Aqeela Asifi is the 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award, recognized for her indefatigable efforts to educate Afghan girl refugees. She was a guest panelist at the "Managing Displaced Populations—Lessons From Pakistan" discussion with President Jim Yong Kim during his two day visit to Pakistan last week.
Her car broke down during her long journey to Islamabad from Kot Chandana, a refugee village where she lives in the south-eastern Punjab province of Pakistan.
Tired she may be, and notwithstanding a panel discussion on the Afghan refugee situation still ahead of her, she has a story to tell and nothing will stop her.
Her quiet, almost shy demeanor belies her fierce determination: Aqeela Asifi is a refugee, teacher, champion of girl’s education, an inspiration to thousands of her students, and a 2015 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award.
Her story is one of resilience against all odds.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Afghans, she was forced to flee Afghanistan in 1992 when civil war broke out in the country. She left everything behind: her family, her house, and a job as a teacher in Kabul, and ended up in Kot Chandana, a village in Pakistan, which then hosted nearly 180,000 other refugees. By the early 1990s, more than three million exiled Afghans had crossed Pakistan’s border, putting additional pressure on the country’s infrastructure and social services, notably health services and schools. What Asifi witnessed was a complete lack of learning facilities and opportunities for girls in her newfound community. “When I started living at a refugee camp I saw girls’ education was the most neglected area,” she says. “Girls were not even aware of education and its importance in their lives. They didn’t know anything about books, pencils, and it was then when I realized that this community needed my help.”
These kinds of connected communities can be a great short-term solution to some of Pakistan’s challenges in creating jobs.
Pakistan is home to a large youth population, with nearly 100 million youth under the age of 24. Creating more and better jobs for this new generation will be a major development challenge. According to Pakistan’s own estimates, the country will need to grow at around 7 percent a year to absorb all these young people into productive economic participation. But constraints on energy supply as well as budget and capacity constraints on government are going to make this challenging in the short term.
What we have seen working in Pakistan over the last few years is that there is an emerging cultural shift that is becoming more accepting of self-employment and entrepreneurship as legitimate employment pathways for young people.
Given the constraints of the domestic economy to absorb all these young people, many of the employment opportunities will come through the establishment of new businesses. And the tech industry in Pakistan has shown a steady and healthy growth rate in recent years, with the potential both to drive growth through the development of new business models, startups and innovation.
One of the major issues we have seen working here is that many young people are curious about how the internet and technology can offer employment, but are not sure where to start.
Want a digital career? Here’s how to get started:
For those interested in learning some skills and linking to work through international marketplaces—also called freelancing—there are resources available to help with training.
Many of the top freelancing sites offer introductory materials to learn basic freelancing, such as Upwork and SamaSchool. Independent online learning sites also offer courses and certificates, most notably Coursera.
The Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is a semi-autonomous tribal region in northwestern Pakistan, bordering Pakistan's provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and Afghanistan to the west and north. It consists of seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions and are directly managed by Pakistan's Federal Government.
FATA has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The region has seen conflict and instability for almost three decades. Since the start of the 21st century, it has suffered more with escalation in violence, forced isolation of its population by extremist groups and instability. But things have begun to change. The security operation in North Waziristan Agency has been followed by large scale programmatic/development interventions by civil authorities. This has resulted in decrease in violence, initiation of the return process for the internally displaced populations and the restoration of the writ of law.
This was the first local election in 10 years in most places of the country. Voters elected council members of three tiers of local governments: district, urban councils, and union council/ward.
How will these elections impact the lives of average citizens?
International experiences have shown that the main benefit of elected local bodies is their closeness to citizens, which allows them to be much more responsive – although with sustained hard work -- to improving local services such as waste, water, sewerage and transportation.
In a report about managing spatial transformation in South Asia launched at the 3rd Pakistan Urban Forum, we highlighted that (see chapter 3 of the report).
To that end, we identified three closely related "deficits" -- empowerment, resource, and accountability -- which, if tackled properly, could lead to improved local urban governance.
