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Australia Awards alumnae empowering women through affirmative action

Posted: 11 October 2019

Pakistan, Impact,

Since 2012, the United Nations has marked 11 October as the International Day of the Girl. Today, 11 October 2019, we look back on nearly 25 years to when around 30,000 women from nearly 200 countries arrived in Beijing, determined to recognise the rights of women and girls at the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace, held on 4–15 September 1995.

Empowering and educating women and young girls is one of the core pillars of Australian Aid. It is also one of the priority fields for Australia Awards scholarships in Pakistan.

“Many girls suffer discrimination simply for being girls. Australia is actively working in Pakistan to empower girls by ending gender-based violence, child marriage and education inequality. Girls have the right to participate equally in life’s opportunities,” says Australian High Commissioner to  Pakistan HE Dr Geoffrey Shaw.

To mark the International Day of the Girl this year, Australia Awards – Pakistan is reflecting on the work carried out by our alumni and their achievements that support girls to amplify their voices and stand up for their rights. Under the theme, ‘Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable’, the Day will celebrate achievements by, with and for girls since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and passage of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Here we share the stories of Australia Awards alumni Javaria Jamil, Zarghuna Kakar and Sumera Mehboob, who take pride in their efforts and achievements to educate, empower and encourage young women in their lives.

Javaria Jamil

One amazing woman who is unscripted and unstoppable is Australia Awards alumna Javaria Jamil. Javaria completed her Master of Education at the University of Queensland, through an Australia Awards Scholarship, and is the headmistress of a girls’ high school in Punjab, Pakistan.

Australia Awards alumna Javaria Jamil

Javaria has initiated seminars and counselling lectures for girls matriculating from her school to help them choose career paths for life and higher studies. The girls are briefed about the current trends of society and market demands and are encouraged to take different combinations of subjects at college level. Javaria says that several of her students now pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects for their higher studies and is proud that at least one of her students is on her way to medical school.

Javaria also arranges regular field trips, and opportunities to attend exhibitions in Lahore. She arranged a handicraft exhibition at her school that encouraged girls to make objects like decorative items, greetings cards, stationery items and papier-mâché models. Javaria believes that the confidence her students gained due to this exhibition helped them to win first and second prize for the school in the handicraft’s category at the Rising Youth festival 2018 arranged for young women in Lahore.

She has words of inspiration to share with those who want to make a difference the way she does.

“I want you to be the best of who you are, and who you can be. Not everyone can be a doctor, engineer or lawyer, but you can be the best version yourself,” Javaria says.

Zarghuna Kakar

Australia Awards alumna Zarghuna Kakar, a Public Health Specialist, is deeply passionate about improving the health conditions of Pakistani girls and women. Zarghuna completed her Master of Public Health from the University of Melbourne in 2013, through an Australia Awards Scholarship. She has worked in the capacity of Health Promoter and Counsellor at a non-governmental organisation and currently works as a Project Manager at InstaHealth, a civil society organisation promoting healthy behaviours through behavioural change communication. She is responsible for designing, implementing, evaluating and reporting public health interventions. She was responsible for Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) for schoolgirls in Balochistan, an impoverished province in Pakistan. She also interacted closely with the students and staff members as a Master Trainer.

Deputy High Commissioner Brek Batley recognising Zarghuna’s work on Menstrual Hygiene Management at the Australia Awards small grants celebration ceremony in Islamabad

In 2015, Zarghuna received an Australia Awards Small Grant for a project to promote MHM as a part of the skill-based health education for at least 200 schoolgirls between 11 and 18 years of age. She made efforts for a year to enable girls to attend school, educating them on hygiene, high self-esteem, minimum absenteeism, and reduced risk of infections. As a result, 200 schoolgirls and 21 schoolteachers from six public schools in the Quetta District in Balochistan are now practicing comprehensive menstruation hygiene and are experienced in crafting and stitching reusable pads.

“The real success of the project was the spark of joy, happiness and thankfulness on the innocent, beautiful and shy faces,” says Zarghuna.

The project also resulted in an interactive publication, Sara kye Sawal (translated: ‘Sara’s Questions’), an MHM knowledge-based booklet that subtly aimed to improve the menstrual knowledge, attitude and practices of girls.

Sumera Mehboob

Australia Awards alumna Sumera Mehboob, who completed an Australia Awards Short Course on ‘Women in Executive Leadership Development’ from the University of Queensland in 2019, is an educator who runs a not-for-profit school in Khuzdar, Balochistan.

Australia Awards alumna Sumera Mehboob

To benefit her community and fulfil her lifelong dream, Sumera established The School of Scholars in her hometown in 2015. Initially the aim was simply to provide free basic education to children of less-fortunate households, but under Sumera’s guidance the school now provides these students with a quality education equivalent to that found in metropolitan cities like Quetta or Karachi.

Through her social work and efforts, Sumera has successfully created a school where 92 students (including girls, street children, orphans and others who would otherwise not have access to schooling) now receive education from trained teachers. She sees this as one of her major contributions to society.

Sumera is dedicated to creating a space for education in her community that enables self-development. Sumera actively de-emphasizes conventional learning methodologies and tries to promote creative learning, physical education, music and other extracurricular activities for overall development of her students.

She says, “I believe that well-educated students not only do well in life but can also contribute in nation-building; it helps in overall development of the individual, society and the country.”

Sumera and her staff not only work with students but also educate parents and introduce them to the real meaning of education and enlightenment. For the past 10 years, Sumera has served the underdeveloped communities of Balochistan and worked with many women’s groups to build their capacity on personal and social issues.

Like Javaria, Zarghuna and Sumera, Australia Awards alumni keep striving professionally and personally for the betterment of Pakistan and humanity. Click here for more of their stories.