Posts Tagged ‘pakistan schools’

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Empowering the Worlds 6th Most Populous Country

June 23, 2012

Schools in Pakistan’s Rural Areas

The big news in Pakistan right now is about the newly elected Prime Minster, deteriorating diplomatic relations with the United States and match fixing charges on star cricketers, but there is a less publicized, but important story that CNN published last week “Family’s 20 Kids Highlight Pakistan’s Population Explosion”. The article warns that Pakistan is currently among the top ten most populous countries and by 2050 will rank third only behind China and India. The author’s attribute this population explosion to a lack of birth control, and insufficient access to family planning information. And while birth control and family planning organizations are certainly effective means to control population growth, dissemination of information that counters prevailing cultural norms and attitudes that discourage limiting family size are also important. The article accurately describes “a majority of the population – 70% is largely illiterate and resides in rural areas lacking the most basic services” and it is in those regions in Pakistan that are most influenced by the deep conservatism that often views birth control as “un Islamic”, but does not account for the large number of efforts that have been made to curb illiteracy in these areas. Well known nonprofit organizations including The Citizens Foundation  and Development in Literacy are focused on educating Pakistan’s rural populations and DIL in particular focuses on countering female illiteracy.

DIL claims “empowering underprivileged students, especially girls” as part of their “student centered model schools in remote areas of Pakistan” as part of their mission statement. And female empowerment is exactly the kind of education that can help disseminate valuable information to facilitate controlling Pakistan’s population bulge. Successful NGO’s in the Microfinance space including Grameen Bank  have demonstrated success in assisting with a reduction of birth rates of their members. Like DIL, Grameen Bank claims female empowerment as part of their mission, but unlike DIL, puts in place more direct mechanisms to achieve such objectives. Their “sixteen decisions”  is testimony to a commitment to female empowerment making finance contingent to social development goals, including educating children, cleaner homes, maintaining and caring for one’s health, personal discipline, and cooperation with other females in the community. Number 6 on Grameen’s list explicitly has women pledge “We intend to have small families” and through these guidelines their microfinance model is supplemented by female empowerment strategies that encourage family planning and overall develop the social environment in which they live.  Similarly, Microfinance organization Pro Mujer provides poor women with mechanisms for empowerment in Latin America in addition to development opportunities through lending capital. Their approach reads:

 While most microfinance institutions focus only on financial services, Pro Mujer uses a holistic approach, making sure that clients are better prepared physically, emotionally and economically to improve their lives and that of their children. Education is one strategy. Pro Mujer teaches women about domestic violence, communication skills, and women’s rights, using workshops and group discussions to raise their awareness about leadership, gender issues, and self-esteem. It also links clients with other organizations for counseling, legal assistance, and education and vocational training programs. Women also become empowered as they join and become active in their communal associations. Pro Mujer organizes women in groups of 18 to 28 clients and teaches them how to organize and manage a community bank. The women elect a board of directors to run the meetings, form a credit committee to approve loan applications, and create solidarity groups to guarantee each other’s loans. Members of the communal banks gain confidence and self-esteem as they successfully borrow and repay their loans, set up savings accounts, and become more aware of their own potential and abilities. What’s more, they apply their new skills as leaders in other community organizations.

Education + Empowerment for development

Pro Mujer and Grameen Bank are first and foremost Microfinance institutions, as DIL is to education. These organizations converge in their commitment to “women’s empowerment”, but diverge in their mechanisms to achieve that objective. Microfinance, and education are important development goals for a larger purpose of empowerment so it is important that direct efforts are put in place that have a positive impact on female empowerment. Nonprofit organizations have a profound responsibility not only to those they seek to help, but to their donors, and women’s empowerment must be more than just a catch phrase in Pakistan. It requires a serious commitment by organizations who want to have a positive, long term and sustainable impact for women. Education is an important starting point, but the work will not end there. Given the population growth numbers, empowerment must increasingly become part of the plan to develop Pakistan. Education focused NGO’s are in a good position to begin such models of development, especially if empowerment is a stated part of their mission.

 

 

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Every Crisis is an Opportunity

October 21, 2009

Speaking to my grandmother whose in Karachi yesterday morning, she explained my cousins stayed home from elementary school as most schools had shut down this week. Karachi is the the largest, most bustling city in Pakistan, and despite being situated in the south, far removed from the hotbed of militants in northern Waziristan, terrorism has gradually spilled over from Afghanistan, crept into Pakistan and paralyzed the country. My grandmother described a city laden with tension where people live in a constant climate of uncertainty and increasing fear.

It was pressing to hear her tired voice describe the situation with a kind of detachment. Her tone was passive: an indication of hopelessness. And that hopelessness is not in reference to obliterating terrorists, because there’s little speculation on a military capacity to wipe out at most, 10 thousand terrorists. Rather, her passive tone is a worn out sound echoing 62 years of statehood rooted in insecurity.  She’s seen Pakistan through three wars fought with India, including a civil war in the 70’s resulting in a cession of East Pakistan, one of the worlds largest refugee problems in the 1980’s and now the War on Terror fought on home soil. Her passivity is an exhausted acceptance of perpetual political insecurity.

The aforementioned video shows a younger generation, not yet exhausted. They’re shocked, frustrated by what’s happening in their country as they passionately raise their voices in protest against extremist Islamic groups who oppress the country.

Most ironic is that extremist groups bombed the Islamic University in Islamabad where these young men study. Testimony to how grossly extremists propagate an inaccurate view of Islam that terrorizes Muslims everyday.

Which brings me back to how imperative it is that Pakistani and US forces focus on uprooting and not just obliterating terrorists. Pakistan is home to the worlds 6th largest population, and the second largest Muslim country. That’s a strategic demographic in the War on Terror and for future international security. Ensuring terrorism is uprooted in the long term will require a sustained, multifaceted, military and non military approach. Few will argue against the necessity of economic development, the question really is how to pay for it. I’ve mentioned before that the Kerry Lugar bill is a fair, but insufficient attempt at doing this, and ultimately, Pakistan itself must uproot terrorism.

This critical time is an opportunity for Pakistani politicians to take responsibility and bring forth a detailed agenda that rallies current masses. A specific, well publicized plan of action, accepting but not relying on outside assistance is Pakistan’s best hope at engaging its citizens to wipe out terrorism for the long haul. Hopelessness, frustration and desire for Pakistani’s to develop economically and free themselves from terror poses a widespread opportunity to supplement the military offensive with civil support. That support is the capital with which to begin an agenda to uproot terrorism.

Grassroots organizations, women’s and educational groups whose ideologies run counter to extremist groups should be actively highlighted by the media and politicians.

A more proactive approach that is clearly visible works on two levels. One, it aggregates support in the country against extremism setting a future stage for more moderate masses. Secondly, it alleviates international fears of Pakistan becoming a failed state. Because not only do citizens like my grandma need hope, but the international community also watches in concern for Pakistan to define itself in unity and diametrically against extremism.

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