The space is shrinking for civic voices

The Independent has a profile of Gulalai and Saba Ismail.

Saba Ismail woke up in her Brooklyn home to a voicemail from her sister, Gulalai. She was calling to say she had been apprehended by Pakistan officials upon landing in Islamabad after a flight from London. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) told Gulalai she had been put on an exit control list (ECL) and was going to be immediately detained. “The space is shrinking and closing out spaces for civic voices, voices who are raising for peace,” Gulalai says in the message recorded as she was being detained.

Speaking to The Independent later Gulalai says: “I am a well known human rights activist and I have always worked for countering extremism, for preventing young people from joining militant organisations, for peace-building, for inclusion of women in peace-building and I have always spoke for human rights of women in Pakistan.

“Adding my name on the ECL so that I can not leave Pakistan is an attack… on my constitutional right to speak up, my right to freedom of expression, my right to freedom of thought.

“Adding the name of a well renowned human rights activist in the ECL is a black spot on the character of Pakistan,” she says.

Pakistan has questions to answer, the Indy notes.

Raised in northwest Pakistan, Saba and Gulalai Ismail grew up in a progressive family where they, among their other siblings, were taught about human rights and gender equality, predominantly from their father Muhammad Ismail, a teacher and activist.

But outside of their home they saw a different world.

“Since I was born I have seen the differences in the way people treat their daughters than their sons,” 30-year-old Saba told The Independent. “Inside, outside, in schools – I saw that difference from a very young age.”

Although seeing gender inequality on a daily basis, there was one particular moment in her teenage years that still stands out for Saba.

“When my cousin was about 12 years old, she really wanted to become a pilot. One day she was told she can’t go to school anymore because she’s getting married to a man 15 years older than her, so she had to discontinue her education the very next day.

“I saw my male cousins going to school, continuing their education, and I thought, ‘she wants to be a pilot, and she’s not able to go to school, even though she wants to. She has to get married instead.’ That really sparked questions in mine and my sister’s minds.”

So the sisters started Aware Girls in 2002.

The seed of fighting injustice that was planted at such a young age has continued to grow throughout the lives of these two women. Saba spoke at the White House in 2017 about peace-building processes, she shared a panel with Melinda Gates and has regularly consulted for the UN. Gulalai too has worked with numerous organisations, winning the International Humanist of the Year Award and the Anna Politkovskaya award for campaigning against religious extremism. She was also previously named as one of 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. Her passionate TED talk examines growing pressures of religious extremism and the non-violent ways of combating it.

Gulalai on Facebook two hours ago:

Dear Friends, As you know because of my over a decade work on human rights and political activism my name has been put on ECL and my passport has been confiscated. People all over Pakistan did online protests against my detention using hashtag #ReleaseGulalaiIsmail, because of the online public pressure I was released on interim bail. Here’s a petition asking for the return of my passport and removing my name from ECL- please sign the petition by opening the link and entering your name, country, and email address. I need your signatures to help me get back my passport and get myself off the ECL.

If you don’t know me and want to know more about the situation or myself, you can read this article [which is the Indy article linked and quoted above].

Link to Petition [hosted by the IHEU]

I’ve just signed.

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