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Afia Salam: An agent of change for women rights and the environment in Pakistan

Posted: 24 October 2021

Pakistan, Alumni, Impact,

Australia Awards alumna Afia Salam is deeply passionate about two causes: ensuring rights for women and marginalised communities, and taking action to protect the environment and climate.

A geologist by education (having completed her Master of Geography from the University of Karachi in 1982), a journalist by profession, a civil worker by passion and a cricket enthusiast in her free time, Afia has a wealth of accomplishments and interests. Completing a Short Course on Women in Executive Leadership Development from the University of Queensland in 2019 helped her expand her talents even more.

“The opportunity through the Australia Awards Short Course on Women in Executive Leadership Development was a rich cultural and professional experience,” Afia says. “The exposure to the tools for personal leadership development and the path that ensures recognition of potential through building alliances and networking has allowed me to grow personally and professionally in just these two years after completion.”

While Afia has always had an interest in environment-related topics, she says it wasn’t until she joined the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Pakistan in 2008 that she realised the gravity and scale of environment-related challenges and climate change, especially in her home country.

Since then, she has made some significant changes for environmental protection and climate action in Pakistan. Afia says she feels privileged to have worked with some brilliant minds, inspirational leaders and creative solution providers, as well as practitioners who drew her deeper into the field.

Afia moderating the ‘Around the Water Table’ stakeholder forum organised by Australia Awards – Pakistan in 2019

Afia is a member of the National Coordinating Body working to assess and assist in the designation and declaration of Marine Protected Areas along Pakistan’s coasts. She helped designate Astola Island, a four hundred square kilometre island off the coast of Balochistan, as Pakistan’s first Marine Protected Area. She is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Indus Earth Trust, which undertakes ‘green construction’ through progressing eco-friendly buildings, water replenishment, wastewater treatment and provision of alternative energy solutions, among other social sector interventions.

To empower women, Afia has also conducted training in gender-sensitive reporting for student journalists in universities, and with the International Labour Organization has conducted training for journalists on reporting gender in labour markets.

Additionally, Afia is the current elected President of the Executive Committee of Baanhn Beli. This civil society organisation which started work about 35 years ago in the Tharparkar, a district in the Sindh province of Pakistan, and has expanded its work into other districts of Sindh. The organisation works towards providing water through wells, reservoirs and dams, and delivers programs in education, healthcare, skill enhancement, gender empowerment, civic engagement and livelihood generation. Baanhn Beli is also the implementing partner for an IUCN project to preserve vultures. Of the six species of vultures recorded in Tharparkar, four are regarded as either endangered or critically endangered.

Afia is also a member of the working group formed by the National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning to draft climate change and security recommendations. Separately, she has been appointed to the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training as part of the curriculum advisory board to revise textbooks for students from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

Beyond these experiences, Afia works as a communications consultant and freelance journalist. In these roles, she continues to address issues around the environment, climate change, gender, media ethics and other social issues in her home country. Not only that – Afia is also Pakistan’s first female cricket journalist!

Despite marking such significant achievements throughout her career, Afia still feels that she benefited tremendously from her Australia Awards Short Course. “The engagement of the Australia Awards team and the course instructors has helped me move forward to crossing many milestones,” she says. “Looking back, it seems amazing that we achieved all this in just a matter of a three week course.”