Building civic engagement in marginalized communities
“I would like to share one thing with you. My name is Uzaira and the meaning of my name is ‘helpful’,” says the 22-year-old United Nations Volunteer in Lahore, Pakistan. “Honestly the meaning of my name has had a great impact on my personality.”
Uzaira Tasneem is completing her bachelor’s degree from the University of Education, Lahore. True to her name, when she heard about the UN Volunteers programme, she decided to apply. “I always aspired to become a volunteer because it would get me closer to the community and the people,” she says.
As one of 36 UN Volunteers, Uzaira conducts regular civic education sessions for young people and marginalized communities around Lahore. Through presentations, role playing and question and answers, she teaches her audience about how the branches of government work, and tells them how and why to become informed voters. She explains, “Civic education is important because it teaches us what we as individuals can do to protect and support our democracy and nation.”
The village of Sham ki Bhattian lies on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, yet education levels are low and women are prevented from participating in public life. Few cast their vote. In this challenging environment, Uzaira is proud to have made a contribution to increasing civic engagement. At her first session, only three women attended as few were allowed to leave their homes. Since then, this number has increased to 13.
“I met so many people who did not even know how to write their names,” she says, including women who had never been to school in their lives. She describes her pleasure at helping them empower themselves through voting. “It is important to give them awareness that vote is their right as well as their voice, so they must not waste their vote,” she says.
“In this way I am able to say that I have changed something in the world and in the lives of other people,” she says.