On Thursday 5th of October 2017 RAW in WAR honours Gulalai Ismail, a courageous Pashtun human rights activist from Swabi, Pakistan. At the age of 16 in 2002, Gulalai founded Aware Girls with her sister Saba Ismail, aiming to challenge the culture of violence and the oppression of women in the rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area in the north west of Pakistan. Driven by a passion to challenge the inequality, intolerance and extremism, they began running workshops to provide girls and young women with leadership skills to challenge oppression and fight for their rights to an education and equal opportunities. Malala Yousafzai was an attendee of Aware Girls programmes in 2011.
On Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Malala Yousafzai, student, activist, Malala Fund co-founder and 2013 Award winner, said:
“I am proud to support my sister Gulalai Ismail, a fearless advocate for girls’ education and equality in Pakistan.
Through Aware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country.
Despite discrimination and danger, Gulalai is continuing her fight to see every girl to go to school. She has been my friend for many years and I wish her congratulations on this distinguished honour.”
Gulalai has been repeatedly threatened for her activism. Aware Girls was listed as one of five “agents of the CIA” in Pakistan. On May 16, 2014, four armed gunmen attempted to force their way into the family home, shouting and looking for Gulalai Ismail who had been delayed by lost baggage at the airport, which saved her life. Social media campaigns called Gulalai a foreign agent, “Western puppet,” and atheist after her international recognition as a youth leader, which ignited threats of violence and hatred against her. Despite the threats and danger faced by her and her family as a result of her activities, Gulalai continues her work in Pakistan.
In 2010, Gulalai set up the Youth Peace Network, which works to strengthen the capacity of young people as peace activists in their communities. The Youth Peace Network was a response to what Gulalai saw as the increased ‘Talibanisation’ of young men and women and the vulnerability of young people to militants in the North-West of Pakistan. In 2013 she set up the Marastyal Helpline to give advice and assistance to women at risk from, and victims of, gender based violence. The service gives advice on legal and medical aid as well as emergency ambulance information and emotional counselling and operates from Peshawar.
Also in 2013 Gulalai joined the Youth Advocacy Team of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, to advocate for a global policy framework which recognises the role of young people as peacebuilders. This led to the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 “Youth, Peace and Security.” Gulalai is now working in Pakistan on the implementation of the UNSC Resolution so that young people’s voices become part of all decisions and policies regarding peacebuilding and countering extremism.
Despite the dangers she is facing, in 2016, along with partners, Gulalai set up “Pak-Afghan Women Peace Network” which is a network of women peacebuilders from Afghanistan and Pakistan working towards countering radicalisation. The network is bringing together women peacebuilders from both countries working towards lasting peace in the region. Gulalai Ismail continues her work in Pakistan through “Aware Girls” and the Youth Peace network bringing peace activists together to promote peaceful resistance to the Taliban and encouraging more women into politics, as well as investigating the psychological impact of terrorism on children and families.
On accepting the award, Gulalai Ismail said:
“I am honoured to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award, an award dedicated to Anna; a woman of great courage and bravery. A woman who refused to be silenced. I am accepting this award because just like Anna, I am also refusing to be silenced by adversity, violence and extremism. Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right, no one should have to choose between the right to Speak and the right to life.
While I receive this award wars, gun violence, and genocides continue in many parts of the world. Refugee camps are becoming homes to millions of people. People are getting denied their right to self-determination. New brands of religious extremist organisations keep on emerging, with every new brand beholding much more severity of violence. The world seems to be in its darkest period, but I want to tell you that no matter how dark the world is, there is HOPE as well. Hope in the form of Jamalida Begum from Myanmar, who is a brave survivor of rape by the Myanmar security forces, and despite threats to her life she Spoke up and refused to be silenced. If there are conflicts, there are brave women too and this award is not only my recognition as a person, but a recognition of all those brave women who have spoken out, even if the cost was intimidation, threats and murder.
Thank you to RAW in WAR for letting me share this award with another incredible woman from India, Gauri Lankesh who just like Anna, was killed for speaking truth to power. While I receive this award, India and Pakistan complete 70 years of their separation, and you are reminding to the world again that even today we have similar hopes, aspirations and struggles. That love is greater than divides.“
On Gulalai Ismail and Gauri Lankesh receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, as well as the special tribute to Jamalida Begum, Baron Judd of Portsea, a member of the 2017 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“Amidst all the disturbing violence and repression, not least of journalists, which is increasingly prevalent, Anna Politkovskaya remains a heroic example of courage and integrity. I am glad to salute Gulalai Ismail and the late Gauri Lankesh together with Jamilida Begum as brave champions of Anna’s cause. In doing this I also salute the countless individuals who are victims of oppression, tyranny, torture, sexual abuse and disappearances, wherever this occurs.”
The awards will be presented to the winners in March 2018 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2018 Women of the World (WOW) Festival at the London’s Southbank Centre