Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Pakistani female students and their parents have expressed enthusiasm for efforts to encourage the former to voice their opinions on current affairs issues, as part of IWPR’s new youth journalism project Open Minds.
One of the goals of the Open Minds project is to encourage students to talk about local and national current affairs issues – as a prelude to more formal journalism training – by developing their analytical and discussion skills.
This is important because students have little experience of thinking for themselves, as rote learning is the order of the day in the classroom.
Girls, in particular, are discouraged from taking a position or speaking out on important issues, reflecting women’s largely subordinate role society. Moreover, female students have few role models: prominent Pakistani women tend to be rich or otherwise privileged.
Ayesha Taskeen, an Open Minds trainer in the rural district of Charsadda in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, NWFP, told IWPR that parents in the area were keen for their daughters to participate in the IWPR programme.
“One student’s mother came to me and informed me that her daughter has very regularly been attending the training classes with keen interest. She also requested that her other daughter may also be allowed to attend,” she said.
“It was moment of pleasure and encouragement, as it has been [my] general impression of the people of this area that … they would never allow their daughters [to come].”
Ayesha told IWPR that her students’ knowledge and curiosity about current events in Pakistan has visibly increased since she began the training sessions.
“I have been impressed to see that [after] two months of Open Minds Pakistan training, the students raised the question of how could they convey their school problems to the education [ministry] through newspapers,” said Ayesha.
With more than three times as many boys as girls enrolled in high schools in Charsadda according to the provincial administration, and ten times as many boys in post-16 colleges, female students certainly have good reason to want the education authorities to hear their voices.
The journalism training Open Minds provides is helping female students gain the confidence to speak out on such important issues. In a charity school in the southern city of Karachi, trainer Sajjad Ahmad described the transformation of one of his students, “[There’s] girl named Sidra who is very shy. When I asked her to talk about women’s rights in a session she was literally unable to speak a single word in front of her fellows. But the same girl the very next day … asked a couple of questions and in the next session her level of confidence had increased a lot.”
Female students “hardly get a chance to speak in the way they do here”, added Sajjad, “and they are coming up with very good questions.”
Other students in Sajjad’s classes have progressed even further, engaging in lively debates on various issues. “The frequently discussed problems were inflation, power failure, water and cleanliness,” said Sajjad of one training session. “Inflation was the most highlighted issue and the current sugar [price] crisis was a hot debate.”
In another school, “the girls [initiated] a debate on women’s rights, and the majority highlighted the issue of forced marriages specifically in the villages of [rural] Sindh”, he continued.
Sajjad teaches in three girls’ schools including one in Orangi, one of Karachi’s biggest slums.
Another trainer also working in Orangi, Aroosa Masroor, spoke of the disappointment of those that had failed to get onto the training programme.
She told IWPR that in order to select students for training at Faran School, she asked applicants to speak for a few minutes about why education is important for women.
“After the selection process, one of the eight disqualified students came up to me almost in tears and … [said] that she really wants to learn all that I know,” Aroosa explained. “She also said, ‘I forgot to mention in my speech that it is important for a woman to study so that there can be more women like you who can come to teach us in Orangi’.”
Aroosa was “most touched by this comment and decided to include her” in the class.
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