Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Building Bridges across Faiths for World Peace

By Shad Begum[1]

Inter-faith harmony, religious tolerance and mutual understanding across faiths and nations were never so much the need of the hour as it is today. All religions of the world are inspired by divine wisdom. All of them strive for a high moral world built by peace, mutual respects, and the dignity of human beings. Unfortunately, some hate mongers; biased individuals and intolerant groups have used religions for their own narrow and selfish interests around the globe. This has lead to stereotypes and demonization of certain religions in the world. To create a better understanding of religious faiths around the globe, World Alliance for Religions Peace Summit organized by Heavenly Cultural World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL), International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG) and International Peace Youth Group (IPYG) jointly from 17th to 19th September 2014 in South Korea.  All the credit goes to the leadership of Mr. Man Hee Lee, a Korean War veteran and renowned peace advocate, founded the organization after his involvement with numerous volunteer associations, seeing the need for a group whose central focus was to unite the people of the world behind the goal of peace irrespective of any apparent differences among themselves. Equally accredited is Ms. Nam Hee Kim Chairwoman of IWPG. The IWPG has been established with a purpose to protect the youth from war and achieving the cessation of war and world peace.

Participants from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe included former heads of states, dignitaries and prominent achievers in their own countries in promoting religious tolerance and peace.  It was amazing to see events participated by hundreds of thousands of people with outstanding discipline and meticulous attention to details. All the credit goes to the organizers and volunteers who mad this big event a huge success.

The first day was marked by reception and opening of the event in the Jamsil Main Stadium of Seoul South Korea. Renowned religious leaders from different religions of the world talked about religious harmony in the context of global peace and signed a pledge to promote interfaith harmony and mutual understanding among nations and faiths for world peace.

For me personally the most inspiring occasion was to see women leaders from different countries, regions and nations coming together to join hands and promote the role of women for world peace as in majority cases the women and children are the worst affects of wars and conflicts around the globe. These women peace builders came from regions of conflicts and wars and had unique experiences in contributing to building peace in their own countries and communities. It was a great learning experience to listen to and share experiences of situations and different conflict contexts. But this is rather sad to say that despite all the differences in cultures and countries which are hit by wars and conflicts has one thing in common i.e. women and children and other innocent civilians happen to be the worst victims. Even worst, women remain excluded from all peace negotiations between combatants in all conflict and war regions. This is also the case in our country and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA region where no single women has been a part of any peace committee or negotiations. Women peace builders of a world sign a pledge to work for the cessation of all wars and bring peace, to save our children from war and violence in future. Women leaders also made a commitment to unite all women across the world and to prevent the outbreaks and onset of wars.

I felt humbled and considered it a great privilege and honor for my country and people to be appointed as member of the Advisory Board and Expert Group of IWPG.     

Participants from different countries and regions who had no info or less understanding of the situation in our country appreciated the efforts and sacrifices of the citizens of Pakistan and peace builders. 

For the last thirteen years Pakistani people and its security forces have paid dearly in terms of precious human lives and resources to counter the menace of violent religious zealots. Millions of Pakhtuns have been displaced from their homes from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. As during the Swat-Malakand displacement in 2009, now almost 1.2 million tribal men and women from FATA are displaced from their homes living in extremely deplorable conditions. Again women and children among these IDPs are the worst sufferers. To be a member of the Advisory Board and Expert Group of IWPG, I want to present the soft image of Pakistan and highlight the sacrifices of Pakistanis for peace.

Inheritors and practitioners of Buddha’s teachings, the South Korean people exude in aura around their personalities.  Their positive energies and sincere smiles are contagious. The extra ordinary care and hospitality that the Korean volunteers expressed towards all the guests, since arrival on the airport till departure, reminded me that the proverbial Pakhtun hospitality has even great competitors, at least in the East.  The good impressions about South Korea and its people will always remain a cherished memory for my self.

Mr. Man Hee Lee, a Korean War veteran and renowned peace advocate, founded the organization after his involvement with numerous volunteer associations, seeing the need for a group whose central focus was to unite the people of the world behind the goal of peace irrespective of any apparent differences among themselves.









