by Nida Ali, President, Girls Got Voice (Pakistan)
In our context, democracy has partially failed, because in a true sense, it has never been implemented. In a true democracy, people have the right to choose and elect their representatives. A majority of South Asian countries have had a lot of interference by the military and other agencies. Every politician focuses on establishing a relationship with the military rather than the people. There are anti-rights groups that threaten to kill girls who voice their dissent from the far-right groups’ political stance. If you dive into the truth, it’s not a democracy because we don’t have choice.
In Pakistan, women’s and girls’ participation is very low. More than 80% of girls don’t know about the process of political participation, or even how to obtain the proper identification needed to vote. That’s why we mobilize girls and women from the grassroots who can pass on the message. We do this to improve their political participation and engage them in the process so they can make decisions on their own about politics. We also improve their understanding of ID card registration. A majority of girls don’t have access to identification because they don’t know about the process. So, we communicate with the authorities who are responsible for the registration of women and girl voters to improve access.
Meanwhile, misinformation is everywhere. Whether it’s related to COVID or elections, misinformation restricts women’s and girls’ access to the political process. We start countering the misinformation by spreading accurate information. We share information about how women and girls can participate in the political process from A to Z, and how they can access government support.
You must ensure that nobody is left behind and ensure that LBTQI communities and refugees have their voices counted. For that, feminists need to play their role. Girls, women and LBTQI people need to have a coordinated and collective voice. For feminists in the US, you must not let the vulnerable groups down. If they don’t know what the agenda is, translate it to these communities. Whether it’s about food security or climate change, feminists need to play the role of disseminating access to timely and accurate information as the biggest right.
Looking at the US Election and Beyond
We were shocked when we heard Trump support white supremacy, and how they used force against the protestors and used the state machinery to undermine elections. To maintain the integrity of the election, the US citizens have to maintain the agenda that they chose. They have to assess the political platform and ask: are girls represented? How is climate change addressed? How do they talk about equality?
In addition, we need to see setbacks as an opportunity for the future and focus on our goals and the ways we want to reach them. There may be hurdles — like COVID-19 — but these challenges should not distract us from our goal of a gender-equal world where everyone has access to resources. Our focus needs to be on our goals.