The recent local elections in Pakistan are important steps toward reducing these three deficits. The new local government laws, which were enacted in most provinces in 2013, started to re-empower local governments after the expiration of the earlier 2001 Local Government Act.
Urbanization growth is already stretching cities’ resources. and Karachi ranked 135 out of 140 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 livability index.
Violence against women is a pervasive issue in Pakistan. The problem manifests itself in many ways, most of them extreme: honor killing, spousal abuse including marital rape, acid attacks, being burned by family members, attempted murder at the hands of husband or in-laws, or even driving a woman to suicide. According to the latest Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) in the country, 32% of ever married women aged 15-49 years report having experienced physical violence at the hands of their spouses, and 1 in 10 women reported experiencing violence during pregnancy.
However, violence against women goes beyond physical intimate-partner violence. As an example, a study based on face-to-face interviews with 759 women in Karachi found that 82% of married women aged 25-60 years had experienced some form of psychological abuse. Another smaller survey of 176 married men 18 years or older in age and from different socio-economic backgrounds in Karachi found that 95% reported perpetrating some type of verbal abuse during their marital life. strict rules about how men and boys should behave, including protecting honor, and an adult male can never be questioned or ordered to do anything. A woman’s behavior is also strongly linked to honor. When a woman challenges her traditional role, or is perceived to step outside the lines, honor may be threatened. The drive to preserve honor can be so strong that it has resulted in some of the most heinous crimes against women ever committed in Pakistan.
What does art have to do with technology? Just ask Mahoor Jamal, a fashion illustrator and portrait artist from Peshawar, who uses Instagram—an online photo site—to showcase her work and connect with an international audience and to sell more of her work. Or just ask Jawad Afridi, a photographer and the founder of Humans of Peshawar. He is also dependent on social media for his work, using Facebook to exhibit his photographs of the people of Peshawar. This has earned him customers and recognition beyond Pakistan and he has recently contributed to the publication of a book in the UK. These young artists, and many more, will soon be getting together in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to celebrate art and technology over two days at the ArtTech Festival.
Formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has historically been an important trade route between Central and South Asia. This position resulted in an amalgamation of unique cultures, traditions, ethnicities, histories and monuments that have shaped today’s artists, artisans and musicians from KP. KP is now emerging from a period of instability, and is looking to the future to identify opportunities for its youth in the knowledge economy.
The ArtTech Festival will be the first step in raising awareness and building a community of youth interested specifically in the cutting edge intersection of art and technology. As a “sister” festival to the larger Digital Youth Summit, the Festival creates a space and platform to encourage cross disciplinary creativity and to nurture entrepreneurship in the creative and cultural industries.
Economic Growth in Pakistan is expected to accelerate from 4.0% in 2014 to 4.5% in 2016. What are some reasons for this moderate improvement and how could it unlock its potential to grow even faster in the future so that more of its people can benefit from and contribute to greater prosperity?
How is Pakistan doing? There has been an improvement in Pakistan’s economic environment due to lower domestic and external risks. Foreign exchange reserves have increased to an appropriate level given the size of Pakistan’s imports. Pakistanis working abroad sent home about $18.5 billion in FY2014/15 which contributed to financing the trade deficit. Government efforts to stabilize the economy have been greatly aided by the decline in international oil prices which has significantly reduced the import bill. Fiscal policy has also become more prudent, although further efforts will be needed to safeguard the hard-earned stability.
Pakistan needs to invest more to address the country’s challenges. The positive economic environment provides Pakistan with an opportunity to address structural bottle necks that are holding Pakistan back from realizing its immense potential, which is bolstered by a large, young and growing population. However, the country’s development outcomes have not kept up with its income growth and significant public and private investments are critical to realize the aspirations of its population and improve the country’s competitiveness.
The share of investment to GDP remains minimal at 15%, about half of the South Asian average at 30% and one of the lowest in the world. This means not that enough infrastructure is being built, people don’t have access to sufficient levels of energy and water, the quality of schools and hospitals are not optimal. More worryingly, private investment as a share of GDP has been declining and stood at less than 10% in FY2014/15. Several factors are contributing to this low investment level.