Islamabad - A conference titled ‘National Youth Convention’ jointly organised by  Department of International Development and Aurat Foundation was held here at a local hotel on Thursday.

The conference aimed at highlighting the contributions of AAWAZ – voice and accountability program, a DFID funded program, which began in 2012. With a focus on youth and women empowerment, AAWAZ, over the last five years, has played a significant role in giving voice to the marginalized.

 Over 150 young women and men from 45 districts of KP and Punjab, who were AAWAZ youth group members, participated in the Convention . The convention was also attended by representatives of DFID, Executive Director Aurat foundation Naeem Mirza, Member Khyber Pakhtunkhaw provincial assembly Ziaullah Bangash and Shehryar Afridi of PTI.

 Renowned personality and Chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan IA Rehman, delivered the keynote address in which he spoke at length about the importance of involving the country’s youth in decision-making process.  

 Dr Saadia Mehmood of UNFPA talked about the need for drafting a comprehensive National Youth Policy in Pakistan as no such framework exists in the country. She spoke about the importance of provincial youth policies in context of local issues, but stressed on the need for a larger national-level policy to address the needs of the youth , who comprise 40 percent of the country’s total population. The National Policy, she said, should be based on empowering the youth in three areas i.e. social, economical and political.  She added that Punjab was the first province to introduce a provincial youth policy in 2012.

  In a session moderated by program coordinator Zeeshan Noel, six members of the youth group shared personal transformative stories about how the program had helped them become integrated members of the society. Suraya, from Peshawar, said that she began attending AAWAZ meetings in 2013 and became the first woman in Punjab to win the youth council election despite societal hurdles.

Maria Khan, a transgender activist of Hazara Division, narrated a personal account of how she was ridiculed, and discriminated against because of her sexual orientation. With the help of AAWAZ, Maria enrolled in a Tourism and Hospitality course at Hazara University and topped in her department.

Speaking about the plight of transgender people, Maria said that doctors often refuse to treat transgender patients, which often results in the patients’ death. Maria has also helped issue ID cards to 37 transgender people in Hazara Division and is continuing work on that end.

Seamus Macroibin, Senior Social Development Advisor, DFID gave the concluding speech in which he commended the work being done by AAWAZ in raising awareness among youth of their rights, especially among women, helping to build their capacity and providing them equal opportunities.

 “I’m delighted to know that young people, especially girls, are fighting gender-based violence. They are challenging the norms that hinder Pakistan’s progress and becoming leaders of the nation,” said Joanna Reid, Head of DFID Pakistan.   The conference ended with a stage performance by youngsters of FACES Pakistan on the theme of religious pluralism, and acceptance of all.