Monday, May 16, 2011

Education key to changing women’s lot

Narrating her life and struggle, Ghulam Sughra, a recipient of International Women of Courage Award, on Tuesday told students that education was a must for women to bring in better changes in their own and others’ lives.

“Education makes all the difference for a woman. I was divorced because I was uneducated,” she told an interactive session at the Islamabad College for Girls F-6/2. She said she was married at the age of 12.

Dr Marilyn Wyatt, wife of US ambassador to Pakistan, and Mehnaz Aziz, director Children’s Global Network were also present.

The US government gives the award to recognise and honour women who show exceptional courage and leadership in promoting women rights. This year Ms Sughra was one of 10 women selected from all over the world for this award for her efforts for “girl child education” in interior Sindh.

After divorce she was left alone to care for her two children, “an uphill task for an illiterate young woman in interior Sindh.”

“An unskilled and uneducated woman is susceptible to social injustice. I was on the verge of committing suicide along with my son and daughter,” she said. But then pessimism gave way to determination to change her life for the sake of her children, as she did her matriculation at the age of 22.

After the bitter experience she went through, Sughra realised that education was the only ‘panacea’ for women to fight against harassment and inertia. “I never wanted women of my community to suffer like I did. I persuaded people to send their daughters to schools.” But she was told poverty, social pressures and norms of the community were stopping parents from sending daughters to school. But this only made Sughra more determined to help girls get education.

She started Marvi Rural Development Organisation (MRDO) in 2001for empowering women living in rural areas. Today the organisation has come a long way as it is working in 500 villages in interior Sindh.

“We provide micro loans to women to help start a business and earn money to send their girls to schools. Social mobilisation is our other aim,” a beaming Sughra said, adding that she now wants to take her agenda of girl education and women’s empowerment to other parts of the country.

In her comments, Dr Wyatt said educating girls was a key to success and a war forward for the developing countries.

She said everywhere in the world youth is considered a resource to the national development. “Colleges and schools of Pakistan are very pleasing places for me and I hope women like Ms Sughra would never let these places down with their consistent struggle and determination.”

Terming her a role model for Pakistani women, she said, “Women here can change their destinies by following footprints of Ms Sughra.”

We are strategic partners with a common enemy: Kerry

US Senator John Kerry on Monday called Pakistan and the United States “strategic partners with a common enemy” as he sought to ease distrust in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Kerry also said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon announce plans to visit Pakistan.

Kerry said he had held “constructive conversations” with Pakistan’s leaders but reiterated “grave concerns” over the presence in Pakistan of the al Qaeda terror chief and sanctuaries of US adversaries in Afghanistan.

“More importantly I explained that I am here with the backing of President (Barack) Obama, (US) ambassador (to Pakistan Cameron) Munter and their team to find a way to rebuild the trust between our two countries,” he said.

“We must never lose sight of this essential fact. We are strategic partners with a common enemy in terrorism and extremism.

“Both of our countries have sacrificed… so much that it just wouldn’t make sense to see this relationship broken or abandoned,” he added.

Kerry said Pakistan had “recommitted to find more ways to work against the common threat of terrorism” and to increase cooperation on intelligence sharing and operations to “defeat the enemies that we face”.

In one tangible, concrete achievement, Kerry said Pakistan would return on Tuesday the tail of a helicopter. Navy SEALs destroyed the chopper during the operation that got bin Laden after a hard landing.

Pakistan, which has lost thousands of soldiers and civilians in the fight against homegrown Taliban and to Al-Qaeda-inspired bomb attacks, said the allies would work together on future high-value targets in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani joined forces with Kerry to say that the two countries now needed to rebuild trust.

“It was the need of the hour that Pakistan and US should rebuild the trust and confidence between their governments and institutions,” his office said in a statement released after his talks with Kerry.

There have been heightened security fears in Pakistan since the bin Laden operation and the killing of a Saudi diplomat in a hail of gunfire Monday was the second attack on Saudi interests in Karachi in less than a week.

Last Wednesday, drive-by assailants threw two grenades at the consulate in Karachi in what officials said could have been a reaction to Saudi-born bin Laden’s death.

Kerry Seeks to Soothe Pakistani Anger Over Bin Laden Raid

Senator John Kerry tried on Monday to lower the temperature in the fraught American Pakistani relationship in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden raid, saying that the two sides would work together despite the anti-American clamor by the Pakistani government in the last two weeks.

Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has argued that it would be foolhardy for the United States to cut assistance to Pakistan, said that Pakistan had agreed to take “several immediate steps” to show its seriousness. These included returning the tail of the helicopter that crashed on the night of the Bin Laden raid.

But on the major differences at hand, Mr. Kerry declined to specify what if any progress had been made.

On the key issue of whether Pakistan would stop assisting the Haqqani network, whose forces keep sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas and cross into Afghanistan to kill American and NATO soldiers, Mr. Kerry offered little light.

The senator, who came to Pakistan with the backing of the White House, said he had discussed the presence of the Haqqani forces in Pakistan, as well as Pakistan’s support for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and for Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban, with the head of the Pakistan army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

“We discussed every single one of them,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that Pakistani action against them would help the United States end the war in Afghanistan. But he was not willing, he said, to talk in public about issues that the Pakistani military had shown little interest in resolving.

On Sunday, Mr. Kerry visited Khost Province in Afghanistan where American commanders briefed him on the Pakistani insurgents coming across the order. It appeared that Mr. Kerry planned to use that evidence in his discussions on Monday with the Pakistani leadership.

In an unusual joint Pakistani-American statement negotiated Monday afternoon at a meeting attended by President Asif Ali Zardari and General Kayani, the main demand of the Pakistanis appeared to be a pledge that the United States had “no designs against Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic assets.”

“Senator Kerry stated that he was prepared to personally affirm such a guarantee,” the statement said.

The Pakistani military has complained bitterly that the Americans did not inform them in advance of the Bin Laden raid, and part of Mr. Kerry’s mission involved soothing wounded feelings, and papering over American officials’ statements that Pakistan could not be trusted with advance knowledge.

Pakistani officials have said they had no idea that Bin Laden, the world’s most-wanted terrorist leader, was living in a compound in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, where Navy Seal commandos killed him in a May 2 raid. “Even in the U.S. government, very few people knew about it,” the joint statement said of the Bin Laden operation.

The senator, who is the author of the major $7.5 billion package of civilian aid to Pakistan, said he had warned the Pakistani leadership of the “grave” worry in Congress about the presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan. Those concerns were putting future aid in peril, Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry’s calming tone was apparently echoed Monday when editors of some of Pakistan’s newspapers met with General Kayani.

In contrast to the strong anti-American presentation to parliament by General Pasha on Friday, General Kayani said that Pakistan would continue a relationship with the United States because otherwise the country risked becoming isolated, said an editor who attended, but who declined to be named because the matter was politically delicate.

“Pakistan understood the limits of its own reach,” was General Kayani’s basic message, the editor said.

Moreover, Pakistan needed to remain on good terms with the United States in order to have its say in the settlement of the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan, the general said, according to the editor’s account.

Saudi woman defies driving ban

A Saudi mother said Sunday she defied a ban on women drivers in the ultra-conservative kingdom by getting behind the wheel for four days without being stopped.
Najla al-Hariri, a housewife in her mid-30s, said she drove non-stop for four days in the streets of the Red Sea city of Jeddah "to defend her belief that Saudi women should be allowed to drive."
"I don't fear being arrested because I am setting an example that my daughter and her friends are proud of," Hariri told AFP, adding she was offering driving lessons for women.
Hariri said she was an experienced motorist as she had driven for five years in Egypt and another five years in Lebanon, while she could not drive in her own country.
In addition to being banned from driving, Saudi women cannot travel without authorisation from their male guardians, and are also not allowed to vote in the municipal elections, the only public polls in the absolute monarchy.
When in public, they are obliged to cover from head to toe.
Hariri ridiculed the social belief that Saudi women are treated "like queens" as they are driven around by their male relatives or drivers, saying "this is a big lie."
"We are always under their mercy to give us a lift," she said.
Meanwhile, a group of Saudi women have launched a Internet-based campaign calling for a nationwide protest drive on June 17 in a bid to get rid of the ban once and for all.
"On Friday June 17th, we women in Saudi will start driving our cars by ourselves," says the Women2Drive page on Twitter.
The page for the event on Facebook is entitled "I will drive starting June 17" and has 1,998 supporters.