Women’s Rights Organizations Leading Change

by Oxfam Canada | March 30, 2021
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Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan

Women’s Rights Organizations Leading Change

Oxfam and its partners designed the Women’s Voice and Leadership  - Pakistan monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning process together, using a feminist approach based on Oxfam Canada’s 10 feminist principles.

The Project: Women's Voice and Leadership - Pakistan

Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan (2019-2024) is being implemented by Oxfam Canada in collaboration with Oxfam in Pakistan. It’s part of a worldwide Global Affairs Canada initiative that is currently running in more than 30 countries.

In Pakistan, women and girls are among the most at risk of having their human rights violated. Those who are also members of other marginalized groups face further discrimination. While Pakistan’s Constitution calls for equality, rights and protection for all, human rights violations are an ongoing concern.

Recently, Pakistan’s women’s rights movement has deteriorated to critical levels, with women's rights organizations and women's movements facing shrinking spaces in which to organize. Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan seeks to increase Pakistani women and girls’ abilities to access human rights and to advance gender equality by strengthening the individual and collective capacity of women’s rights organizations, women’s rights activists and coalitions within the women’s movement in Pakistan.

Using a strategic combination of core funding and capacity strengthening, Oxfam is working to support strong, autonomous, and well-resourced women’s rights organizations, who are best placed to advance gender equality and women’s rights. This will ensure they can deliver programming on their own terms, better meeting the needs of the women and girls they serve. The project also improves the ability of women’s rights organizations and activists to work together more effectively toward gender-transformative policies.

This project takes place in Pakistan:

A map of the world with Pakistan highlighted in green

The Challenge

Oxfam and its partners designed the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan MEAL process with a feminist approach based on Oxfam Canada’s 10 feminist principles, which aim to centre women’s rights organizations as co-implementers of the project.

In a week-long workshop, the 12 organizations and Oxfam in Pakistan staff focused on learning and practicing feminist MEAL and developing a feminist MEAL system. One participant recorded this video (known as a Meaning of the term "cellphilm video" A cellphilm is a video shot entirely on a cell phone or tablet camera, often with no editing, just storyboarding the shoot beforehand. It’s intentional and conveys a message in a short time. For more information, refer to this series of resources from the Internationl Cellphilm FestivalOpens in a new window. ), reflecting on Oxfam’s feminist principles and the project's objective to shift power, ownership and leadership to women’s rights organizations. This perspective and commentary illustrate a strong commitment to practicing feminist MEAL, whereby women’s rights organizations lead and define how change occurs.

The main challenge in this process was that the 12 women’s rights organizations who were engaging with the project had varying levels of skills, experience and resources when it comes to feminist MEAL. We overcame this challenge by facilitating a workshop that would bring everyone to the same collective level on feminist MEAL, and also give participants opportunities to practice feminist MEAL through participatory activities. In taking a collaborative, collective approach to the workshop, it created an opportunity for cross-organizational learning among the women’s rights organizations. As one participant noted: “We are hopeful that for the coming three to three and a half years, we will learn together and will transform ourselves into gender-just organizations and will be securing women’s rights as a whole.”

The Process

This workshop was part of the baseline assessment process for the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project. The goal of the assessment, which took place over a period of a year, from September 2019 to September 2020, was to shift ownership of the process to the women’s rights organizations. They would be the ones to determine how to grasp the baseline conditions in Pakistan and how to measure project success on their own terms.

The assessment involved three key steps:

  1. A series of self-assessment workshops in December 2019 and January 2020 in which women’s rights organizations assessed their strengths and weaknesses at the outset of the project, using Oxfam Canada’s Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening.
  2. A mapping study (January to June 2020) that outlined the situation facing women’s rights organizations and movements in Pakistan.
  3. A co-creation workshop (March 2020) where the project’s indicators, targets and the baseline report structure were collectively decided on by women’s rights organizations themselves.

Oxfam Canada hosted the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan co-creation workshop over five days. It was an opportunity for staff from Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Pakistan and the 12 core women’s rights organizations to learn and co-create the project’s feminist MEAL system together.

In keeping with Oxfam Canada’s feminist MEAL approach, we encouraged collective ownership of the process – including what was going to be measured and reported on throughout the project. All 12 women's rights organizations came to a consensus on what success would look like over the course of the project. The workshop was also an opportunity for participants to practice methods like cellphimOpens in a new window, photovoiceOpens in a new window, dramatizationOpens in a new window and community radioOpens in a new window to generate knowledge, share learning and encourage collective reflection. In essence, this workshop was about linking theory with practice by and for women’s rights organizations.

