This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign(25 November – 10 December) to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide.
Agha Mohsin Ali has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of women. Starting in his village of Balochistan in Pakistan and later moving his efforts to the U.S., he has made sure women’s education is top of mind in society, wherever he is.
I was born on November 7th, 1982, in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, the least developed province in Pakistan. I became an advocate for girls’ education and women’s rights in a deeply patriarchal and very conservative society. I started this journey as a boy scout and but have continued to speak out on the importance of education in a society that is dominated by tribal chieftains who have been criticized for blocking the educational development of the population.
My journey started in my own village. As a boy scout, I enrolled my own sisters in school, and then day by day, enrolled 28 girls from the neighborhood. After I completed my master’s degree in international relations, I joined the NGO sector and led the very first project on “Gender Justice Through Musalihat Anjuman in five districts of Balochistan” where I trained 2,000 local government representatives on gender sensitization and legal literacy to provide free of cost access to justice for female survivors of violence at union council levels.
The biggest challenge to expanding girls’ education in Balochistan remains cultural and religious resistance. Conservative thinking, tribal attitudes and religious fundamentalism are still the antiquated ideals in Balochistan. One tribal leader, who has become convinced of the value of girls’ education, explains the prevalent attitudes this way: “We used to say that educating a girl is like watering a neighbor’s plants, that all the girl’s learning would go to her husband’s family when she married … [or] that an educated girl would become disobedient and refuse to accept an arranged marriage.”
Another significant challenge is the lack of infrastructure in the Balochistan Province. Many villages do not have school buildings so classes are held outside. Most schools are without walls, adequate water supply or latrines, which contributes to a sense of female vulnerability at school. These problems are compounded by the geography of Balochistan, with its mountains and large swaths of unoccupied semi-arid desert lands. The schools are deeply isolated and not stocked well with textbooks or sufficient supplies. Conflict and disaster have made people’s lives more precarious and further disrupt basic social services including education.
I am fighting challenges alongside the scouts’ movement of Balochistan in addition to leading several projects in flood emergencies where I’ve provided services to hundreds of thousands of young girls and women by setting up temporary learning centers to continue their education and psychosocial needs.
I have also led another initiative — “Young Champions Initiative” — where 4,470 scouts received training on children’s rights, gender equality, data collection and interpersonal communication skills. Once trained, each scout collected data about school enrollment from ten homes in his own community. The scouts were encouraged to visit “five homes to the left and five homes to the right” of their own home. Scouts used their training in interpersonal communications to speak with parents and neighbors to advocate for girls’ enrollment in primary school. I used my own social platform to bring attention to violence against women at national and international levels for the humanitarian rights of women and girls. I have participated in different social media campaigns to appeal to policy makers for the benefit of making pro women laws. I have also written various articles on the behalf of women and girls rights in varying newspapers and internet news blogs.
Now I am in the United States, where I continue to promote women’s and girls’ rights at an international level for the elimination of violence against women and girls by urging the policy makers and legislators to pressurize governments for the benefit of creating pro women laws and time sensitive implementation for gender equality and empowerment.
When I raise my voice for the rights of any woman or girl, I feel happy that I am also raising my voice for the rights of my mother and sisters.