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Australia Awards initiates collaboration to combat gender-based violence in Pakistan

Posted: 30 November 2023

Pakistan, Alumni, Impact, Inclusion,

Ahead of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, on 6 November Australia Awards – Pakistan collaborated with the Lahore branch of AGHS Legal Aid Cell to facilitate an interactive discussion about gender-based violence, women’s rights and the relevant legal protections in place. The discussion was led by a panel of eminent speakers and was attended by an audience consisting of lawyers, civil society representatives and Australia Awards alumni.

The event culminated in the announcement of the creation of a joint support group formed by alumni members of the Women in Leadership Network and mentors from AGHS Legal Aid Cell. The group will offer gender-based violence survivors immediate assistance and emotional support, as well as guidance to appropriate legal, medical and psychological services—including free legal advice from AGHS Legal Aid Cell. Australia Awards anticipates that this support group can achieve sustainable and long-lasting improvements in Pakistan.

Co-founded by Pakistani human rights lawyer and social activist Asma Jahangir in 1980, AGHS Legal Aid Cell is the country’s first law firm to provide free legal representation to the vulnerable and remains Pakistan’s leading institution fighting for human rights for the marginalised.

Mentors from AGHS Legal Aid Cell in Lahore, Pakistan attending the event.

The discussion began with Nida Aly, Executive Director of AGHS Legal Aid Cell, speaking in detail about the organisation’s work and its sustained efforts to help vulnerable women. She highlighted that progress in Pakistan can only be made when the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign (an annual international campaign that begins on 25 November) is used as a springboard to push for safety on every day of the year. She also added that women need to be empowered to understand their rights and advocate for themselves, and victims need to be encouraged to report incidents and seek justice.

Rubina Shaheen, Women Protection Officer at AGHS Legal Aid Cell, then discussed the prevalence of gender-based violence in Pakistani society. She talked about the taboo that surrounds the subject, stressing the importance of ending this stigma. She added that it is equally vital to ensure that basic needs are met and that mental health services are strengthened and easily accessible by all.

Rubina Shaheen speaks with the audience about ending the stigma around gender-based violence.

Mudassar Malik, Director General of the Social Welfare Department in Punjab and Australia Awards alumnus, delivered a presentation about the facilities and services that the Punjab government offers for legal action against perpetrators of gender-based violence and how citizens can access this assistance.

Alia Malik, an Advocate in the High Court and Australia Awards alumna, advised participants about legislation in place to counteract gender-based violence, and discussed the struggles in implementing these laws. She also spoke about the constitutional rights of women in Pakistan, as well as the key laws and acts under the constitution that form the fundamental basis for women’s rights in the fight for child custody and for protection from rape, abuse, cyber-bullying and harassment.

Alumna Alia Malik attending the event.

The audience questions and discussion during this event highlighted the challenges of ending violence against women and girls, including by raising awareness about laws against gender-based violence. Participants urged the government to urgently push the issue of gender-based violence to the top of its agenda, and strengthen its policies and institutional capacity to respond.