LAHORE: "Much of the problems in our society rise from religious intolerance,” said Alina Zaman, a mass communications student attending a two-day workshop on human rights.
Zaman, who volunteers with cancer patients at the Children's Hospital, added that minority rights should be given importance by the government and that activity-based workshops help impart practical know-how and greater understanding among people.
The workshop, conducted by the The Youth Parliament of Pakistan (YPP) in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Rights (now the Department of Human Rights), was part of a project called ‘Know your Rights’, which started in January 2011 and has so far, conducted as many as 60 workshops in 18 districts across the country, with four being held in Lahore. National Programme Officer at the YPP Amjad Zafar said the programme aimed to target individuals between the age bracket of 18 to 35 years.
"Youth in this country have great potential," he said, explaining how the programme aimed at educating the youth about human rights.
Zafar added that because of the great response received from the workshops, the programme had been extended till June this year to facilitate workshops in areas where they had not been arranged yet.
The 35-student delegation from Forman Christian College rated basic necessities, including food, shelter and security of life, as one of the most important human rights as part of a charter-formulating exercise titled 'Charter of Demands' at the concluding session.
Students listed some 20 issues which needed to be addressed by the government in order to improve the human rights situation in the country, including unemployment, education, religious harmony, harassment, implementation of laws, freedom of expression and corruption.
The workshop comprised almost fifteen activities which involved participants engaging in a constructive dialogue along with case studies, creating a 'rights-based' magazine and small skits. Addressing taboo subjects such as family planning, abuse and issues relating to working women, students enacted situations and engaged in discussions to find possible solutions.
National Trainer of the 'Know your Rights' programme from the YPP Tahir Mahmood was supervising the projects being held in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Having conducted more than 200 workshops, Mahmood said there was a lot that needs to be done. “People need to know their rights - that's the first step,” he said.
Mahmood added that with workshops tackling sensitive issues including child abuse and sexual harassment, the aim was to bring out the potential of the youth. “Each participant related to a different aspect of human rights, be it women, children or religious rights of an individual.”
With more workshops planned, Mahmood said the experience was very encouraging.
Talking about the awareness level among children, he said, “Children knew so much already that there was no need for me to start from the basics.”
On the other hand, one of the participants at the workshop, Asadullah Hunain, General Secretary of the Rotaract Club at FC College, said with educational institutes offering no dedicated course on human rights, there was a dearth of factual information which needed to be disseminated to the youth regarding human rights.
“Students should know what human rights are and how they can contribute to improving the society,” he said.
Hunain said the workshop was attended by students aged 18 to 22 years, all hailing from different parts of the country.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Gul Rehan, hailing from Gilgit, said the workshop helped her learn a lot. “Child labour and abuse is rampant in Gilgit. I will take this knowledge back with me to educate my people.”
A freshman at the FC College, Rehan complained about insufficient opportunities for education in her hometown.
Another participant, mass communications student Rabia Qadeer said it helped her learn about issues pertaining to labour laws. She added that she was reluctant to attend the workshop at first, however with activity-based learning, she termed the experience as memorable.
With the aim of conducting 30 more such workshops across Pakistan, Tahir Arif Khan, a volunteer at the YPP, said at times they have to face immense resistance.
"People call us all sorts of names. At times we are called foreign agents and I ask them what is so 'foreign' about human rights."
Khan said this was the first time such a workshop was conducted in the premises of an educational institute in Lahore. "Managements running colleges and universities are generally very unsupportive," he complained, adding that this was exactly why they needed to educate people about their rights.
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