Empowering Girls through Women Friendly Spaces in Pakistan
Growing evidence shows that in times of humanitarian crisis, both in conflict or following natural disasters, child marriage rates increase, with a disproportionate impact on girls.1
Displacement frequently increases child marriage as a negative coping mechanism and the practice can also perpetuate other forms of GBV, often leading to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation for girls and women.2 Trócaire responds by focusing on women’s voice and participation, women’s education, and on women’s economic empowerment.
Trócaire’s partner United, Motivation, Education and Empowerment for Development Foundation (UMEED) established women friendly spaces in Peshwar, North West Pakistan. The project provides women, including those displaced by regional conflict, with a safe space where they can get client centred emotional and psychosocial support, education to reduce the incidence of early marriage, and also opportunities for income generation activities and life skills.
A female protection officer, together with social mobilisers, carries out home visits to encourage women and girls to attend these women friendly spaces. The project team explain the purpose of women friendly spaces and assure them on security, safety and other concerns. Male family members are also invited to community meetings to discuss the project’s activities.
Within these spaces, women and girls meet other girls of a similar age and they discuss their concerns, whilst exchanging their skills on embroidery, cooking and stitching. The Trócaire and UMEED Foundation partnership also coordinates other service providers to arrange sessions on life skills, provide psychosocial support through different recreational activities and arrange skills training for income generation.
1 Women’s Refugee Commission (2016) A Girl No More: The Changing Norms of Child Marriage in Conflict P13
The project is an example of working with a diverse mix of local service providers, through a local organisation, to provide girls with a range of opportunities that have been denied as a result of displacement, and the cultural norms that dominate women’s lives.
Education provides a myriad of opportunities for girls, from self-confidence and social stability to earning opportunities and better health outcomes. These methods of empowering girls, by offering them opportunities to gain skills and education, providing support networks, and creating ‘safe spaces’ where they can gather and meet outside the home, can have multiple social benefits, changing norms and attitudes and helping them to assert their rights.
“I feel now I am changed. I feel more positive about life…before I came here, I was afraid, as I did not have the courage to speak with others. But now I can do this, I have confidence. I feel safe here and I feel like I am with friends”
Rabia is a 16 year old girl from Bara Agency in North West Pakistan. Her family was displaced to Peshwar as a result of military operations against non-state actors. Rabia enjoyed school but could not continue her studies after 4th grade. Belonging to the traditional Pashtun culture, she is not allowed to move freely outside of her home. Rabia was engaged to be married at the age of 12, and following the marriage, her in-laws were strictly against her continued education. A female Protection Officer visited Rabia’s home to encourage the women in her family to attend women friendly spaces. Rabia and her mother wanted to join but her father and uncle did not allow them. After the project team explained the purpose of women friendly spaces and invited Rabia’s father and uncle to a community meeting to discuss the projects activities, Rabia was allowed to attend a women friendly space.
At this space, she meets other girls her age and they discuss their concerns, whilst exchanging their skills on embroidery, cooking and stitching.