Together, We Thrive.
In order to build a prosperous and peaceful Pakistan, we need to look within and reflect on our behavior patterns and tolerance. Listen to the marginalized without judgment, amplify their voice and support their causes. Accept the marginalized as in important part of your society, don’t simply tolerate them. Prosperity comes with acceptance and unity.
A few days ago, I was in a café, impatiently waiting for my order of Cappuccino and croissant to be prepared. While I was waiting, I heard a little boy, around 11 or 12 years old, say, “MOM! Uncle told me I cant ask such questions? Why not? This is so unfair! Where is my freedom of expression?!”
Even though I was there for barely ten minutes, I keep thinking about how outraged that little kid was at not being able to get answers to the questions he has and not being able to express. It is, after all, his right. Then I got to thinking about this little boy’s reaction at not being able to exercise his right and how sensitive an issue it was to him. Why did he feel his voice was not heard? And how many more people belonging to marginalize groups often feel the same on a daily basis?
The right to expression and thought is a fundamental right that is granted to every individual, regardless of the opinions they have, the beliefs the hold or the backgrounds they belong to. They are born with this right. Whether it is a child, an adult, an elderly, a woman, a man, a transgender, a disabled, a laborer or an average, privileged citizen. This right is viewed as the foundation of many other rights.
The right and freedom to express allows all of us to freely voice our concerns, share our ideas and support our opinions and arguments. This right is equally granted to all citizens of Pakistan, regardless of their gender, age, religion, caste, background and beliefs. But how much space do we, the average Joe, give others to express their opinions and beliefs? Do we allow those with different views, with different problems, different opinions, different beliefs and different struggles, to be truly and freely expressed? Have we created a space within which it is safe for marginalized groups to exercise their right to expression? And most importantly, are we truly non-judgmental and accepting of a difference in opinion, especially from a marginalized group.
Women amount to at least half of Pakistan’s population. If women are unable to freely express their views, opinions and difficulties, will we ever be able to get rid of the vices they face in our society? In 2020 alone, 1422 cases of domestic violence were reported in the country and 1409 cases of violence against women. In order to voice these actions of misconduct and violations of human rights, the right to expression is extremely important. It is also important for, as individual citizens of Pakistan, who may not directly face human rights violations, to support and protect human rights, the right to expression specifically, especially of the marginalized and vulnerable. Women, just like men, are entitled to the equal rights of expression, opinion and speech. Once their voice is heard, their issues and difficulties will be addressed. Great examples to support this statement are campaigns like the MeToo and He for She movement, and the Aurat March. Once women are given a free and safe platform to voice their concerns, their concerns will be resolved. If they are unable to express freely, how will anyone know the difficulties they face or the barriers they stumble upon? When their voices were heard, our local and national institutions quickly addressed their concerns.
The government is actively working on ways in which the representation of women is equal and fair. More and more women are in prominent positions and are being given political space and inclusion in decision-making processes. With women being more involved in decision and policy making, we can see more and more women centric policies and programs such as the Ehasaas Sarparast Program, which provides financial support to poor women and orphans. Additionally, the 1099 help line and mobile application, launched by the Ministry of Human Rights, was developed to help women and victims of abuse.
Similarly, like every Pakistani citizen, children are entitled to equal basic human rights to protect their well-being. Children are also entitled to the same general human rights as adults along with specific rights that recognize their special needs. The right to and freedom of expression is also granted to them as is granted to other members of the society. Without a safe space and an equal right to express, how will children convey human rights violations and misconduct? Have we, the adult citizens of Pakistan, given children a safe and secure platform for them to voice their concerns? The media reported 1618 cases of child abuse in Pakistan in 2020. While the government and international law gives children equal rights and protection, a total of 117 cases of child labor and 32 cases of child marriages were recorded in 2020. So my question is; until and unless their voices are amplified and raised in the civil society, how will the difficulties they face be addressed? How much space do we give the marginalized to voice their concerns. Do we, as the privileged citizens of Pakistan, create a safe, accepting and accommodating ground upon which marginalized groups can build on and exercise their right to and freedom of expression?
The Zainab Alert Bill passed in 2020 is yet another great example of how amplifying the voice of the weak and marginalized can result in revolutionary steps to improve conditions. Once the issue of missing and abducted children and its increased frequency was raised and voiced by the civil society, the government addressed the problem and immediately passed the bill. The bill makes provisions for raising alert, response and recovery of missing and abducted children in Pakistan.
So, at the end of the day, the laws are in place and the programs are running, but what are we, as citizens of Pakistan, doing to ensure we protect and support the right to expression of the vulnerable? How much space and freedom do we give people, especially the marginalized, to express their concerns and voice their opinions? In order to build a prosperous and peaceful Pakistan, we need to look within and reflect on our behavior patterns and tolerance. Listen to the marginalized without judgment, amplify their voice and support their causes. Accept the marginalized as in important part of your society, don’t simply tolerate them. Prosperity comes with acceptance and unity. Together, we thrive.