Thursday 5th of October 2017
To mark the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder on 7th October 2006, and to honour Anna and other women like her in the world, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) annually presents the Anna Politkovskaya Award to a woman human rights defender from a conflict zone who, like Anna, stands up for the victims of conflict, often at great personal risk. Anna lived a life of courage and truth-telling in the face of grave danger, just like her friend and the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, Natalia Estemirova, who was murdered on 15 July 2009.
Gulalai Ismail (Pakistan) 2017: Co-Recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award
On Thursday 5th of October 2017 RAW in WAR honours Gulalai Ismail, a courageous Pashtun human rights activist from Swabi, Pakistan. At the age of 16 in 2002, Gulalai founded Aware Girls with her sister Saba Ismail, aiming to challenge the culture of violence and the oppression of women in the rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area in the north west of Pakistan. Driven by a passion to challenge the inequality, intolerance and extremism, they began running workshops to provide girls and young women with leadership skills to challenge oppression and fight for their rights to an education and equal opportunities. Malala Yousafzai was an attendee of Aware Girls programmes in 2011.
On Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Malala Yousafzai, student, activist, Malala Fund co-founder and 2013 Award winner, said:
“I am proud to support my sister Gulalai Ismail, a fearless advocate for girls’ education and equality in Pakistan.Gulalai has been repeatedly threatened for her activism. Aware Girls was listed as one of five “agents of the CIA” in Pakistan. On May 16, 2014, four armed gunmen attempted to force their way into the family home, shouting and looking for Gulalai Ismail who had been delayed by lost baggage at the airport, which saved her life. Social media campaigns called Gulalai a foreign agent, “Western puppet,” and atheist after her international recognition as a youth leader, which ignited threats of violence and hatred against her. Despite the threats and danger faced by her and her family as a result of her activities, Gulalai continues her work in Pakistan.
Through Aware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country.
Despite discrimination and danger, Gulalai is continuing her fight to see every girl to go to school. She has been my friend for many years and I wish her congratulations on this distinguished honour.”
In 2010, Gulalai set up the Youth Peace Network, which works to strengthen the capacity of young people as peace activists in their communities. The Youth Peace Network was a response to what Gulalai saw as the increased ‘Talibanisation’ of young men and women and the vulnerability of young people to militants in the North-West of Pakistan. In 2013 she set up the Marastyal Helpline to give advice and assistance to women at risk from, and victims of, gender based violence. The service gives advice on legal and medical aid as well as emergency ambulance information and emotional counselling and operates from Peshawar.
Also in 2013 Gulalai joined the Youth Advocacy Team of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, to advocate for a global policy framework which recognises the role of young people as peacebuilders. This led to the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 “Youth, Peace and Security.” Gulalai is now working in Pakistan on the implementation of the UNSC Resolution so that young people’s voices become part of all decisions and policies regarding peacebuilding and countering extremism.
Despite the dangers she is facing, in 2016, along with partners, Gulalai set up “Pak-Afghan Women Peace Network” which is a network of women peacebuilders from Afghanistan and Pakistan working towards countering radicalisation. The network is bringing together women peacebuilders from both countries working towards lasting peace in the region. Gulalai Ismail continues her work in Pakistan through “Aware Girls” and the Youth Peace network bringing peace activists together to promote peaceful resistance to the Taliban and encouraging more women into politics, as well as investigating the psychological impact of terrorism on children and families.
On accepting the award, Gulalai Ismail said:
“I am honoured to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award, an award dedicated to Anna; a woman of great courage and bravery. A woman who refused to be silenced. I am accepting this award because just like Anna, I am also refusing to be silenced by adversity, violence and extremism. Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right, no one should have to choose between the right to Speak and the right to life.On Gulalai Ismail and Gauri Lankesh receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, as well as the special tribute to Jamalida Begum, Baron Judd of Portsea, a member of the 2017 Award Nominations Committee, said:
While I receive this award wars, gun violence, and genocides continue in many parts of the world. Refugee camps are becoming homes to millions of people. People are getting denied their right to self-determination. New brands of religious extremist organisations keep on emerging, with every new brand beholding much more severity of violence. The world seems to be in its darkest period, but I want to tell you that no matter how dark the world is, there is HOPE as well. Hope in the form of Jamalida Begum from Myanmar, who is a brave survivor of rape by the Myanmar security forces, and despite threats to her life she Spoke up and refused to be silenced. If there are conflicts, there are brave women too and this award is not only my recognition as a person, but a recognition of all those brave women who have spoken out, even if the cost was intimidation, threats and murder.
