During April 2014, workshops which outlined the concepts of human rights and democracy were organized for sixty-five students from the University of Punjab and the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. Through the workshop, students also became aware of the social, legal, and political discrimination faced by religious minorities in Pakistan. This opportunity is the result of CWS-P/A forming working relationships with three institutions of higher learning.
Due to the positive response of the university faculties at the University of Central Punjab, the University of Sindh, and the University of Punjab, CWS-P/A was able to sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with these esteemed universities. These universities all share a dedication to educating and supporting young people to become strong critical thinkers, leaders, and ambassadors of peace and unity. In partnership with these institutions, CWS-P/A looks forward to engaging one of the country’s most valuable resources, its young people, to work toward eliminating the discrimination against religious minority groups and to promote a peaceful and prosperous society.
The students participated actively and enthusiastically in the discussions and activities, and demonstrated strong beliefs, knowledge, and understanding from a variety of perspectives as well as expressive, skilled, and respectful dialogue. Throughout both sessions, the students consistently exhibited sincere and committed political engagement and concern for the future and well-being of Pakistan.
The discussion on religious minorities presented a varying degree of awareness and acceptance of the issues. By the end of the first session, some students reported that the workshop made them aware of the needs of religious minorities for the first time. On the other hand, some students expressed the belief that religious minorities enjoy equal rights in Pakistan and that an emphasis should be placed on other types of minority groups instead. The outcome of the session reinforced the need to create awareness and bring to the forefront of public consciousness the issues faced by religious minorities.
The workshops have been challenging and inspiring experiences for the participants and for the team. Many students had been unaware of their own rights and found this information to be new and extremely valuable. Few were familiar with their rights under the Constitution, and fewer still were aware of the pervasive discrimination faced by religious minorities. There was a strong and emotional reaction to the screening of a documentary about the violent and deadly attack on Gojra’s Christian community, and the students passionately condemned such incidents.
CWS-P/A looks forward to promoting awareness and working together with these young people as the next steps in the project are taken and students are trained and supported to conduct innovative activities around their campuses to promote the rights of religious minority groups among their peers.
CWS-P/A is focusing on the young people of Pakistan in recognition of their importance to the country and their potential to affect positive change. The project aims to build networks between students of different universities and colleges and young people from marginalized religious minority communities through the establishment of youth leadership councils. Through regular meetings, these networks will facilitate the development of strong relationships and give these young people a platform to share their various experiences, beliefs, perspectives, challenges and questions, and to learn from and inspire each other in a meaningful way.