“Early marriage is a major challenge in Pakistan. 40 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. Early marriage often denies children their basic right to good health, education and freedom from violence, abuse and exploitation. Most fundamentally, it deprives a child the basic right of simply being a child.” This was stated by the Ambassador of Denmark, Mr. Jesper Moller Sorensen, who was the chief guest at the launching ceremony of the new project ‘Gender Empowerment and Institutional Development Program.’
The nationwide project is being implemented by Oxfam Novib and its Pakistani partners. It is supported by the Government of Denmark with a donation of 15 million Danish kroner ($2.5million). It will be implemented in all four provinces, including Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Bajaur Agency of Pakistan.
Opening the ceremony, Mr. Arif Jabbar Khan, Country Director of Oxfam in Pakistan, highlighted Oxfam’s vision of a society where everyone, also youth and women, are valued and treated equally, able to influence the decisions that affect their lives while assuming their responsibilities as active citizens. “Human development is driven by empowered women. Oxfam continues to place the highest priority on supporting women and girls to become leaders and to ensure that their roles in society and the economy are properly valued and recognized,” said Mr. Khan.
The project will work across Pakistan with young people especially young women and girls to enable them to claim, practice and support adherence of their reproductive health rights in a more favorable policy environment and without any discrimination. The project will focus on life skill education, reproductive health rights and advocate for prevention of early child marriages.
Ambassador Sorensen reflected on Denmark’s support to gender equality. “Promoting gender equality is a consistent feature in all Denmark’s development and humanitarian assistance programs. Our support to work on gender equality is based on a rights-based approach. This approach focuses on improving women’s access to fundamental rights, to resources and to influence.”
The Ambassador also highlighted that the project will engage parents and teachers, local and national governments, parliamentarians, media, religious scholars and civil society across Pakistan. “By also including these groups, the initiative aims to create an environment for effective citizenship and responsive governance, where people – especially youth and women – can exercise their reproductive health rights without any discrimination of gender,” said the Ambassador.
During the launch, the audience was engaged in a dialogue on gender and youth rights through an interactive play performance by members from the Interactive Resource Centre. The audience was asked to decide what the ending of the story play should be, endorsing that any decision to be made needs to be based on information and knowledge.
Guest of Honor, Ms. Maiza Hameed, Member National Assembly of Pakistan and Chief Coordinator of Prime Minister Youth Skills Development Scheme affirmed the government’s commitment to empower youth in the country and highlighted various initiatives taken by the government to lift young people out of poverty, discrimination and marginalization.
Mr. Arie Schuurmans, Associate Country Director of Oxfam Novib in Pakistan thanked in his closing remarks all participants and specifically the Danish government for providing the funding support together with Oxfam Novib.
The event was well attended by representatives from the governments of Pakistan and AJK, public sector officials, religious scholars, donor agencies, NGOs, civil society organizations, academia, students and the media.
Oxfam Novib will implement the project with its partners across Pakistan. Oxfam Novib is part of Oxfam international confederation of 17 independent non-governmental organizations across the globe and works with local groups, civil society and government to promote social justice and equal rights for all in Pakistan.