Thank you to RAW in WAR for letting me share this award with another incredible woman from India, Gauri Lankesh who just like Anna, was killed for speaking truth to power. While I receive this award, India and Pakistan complete 70 years of their separation, and you are reminding to the world again that even today we have similar hopes, aspirations and struggles. That love is greater than divides.“
“Amidst all the disturbing violence and repression, not least of journalists, which is increasingly prevalent, Anna Politkovskaya remains a heroic example of courage and integrity. I am glad to salute Gulalai Ismail and the late Gauri Lankesh together with Jamilida Begum as brave champions of Anna’s cause. In doing this I also salute the countless individuals who are victims of oppression, tyranny, torture, sexual abuse and disappearances, wherever this occurs.”The awards will be presented to the winners in March 2018 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2018 Women of the World (WOW) Festival at the London’s Southbank Centre
Pakistan ~ October 05, 2017
KP rights activist wins Anna Politkovskaya Award Gulalai Ismail, a Pashtun women's rights activist from Swabi, was awarded thed Reach all Women in War (RAW) Anna Politkovskaya Awar on Thursday alongside senior Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, according to a report by RAW.
Gulalai co-founded a non-governmental organisation, Aware Girls, with her sister Saba Ismail in 2002. The organisation aims to strengthen the leadership skills of young people, especially women and girls, enabling them to act as agents of change for women empowerment and peace building and to fight for their rights.
"Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right," Gulalai said as she accepted the award.
"While I receive this award, wars, gun violence, and genocides continue in many parts of the world. Refugee camps are becoming homes to millions of people. People are getting denied their right to self-determination. New brands of religious extremist organisations keep on emerging, with every new brand beholding much more severity of violence," Gulalai added.
"No matter how dark the world is, there is hope as well," she said.
"Gauri Lankesh... was killed for speaking truth to power," Gulalai said about an Indian journalist who was posthumously given the Anna Politkovskaya Award along with Gulalai.
Lankesh a known critic of right-wing groups in India was fatally shot by unidentified attackers in the Indian city of Bengaluru in September.
Before her death, the senior journalist had been found responsible in a defamation case by a lawmaker of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for her writing about Hindu nationalists.
"While I receive this award, India and Pakistan complete 70 years of their separation, and you are reminding the world again that even today we have similar hopes, aspirations and struggles," Gulalai said as she completed her acceptance speech.
Pakistan's teenage Nobel laureate, Malala Yuousafzai, who won the award in 2013, said about Gulalai's work: "Through Aware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country."
London ~ Tuesday 13 October 2015
The Peshawar women fighting the Taliban: 'We cannot trust anyone'
The work of the remarkable women known as Aware Girls to counter the extremism of the Taliban would be dangerous even if they weren’t based in Peshawar, a city that feels as if it’s under siege
Saba Ismail, co-founder of Aware Girls with sister Gulalai, addresses women at a community event in Mardan. (Angela Catlin)
By Billy Briggs in Peshawar, Pakistan
In a hotel room in Peshawar, in secret, Gulalai Ismail is giving a lecture to a group of men and women on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 29-year-old wears a black leather jacket, rather than the customary burqa, and uses a flipchart as she explains the Declaration’s clauses on freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial. The 30 delegates in the room have travelled here from as far afield as Chitral, South Waziristan and Afghanistan. When Ismail has finished, they take turns to talk about the human rights abuses that they’ve witnessed: acts of mob justice and lynchings, or summary executions by Islamist extremists. Four people act out the killing of a journalist by the Taliban.
They also share ideas for promoting peace. One man explains how he persuaded shopkeepers to stop selling toy guns to children in a bazaar. A young woman describes her successful campaign at the University of Malakand for female students to be allowed to wear colourful headscarves, instead of just black.
These brave young people belong to a network of about 300 activists from across northern Pakistan who peacefully oppose the Taliban. Peshawar is their headquarters, the safest place for them to meet and attend workshops on human rights. Gulalai leads many of the sessions. A determined and fearless Pashtun woman, she heads the organisation that makes all this happen: Aware Girls.
Aware Girls attendee Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban at just 15 years old
Peshawar, Pakistan, a city of 3.3 million people that has been deeply affected by terrorism. (Angela Catlin)
Aware Girls was founded in 2002 and operates in the face of severe violence, not just in Peshawar but also in Pakistan’s tribal areas and other troubled parts of the country. It trains young women on their rights – and, through its Youth Peace Network, makes efforts to encourage more women into politics – who then try to stop their peers being radicalised, leaving Peshawar for villages and towns where they try to dissuade others from joining extremist groups.
In Peshawar, this is highly dangerous work – not least because Aware Girls is run mainly by women. One of its attendees in 2011 was Malala Yousafzai, whose own efforts on behalf of women’s education earned her a bullet to the head from the Taliban at the age of 15. She survived and went on to win the Nobel peace prize. Gulalai says her friend is now a symbol of honour for the organisation. “Violent attacks are happening to many women in Pakistan, so I was happy Malala was able to highlight the issue.”
Peshawar is a dangerous place at the best of times. A sprawling, dusty metropolis of around 3.3 million people, it is the capital of the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass. Everyone here has been affected by terrorism. The city feels as if it’s under siege. Armed soldiers nervously man checkpoints on main roads, while government buildings resemble fortresses, protected by guns and razor wire.
