Women are underrepresented in efforts and interventions to enhance social cohesion and community resilience against violence and conflict. The limited representation of women in these initiatives is often circumscribed by preconceived notions which relegate them to the domestic sphere. In spite of these challenges, women around the world are playing important and progressive roles in strengthening and sustaining social cohesion. These initiatives are playing are an important role in mainstreaming women as active agents of positive change and social transformation, especially from a peacebuilding perspective. It is heartening to note that dynamic young women in Pakistan are complimenting their counterparts around the world to promote sustainable peace and social cohesion in their communities.

Farisa Memon is a 27 year old volunteer social worker from Saadi Town, a multi-ethnic neighbourhood in Karachi. Farisa started her social mobilization work by encouraging local young women to enrol in a government vocational training centre in Saadi Town. The centre offered free trainings on stitching, embroidery, and tailoring to women who were previously (only) engaged in household chores. As a result of her efforts, a total of 25 women from Farisa’s neighbourhood, were able to secure paid employment in Gul Ahmed, a reputable garments factory based in Karachi. This initial experience encouraged Farisa to tackle more challenging issues affecting the people around her. She observed that immigrants from the erstwhile FATA region, who had recently settled in Saadi town, were not sending their children to school. Initial inquiries revealed that this was due to the lack of information about the admissions procedure and the general hesitancy of displaced parents to interact with school authorities. To address this, Farisa worked with the principal of a local government school, encouraging parents to enrol their children to nearby educational institutions. 

These initial experiences helped Farisa join a local civil society initiative to promote peace and social cohesion in violence prone communities. Her first work assignment took her to Korangi, a low income locality inhabited by Memon, Mohajir, and Bengali communities. She observed that children and youth needed trainings on anger and conflict management to prevent regular fights and clashes in the streets that were often given an ethnic angle. To address this, Farisa and her team organized fund raising events and cultural festivals in schools that celebrated Pakistan’s strength in diversity. She also mobilized and trained youth from Korangi to organize street theatre performances on social cohesion and encouraged children from different ethnic backgrounds to play together.

In 2018, Farisa was selected as one of the 50 youth activists from Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the ‘Capacity Building and Mentorship Trainings on Leadership, Negotiation and Communications Skills’ initiated by UNDP’s Youth Empowerment Programme. The trainings will help grassroots activists in learning the necessary skills and knowledge to upscale their existing community development projects by networking with relevant power actors, taking personal initiative (where required), and effectively communicating their message and achievements to target audiences. As a young activist, who acquired most of her skills through on ground learning, Farisa was pleased to go through a structured course on essential skills for development practitioners and youth leaders.

‘I was motivated by the passion to work for communities. I did not have the required skills to convey important messages to my audience or to effectively network with power brokers and change makers. This training has helped me in honing my communication and negotiation skills.’ 

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