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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Post-crisis Resilience of Communities in Swat-Malakand Region - The journey of women empowerment

By Shad Begum [1]

I still recollect the difficult times when, for the first time I decided to contest the elections for the local government as an independent candidate in 2001.  In the under developed district of Lower Dir, women were barred by local influential figures through mutual agreements to cast their votes in elections, let alone to allow a woman as an independent candidate. Despite all opposition the people voted for me to become the first elected women councilor on non-reserved seat as an independent candidate.

The year 2008 was a period of great disappointment as militants had taken control of Swat valley excluding women from public spheres including putting ban on girl’s education for sometime. It appeared that all efforts by different actors, including my organization, have gone back to zero.

The operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009 by Pakistan’s security forces dislodged militants from power, yet the challenge of rehabilitating almost two millions IDPs back in Swat appeared almost impossible. As if the testing of the people of Swat-Malakand region was not complete yet, devastating flood in 2010 washed swaths of agricultural land, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

It is indeed heartening to see the resilience of the people of Malakand region in bouncing back to their lives and getting back to whatever they had lost during the militancy and floods crisis. Personally, I am glade to see women now engaged in the discussions and activities that affect their lives politically, socially and economically at the community level. We wanted to promote the work of women embellished workers to increase their income through making them shareholders in the net profits of their labor. To this end we opened an outlet in the capital city of Islamabad and to showcase their work at national level in Pakistan. Apart from our own trained hundreds of women workers, MEDA[2] had trained and organized thousands of women embellished workers in Swat-Malakand region during the past five years. We have taken up the responsibility to become sustainability partner of MEDA for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which will enable us to link the work of MEDA for women economic empowerment to our own efforts of Shinkhalai. Shinkhalai is the brand name of our women economic empowerment program that is marketing and promoting women workers hand and machine made products. Unfortunately the precious work of the women embellishers is under valued because of the lack of competitiveness of their products with the market trends. We have engaged Hunerkada – the art and fashion designing school in Islamabad to overcome this gap and to design the products according to the prevailing market trends and demands at the national level.

To build synergies, we have linked the efforts of other institutions such as the women skill development program of Small Industrial Development Board (SIDB) of government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Through a memorandum of understanding, we have agreed to pool resources and energies towards the economic empowerment of women in the disasters hit Swat-Malakand region for creating a greater impact.

During my interactions with women from Swat-Malakand region in our political empowerment program known as Jamhori Maidan program (JMP), I have felt extreme joy to see women taking an interest in democracy, political process and elections. It has enabled me to overcome the disappointments and depressions that I had experienced during my work with women IDPs from the region in 2010. The most amazing development in the JMP is the reality that women are not only taking interest in political developments but also there is an emerging trend amongst the educated female from the region that they can take independent decision to support a political party of their choice as against the preferences of their male members in their families. I have also seen many more women taking the courage to contest elections as independent candidates such as Ms. Nusrat Begum from Lower Dir, where she run for National assembly seat. Even women with disabilities are politically active and aware of their role in the society.

The JMP  has engaged men and women from Malakand region to get engaged in bridging the gap between state-institutions and citizens through formation of citizen’s forums. Young women and men of the area have been trained to become leaders in the political sphere. Through radio talk shows, women and men have taken part in the discussions that relate to women participation in the political processes and their rights as equal citizens of Pakistan. In my opinion this is a huge development in changing the discourse and propaganda of the militants that they made through the use of FM radio channels in Swat-Malakand region.

To make these changes sustainable and provide them institutional backing, we have reached a memorandum of understanding with the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) to support the establishment of the District Committees on the Status of Women (DCSW) in three districts of Malakand division that include Lower Dir, Upper Dir and Malakand. The women leaders that have been trained in the JMP in the three districts are the potential nominees for the DCSWs.  It is rather saddening to see the pro-women PTI government being slow in notifying the DCSW in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The DCSW have an important function with regard to cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and gender sensitive planning, budgeting and monitoring at the district level.

There are many women now ready to contest the forthcoming local government elections, as independent candidates after our political training program but unfortunately the local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have not been held so far. These eager and motivated women leaders from the region are looking forward to the local government institutions as a great opportunity of their political empowerment and testing their leadership skills.

Let us hope that this journey of peace and progress continue in the region for our bright future.

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

[2] Founded in 1953, MEDA is an international economic development organization whose mission is to create business solutions to poverty http://www.meda.org/
MOU signing ceremony between ABKT and MEDA