister Saba established Aware Girls, an organisation that seeks to empower young women and girls in the region by teaching them leadership skills, educating them about their rights, and seeking equal access for women to education, employment and social services.

Aware Girls relies on digital media tools and community mobilisation techniques to promote gender equality, human rights, peace, sexual and reproductive health, and female participation in political processes. A key feature of the organisation’s strategy is to encourage men to join its cause. Gulalai is undeterred by the shortage of funds or the threats to her life. In her view, ‘peace is not just the absence of war, it is about respect and tolerance’, and she firmly believes women have an important role to play in that process. Gulalai was named the Commonwealth Youth Award winner for the Asia region in 2015.

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