The city is regularly rocked by suicide bomb attacks and the security situation remains desperate. Last December, one atrocity particularly appalled the world, when the group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan murdered 132 children and 18 adults in a school. It was the worst terrorist act in Pakistan’s history, but there have been several other mass killings. Aware Girls estimates that around 4,000 people in the province have been murdered or maimed by terrorists since 2010.
The group believes the best way to combat terrorism is with education. Gulalai and her sister, Saba, founded it in 2002 when they were still teenagers, their initial goal to advance women’s rights in a city where many females suffer appalling discrimination. The sisters began campaigning against domestic violence, acid attacks, honour killings and exploitative labour.
Aware Girls estimates that around 4,000 people in the province have been murdered or maimed by terrorists since 2010
Taheer and Irum Aneez Malik, pictured here with their 12-year-old daughter Kashuf and 10-year-old nephew Hashir, mourn the loss of their 14-year-old son Hammad who was shot dead at school. (Angela Catlin)
Since 2010, Aware Girls has also focused on its growing peace network, which stretches out from its Peshawar base to rural Taliban strongholds. Last year, 223 activists reached almost 4,000 “at risk” young people. At the last national elections, in 2013, Aware Girls led all-female teams of polling station monitors, to ensure women were allowed to vote freely and without intimidation.
One of Saba’s projects has been to investigate the psychological impact of terrorism on the city of Peshawar. According to her study, 84% of survivors of bombings said they were too frightened to leave their homes, while 66% of families reported suffering psychological problems. Children were too scared to attend school due to constant suicide attacks. Domestic violence was rising because men who’d lost their homes or jobs were assaulting their wives and daughters. Peshawar’s economy has suffered greatly over the years, and many women – who often suffer disproportionately due to their second-class status in Pakistani society – said they were living hand to mouth.
“Terrorism has destroyed houses, properties, businesses and livelihoods. Children are frightened and weep. Women have lost hope,” says Saba.
But while terrorism casts a dark shadow over Peshawar, there remains hope that education and dialogue can, over time, change entrenched attitudes. Jawad Ullahkhan, 21, has been involved with Aware Girls for two years. He is from Mingora, the largest city in Swat district, and the place where he saw his first decapitated corpse.
Aware Girls led all-female teams of polling station monitors to ensure women were allowed to vote without intimidation
Jamia Gasmia, a militant religious school in Dhodhdr, has pledged allegiance to political party Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam, which has links to the Taliban. (Angela Catlin)
“The Taliban would bring their victims to a place we called Blood Choke [Green Square] and behead them. They would leave them there for days. The first time I saw a body strung up, I could not believe it. I remember I was walking towards Blood Choke listening to music. I had my hood up so nobody would see my earphones, as the Taliban had banned music. I was in shock for days as I had never seen such things. It was so cruel. I can still smell the blood.”
As he relates the story, Ullahkhan’s eyes widen as if he’s back in the moment. But since attending meetings in Peshawar, he has recruited 15 people to promote peace in Mingora: they try to prevent radicalisation through theatre, and engage with students from extremist madrasas in order to challenge stereotypes and bigotry.
It’s difficult to get anything done in a city as risky as Peshawar. Aware Girls work in schools and mosques, and offer one-to-one counselling that can last for weeks in the hope that a young person changes their views – but they are forced to hold their community meetings by invitation only, in hotel rooms protected by armed guards, where they know the owners and staff. Delegates suspect they are being monitored by ISI, Pakistan’s secret police. Last spring, Gulalai had a lucky escape when lost luggage after a flight meant she wasn’t at home in Peshawar when four armed men turned up at her door.
“They claimed to be security officers who had come to search our home,” Gulalai says. “They tried to enter forcefully but my father refused to open the door. They were shouting and making threats. They started shooting guns into the air. I thought that sooner or later I’d be attacked, but I never thought it would happen to my family.”
We want women to have equal rights to justice, legal support, financial resources and access to education - Saba Ismail
She doesn’t know who the gunmen were: Taliban, Pakistan’s security services, or even a criminal gang trying to kidnap her for ransom. “We cannot trust anyone,” she says.
Nevertheless, as a city that offers at least a modicum of anonymity, Peshawar remains their best bet to fight the Taliban by sowing the seeds of education – work that has won Gulalai the 2014 International Humanist of the Year award and the Commonwealth Youth Award for Asia, and Saba the 2013 Democracy award of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); both women were named that year in Foreign Policy’s list of “leading global thinkers”.
“There were so many human rights violations, such as rape and murder, happening to women in our community, but no platforms for women to raise their voices,” Saba says. “We want women to have equal rights to justice, legal support, financial resources and access to education and other social services.”
Listen to a BBC Radio 4 appeal about the work of Aware Girls and their funder Peace Direct HERE