Maryam Masood Masood Ali Sheikh, Youth Power Global Leader and VSO Pakistan’s Youth Volunteer Alumni  from Pakistan shares her experience of raising awareness of Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and working with young people in her community to address social cohesion challenges.

Growing up in Pakistan I have seen my country suffer several distinct but connected disputes, both at international level and domestic level. Their causes are multiple: nationalism, regionalism, separatism, religious doctrine and political ideology. This is particularly widespread in rural areas of Pakistan where local disputes are so common and a major contributing factor to underdevelopment.

I have worked in thirty six rural communities in Pakistan and have studied the stark effect of poverty and gender imbalances. They fuel disputes that expose young girls and women to crime, exploitation and torture.

For example in Cha Gul Wala , located in the far flung area of Shujabad, there are limited spaces for young people to discuss issues affecting them, local issues being top of the list. On the top of this it is a conservative community, so young people, particularly girls and young women, are seldom found in leadership and decision making positions. This is worsening gender disparities and inequality within the community. When a young girl is married off, if she feels unhappy and seeks divorce it can result in high tensions amongst families. In some case, village councils, called Panchayats, fail to resolve the disputes and an endless cycle of conflict and violence continues.  

However, young people in rural communities often lack adequate knowledge, skills and confidence to claim their rights, or to call for increased accountability of  commitments to peace from their leaders. It’s undermining democracy, human rights and development for young girls.

A lot is at stake if young people decide to watch decision makers from the sidelines, achievement of peace and the development in my country will be greatly compromised. This is not a cost we are willing to take.pakistan-youth-power

That’s why I am taking action to contribute towards resolving these conflicts in my country. Since February this year, I have mobilised more than 600 young people from thirty six rural communities, training them on the Global Goals, increasing their motivation, knowledge and skills to promote peaceful and inclusive societies.

Ahmed Shagufta is one of the young people that I work with. She now understands the need to build coercive teams of actively involved young people, how to work with them to identify the root causes of conflict in her community and tools used to engage the Panchayati so that they collectively form peace plans for their community. She has formed a “Women’s Peace Committee” comprising of 14 young girls and women actively involved in engaging their local leaders and other young people within the community.

This work has significantly increased young people’s motivation and expertise to take action to build peace, stability and increased awareness of gender rights within their community. This is a positive step in the right direction.

Youth Power – Restless Development’s campaign on accountability for the Global Goals –  provided me with a learning platform. I realised that if other young people from across the world can do it, nothing can stop me! The Global Goals need our collective power to be achieved and if more young people are engaged they will hold their leaders to account and make the Global Goals a reality.

What do you think?

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