Humaira Shareef Malik's Story

Humaira Shareef Malik works with Pakistan Rural Workers Social Welfare Organization (PRWSWO), which is one of the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project partners. She is a community advocate and a local political leader in the village of Khairpur Tamewali, Pakistan who supports women’s empowerment and rights through public education and advocacy. Read more about her story below.

Humaira is originally from Khairpur Tamewali, an underdeveloped area of South Punjab where patriarchal mindsets and gender discrimination are commonplace, such as the exclusion of women from decision-making, the control of their labour, income and movement, and the prominence of child, early and forced marriage, acid attacks, child labour, family violence and other violations of girls’ and women’s human rights.

In Humaira’s extended family, girls’ education was stigmatized, and her immediate family faced so much backlash and criticism as a result of Humaira going to school that they had to move from Khairpur Tamewali to the city of Bahawalpur so she could continue her education. With the support of her parents, Humaira continued to study despite the backlash and now has a Master’s degree.

After completing her Master’s in 2002, Humaira joined the development sector to work with women’s rights organizations on advancing girls’ education opportunities and ending violence against women and girls. Over the years, Humaira has worked with and supported female acid attack victims and, through this work, she has deepened her understanding of how to provide safe, secure environments for women to talk about their lives and rights, and how to advocate for women’s rights with community leaders, religious leaders and policy makers. Religious leaders in particular are significant and influential figures in her community who have the potential to be great partners in promoting women’s rights.

Further breaking down barriers to equality for women in her region, Humaira was elected as a local district councillor in Khairpur Tamewali in 2005 and has used that platform to promote women’s rights, end child, early and forced marriage and combat gender discrimination in her community. Over the years, she has made progress on local women’s rights issues and laid a path to improving education and employment opportunities for girls and women in the area. She has stopped several early marriages, supported victims of acid attacks in getting the care they need, promoted girls’ education and established a school for girls in Khairpur Tamewali.

As a result of her involvement in the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project, Humaira is learning new approaches to women’s rights organizing and change-making at the community level. She’s had the opportunity to use new tools, like Oxfam Canada’s Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening, innovative safeguarding practices to protect women and children from exploitation and abuse, and feminist monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) techniques.

Feminist MEAL is a new addition to Humaira’s skill set, which she learned as part of her work with Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan. She now practices these techniques with her colleagues at PRWSWO and works with them to further develop these feminist MEAL skills. Taking part in a Women’s Voice and Leadership co-creation workshop in Islamabad in March 2020 gave Humaira the skills and tools she needed to transform her workplace into an environment that’s more conducive to promoting women rights. Specifically, Humaira has used social and religious references to explain to colleagues and community members how Oxfam Canada’s feminist principles – most significantly the principle of Do No Harm – could be applied to PRWSWO’s work in culturally-relevant ways, noting an important overlap between the Islamic hadith and Oxfam’s feminist principles.

As part of onboarding the full project team at the start of the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project, Humaira introduced her colleagues to Oxfam’s feminist principles and trained them on feminist MEAL techniques – with a particular focus on using her preferred feminist MEAL tool of storytelling, which is locally acceptable and easy to do with communities.

Storytelling has been the most popular way of assessing women’s and girls’ perspectives on their rights before and after taking part in the Women’s Voice and Leadership project. According to Humaira, she uses this tool to build personal connections and rapport with women, help them reflect on their experiences and support them in sharing their change stories. Humaira can later anonymize these stories and use them in her advocacy work to mobilize other women and girls.

To date, Humaira hasn’t had as much success with other feminist MEAL methods, such as Photovoice or Cellphilm, because the women and girls in her community are reluctant to open up via technology. She hopes that this might change over the course of the project. In the future, she also hopes to use theatre as a feminist MEAL tool to assess the change that has taken root in women’s and girls’ lives and communities. So far, she has only used theatre for awareness-raising activities.

Humaira is grateful to have the support and encouragement of the leadership at PRWSWO, which has given her the courage to explore feminist MEAL practices and adapt them to her community’s specific context. While practicing feminist MEAL, Humaira continually reflects on and exchanges thoughts with her project team and accesses their support wherever needed.

“I am hopeful that, together, we can transform the lives of girls and women by enabling them to realize their individual and collective power,” says Humaira.

Humaira dreams that one day all of the women and girls in her community will be respected and able to access their human rights as a result of her and others’ women’s rights work.

Explore Further

Learn more about how we did this, and explore how our MEAL approaches and methodologies impacted the outcome.

Learn How We Did This
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