The situation of women is far from ideal in Pakistan, bordering, in some cases, on deplorable. The deeply entrenched power structures of the society are such that women are wronged, and nothing is considered wrong with it – at least not by the majority, who would rather noisily celebrate the symbols of women’s emancipation instead of actually improving their situation by providing a greater space for fully discovering themselves.
Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah had realized from the very beginning that women needed to play an essential role in the construction and development of the nascent Pakistan. In 1947, he asked his sister, Fatima Jinnah, to form Pakistan’s very own Girl Guides Association, akin to that which had existed for India before Partition. The Girl Guides Association had come into existence in the U.K. in 1910, founded by Olave Agnes Baden Powell, after her Lieutenant-General brother, Robert Baden Powell, founded the Scout Movement, with focus on the development of children through outdoor activities.
On the 29th of December, 1947 G.A Khan was sworn in as the first National Commissioner of the Pakistan’s Girl Guide Association (PGGA), and Fatima Jinnah remained the Honorary Patron of the Association for life.
The current National Commissioner of the PGGA is Farhana Azim, who has held this post since 2008. “I want girls to become agents of change, that they discover their potential and help carve out a way for themselves to better the situation around,” she says. Jinnah wanted Pakistani women to become agents of change and many of them have. One of such women is Farhana Azim herself, who has helped instill a new life into the institution, especially by honoring the values of competency, efficiency and meritocracy. It is in her tenure, that the budget of the association has increased manifold to adequately sustain and expand the level of activities for the girls. It has also helped in opening up various departments which can cater to the respective specialty fields; for instance, there is a newly established IT department which ensures upkeep of the official website along with the handling of social media.
Mrs Ahmed (National Secretary) showing the camp site
“Instead of taking up the cause of one individual or a few individuals, we want to make young girls believe in themselves. We want to make them realize who they are, and what are their responsibilities and rights,” says Mrs. Ahmed, the National Secretary of PGGA, who has served the association for around three to four decades.
PGGA has a paid staff of only 100 odd people; the back bone of the association, however, is the spirit and enthusiasm of the young volunteer girls.
“I can’t say for sure what exactly propels the girls to join the ranks of girl scouts, but I can tell you the incentive I had when I joined the association back in 1950,” remembers Farhana. “It was the uniform, the prestige, hiking, camping and the fun involved in carrying tents in the backpack and in learning to create the smoke signals.”
In the wars of 1965 and 1971, the scout girls of PGGA, prepared food packages for the soldiers fighting to protect the borders. They also sent letters to the soldiers wishing them well, and during the times of war psychological support for soldiers is one of the most crucial contributions that can be made.
In October 2005, when the earthquake wreaked havoc in Pakistan, the girls were out there on the field working in the makeshift hospitals trying the rehabilitate people. Around 150 girl guides were trained in trauma management by German disaster relief firms, and the girls worked around the clock trying to bring people out of the shock that they had been through.
There are around 17 establishments of PGGA, of which around 13 are guide houses. It previously had seven chapters, one for each province, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu Kashmir and Islamabad Capital Territory. Just recently an eighth chapter has come into being, the Agha Khan Sports Board Pakistan (AKSBP), providing an avenue for girls to play sports.
PGGA conducts various kinds of trainings for the girls, educating them in subjects such as maternal health and child mortality, which are generally not openly discussed in Pakistani society. PGGA in collaboration with SMILE (Supporting Maternal and Child Health Improvement and Building Literature Environments) and TRF (Technical Resource Facility) has conducted various workshops exposing the girls to a wide array of necessary information.
The volunteers have been divided into three different groups; “Junior Guides” (ages 6-11), “Girl Guides” (ages 11-16) and “Senior Guides” (ages 16-21), and has reached a membership of 117,692, making it the largest voluntary organization for girls and women in Pakistan. PGGA is also a member of Asia Pacific Region of World Association of Girls Guide and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), which has a consultative status and is also represented in the United Nations. PGGA is dedicated to achieving the Millennium Development Goals of the UN for Pakistan, and continues on its course of spreading awareness amongst the girls pertaining to matters of hygiene and physical well being.
“We provide forums to the girls, with the help of which they interact with each other, form a community and gain tremendous amounts of confidence,” says Farhana Azeem. “I have seen girls completely transformed after their experiences of camping”.
Transforming girls in to self-aware and confident beings is what is required in order to take Pakistan on the path of progress and development. Since most of the volunteers are students of government schools which are often deprived of many of the recourses to fun activities that are usually available to the private school students, the association helps to develop qualities and confidence in that segment of the society which requires it the most. By providing a helping hand in times of need and by participating more in outdoor activities, the girls develop those leadership qualities which transform them into “doers”.
Women ‘‘doers’’ according to Jinnah, is the “third power” stronger than pen and sword.