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The side of Pakistan you don’t see

Pakistan often makes it into the news, but not always for good reasons. The headlines focus on so-called honour killings, violence and security concerns. But all over Pakistan, Girls Not Brides members are hard at work building a better tomorrow.

7 ways Girls Not Brides members are building a better Pakistan

  1. Empowering girlsWhen girls become their own champions, they can say no to child marriage.Girls Not Brides member Shirkat Gah runs a programme called Humsathi. Humsathi teaches girls to “become their own advocates.” Girls meet up at special girl-friendly spaces, learn new skills, practice their leadership and give and receive peer support. Learning about their bodies and their rights helps build their confidence.The result? “Girls are asserting their right to education, choosing to pursue studies rather than get married, exercising agency through resisting [child] marriage,” says Ghausia Rashid. “Change is possible.”

    2. Changing laws

    Only one province in Pakistan (Sindh) has a minimum marriage age of 18. Girls Not Brides members are working together to push for stronger laws against child marriage and better enforcement.

    “The law [banning child marriage completely] is still in the National Parliament,” says Umair Asif from Kafka Welfare Association. Girls Not Brides members raise awareness in the media and online by sharing stories about the painful reality of child marriage.

    Girls Not Brides member BRAC’s education programme in Pakistan has established over 500 non-formal schools in collaboration with DFID. These schools have created access to education to over 20,000 children. Credit: BRAC.

    3. Keeping girls in school

    Strong laws can help girls stay in school and out of child marriage. But what happens when there are no schools for girls to go to?

    Mujahid Torwali, from Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (Institute for Education and Development) noticed that girls in his community had nowhere to go to school. In 2017 he wrote a report about ‘ghost schools’ – schools that exist only on paper. “After publishing my report in almost all the newspapers in Swat, the authorities took action and  the schools were opened,” he says. “Now there are more than 250 girls getting primary education.”

    And Torwali has found another solution in areas where there are no schools for girls. “I admitted 13 girls to boys’ schools this year.”

    4. Mobilising families

    Empowering and educating girls is vital, but it’s not enough. Parents need to believe in alternatives for girls, lives beyond early marriage and motherhood.

    “We do motivational and awareness sessions for parents,” says Muni bur Rehman from Kehashan Development Organisation. Parents learn the importance of letting girls stay in school and not marry until their bodies or minds are ready.

    Every girl has the right to go to school. Girls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have received support to stay in school, such as small stipends and free textbooks. Credit: Vicki Francis / Department for International Development.

    5. Community conversations

    It can be hard to change long-held beliefs and traditions. But when the whole community decides to abandon child marriage together, it can be easier for individuals and families to go against the norm.

    In the far north of Pakistan, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi holds Jirgas (community councils) to share important messages about girls’ rights, the importance of education and the dangers of child marriage.

    The conversations aren’t all formal. Theatre performances, edutainment videos and open mics are some of the fun and creative ways that Shirkat Gah uses to spread awareness.

    6. Livelihoods for women & girls

    Poverty can push many families to marry their daughters off early. A boy is often seen as a future worker, worth investing in so that he can earn more money. A girl is more likely to be seen as ‘just one more mouth to feed.’ When hunger bites, parents may marry their daughters off early.

    For women like Gujri, who supports six children on her own, or Rasheeda, who has eleven children, child marriage could have looked like the only option for their daughters. But with support from Health Education & Enterprise Development, they have both started their own businesses. Gujri makes and sells sandals, earning a “handsome and regular income.” Rasheeda is now a trained midwife. They both earn enough to keep all their children in school and out of child marriage.

    For poor families in Sindh,  Sujag Sansar Organisation  offers welcome relief. It helps married girls to set up small shops, and helps them buy fertiliser so they can grow crops to sell.

    7. Working together

    Girls Not Brides members in Pakistan are working across every aspect of girls’ lives, from livelihoods to laws.

    We all have a role to play in ending child marriage.

    When girls are empowered to be their own champions, when they have safe and affordable schools to go to, when their families and communities support them, and when the laws and policies protect them, they can be girls not brides.